Nations: Sprint to finish in VBL

The Valley Baseball League playoffs are just less than a week away, and all indications are that it will be a mad dash to the end of the regular season.

The VBL playoffs are scheduled to begin on July 29, with eight teams moving on to the postseason. Some of those berths are secure — league leaders Harrisonburg, Front Royal and Staunton can already start making those playoff plans. With six games remaining for most teams heading into Tuesday night’s VBL action, Waynesboro (21-16) and Charles Town (21-16) are also both secure.

That’s five spots accounted for, leaving six teams left to battle for the remaining three playoff slots. And it will be a tussle, for certain. The leader among those bottom six heading into Tuesday was Strasburg (18-20), which was in front of Covington (17-19) by just two hundredths of a percentage point. Neither can afford to slip much. Aldie entered the night just 2 ½ games back of Covington, with New Market and Winchester 3 ½ games off that and even current cellar dweller Woodstock just 4 ½ games out of the seventh spot.

Even if Strasburg and Covington take care of business, that still leaves a major scrum for that eighth and final spot.

Aldie headed into Tuesday’s off night in a major tailspin, having lost eight of its last 10. New Market had a chance to break the ninth-place tie with Winchester on Tuesday night, and needs that win with a brutal final stretch to the season. The Rebels hit the road Wednesday night to face Charles Town, then host VBL leader Harrisonburg for a doubleheader on Thursday. They will be getting all too familiar with Turks, too, since the Rebels will then visit Harrisonburg for a single game on Friday, followed by a road game at Staunton (23-15) and a home matchup with Waynesboro (21-16) to close out the regular season.

If New Market gets into the playoffs, rest assured the Rebels will have earned that spot.

Based on Tuesday’s standings, Winchester looks to have an easier path to the playoffs. Following Tuesday’s road game at New Market, the Royals host Strasburg on Wednesday in a pivotal game, get second-place Front Royal at home on Thursday, then head to Aldie on Friday. Winchester visits Bing Crosby Stadium to face Front Royal again Saturday night, then hosts Aldie on Sunday before wrapping up with another home game against Covington on Monday.

Then there’s Woodstock, still looking to put together a late winning streak after losing six of 10 heading into Tuesday night’s game at Strasburg. The River Bandits will get a day off Wednesday to reset, then its road games at Covington, Front Royal and back to Strasburg before closing out the season with home games against Front Royal on Sunday and Waynesboro on Monday.

Aldie is down but certainly not out, with a home game against Harrisonburg on Wednesday night followed by a road game at Charles Town, another home game on Friday against Winchester and Saturday against Charles Town, then one final road trip Sunday to face Winchester.

A well-timed hot streak could be enough to push any one of those teams into the playoffs, and from there anything can happen with the best-of-three formats all the way through to the Jim Lineweaver Cup championship series.

Of the three area VBL teams still shuffling for position, the River Bandits could still be a surprise playoff participant. The River Bandits headed into Tuesday ranked second in the VBL in team ERA (3.41) and a respectable fifth in team batting average (.263), giving the impression of a team that’s had some bad luck so far this season.

Strasburg has also been solid pitching (3.72 team ERA, fourth-best in VBL) but has struggled at the plate (.247 team batting average, ninth). New Market is ninth in team ERA (4.27) and dead last in team batting average (.232), numbers the Rebels will have to improve for this final sprint to the finish.

The VBL postseason doesn’t start until July 29 — weather willing, as always — but most of the league has been in playoff mode for a couple weeks now. It should be a down to wire finish, which is great for the league and for baseball fans.

Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com