Last week, as the Oilers embarked on a 10-game road trip to Fairbanks, I wrote that they were like a golfer on the first day of a four-day tournament: They could lose the Alaska Baseball League title on that road trip, but they wouldn't be able to win it.
The Oilers did what they had to do on the trip. Pending Thursday night's Alaska Goldpanners-AIA game, the Oilers were in third place in the ABL, two games behind the Miners and one-half game behind the Panners. That comes after a 4-6 road trip to Fairbanks that the Oilers salvaged by defeating the Panners the last two times they saw them to drop the Panners' home league record to 10-2.
Now that the trip is over, though, the Oilers will have to do more than merely keep their heads above water if they want to win the ABL title. A 4-6 mark on a road trip to Fairbanks is actually a decent accomplishment. Growden Memorial Park is an annual house of horrors for the Oilers.
I've only been to Growden once myself, but I've sat at games and listened to Oilers broadcaster Dan Gensel's call enough to know what he says is accurate. As usual, his broadcasts from Fairbanks were filled with untimely line-outs into double plays, terribly timed terrible calls at the plate by the umpire, brutal outings by normally strong pitchers, and uncharacteristic errors that came at the worst times for the Oilers and ended up costing them games.
But that's over now. The Oilers are 16-11, with 18 games yet to play in the ABL. It's time to shift from the mind-set of a first-day tournament golfer to the mind-set of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis: "Just win, baby."
Seven of the remaining games are against the Anchorage Bucs, who were 7-11 in the ABL after Wednesday. Eight of the remaining games are against the Pilots, who were 7-17 in the ABL after Wednesday. Further, the Oilers get to see both the Pilots and Bucs five more times each at home, including a three-game series with the Bucs that starts tonight at 7 p.m.
Thus far, the Oilers are 3-0 against the Pilots and Bucs. The Goldpanners are 5-1 against the Pilots, and have yet to play the Bucs. The Miners have rolled up a 12-3 record against the Bucs and the Pilots.
Clearly, the path to the ABL title lies in putting up a lot of wins against the Pilots and Bucs to put pressure on the Miners and Goldpanners. It would have helped if the Oilers did better than 2-3 at AIA, which was 6-14 as of Wednesday, but that's life in the Interior.
The Oilers are done with the Goldpanners, but see the Miners three more times on the road. Meanwhile, the Miners and Panners will see each other eight more times and chances are they will beat each other up. Further, the Miners have their own nasty trip to Fairbanks from July 20 to 26, playing nine games in seven days. The Miners see AIA eight more times this year, including five more times on that road trip to Fairbanks. They could get a crucial edge on the Oilers by dominating AIA.
The Goldpanners, meanwhile, will have to prove they can play on the road, where they are 4-4 so far this year compared to the 10-2 home mark.
The Oilers have played the league leaders about even thus far, going 3-3 against the Miners and 4-5 against the Goldpanners. The Oilers' chances at a league title will be determined by how thoroughly Peninsula can dominate the Pilots and Bucs.
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