With the release this week of the 2020 schedule, the countdown to France’s top-division (D1) baseball season is officially on. But as the French Baseball and Softball Federation (FFBS) revealed, the semi-pro league is in for a few key changes this year.
For starters, the action doesn’t begin until Sunday, April 12 — three weeks later than last season’s kickoff. Don’t worry though. If two months seems too long to wait, keep in mind that there’s a special baseball treat coming just four weeks from now, when the French national team heads to Tucson, Arizona for the World Baseball Classic (WBC) Qualifiers.
France will play its first qualifier match on March 12 — against Germany — in a mini tournament that runs until March 17. To make the cut for next year’s WBC, the French team will have to finish first or second in the competition, which will also feature Pakistan, Brazil, South Africa and Nicaragua.
A Very Odd Number
Another big change this season is that the D1 will have just 11 teams. That’s because the Valenciennes Vipères, newcomers to the league last year (when the FFBS expanded the league from 8 to 12 teams), won’t return for a sophomore season. And that, in turn, complicates things in terms of scheduling. Here’s why:
Like in 2019, the league will be divided into two pools (A and B), and for the 10-week regular phase of the season, teams compete only within their pools. But because Pool A will now have just five teams (rather than six), one team will be left every weekend without an opponent and thus have a bye-week.
The Toulouse Tigers will sit out the first week. The defending champion Rouen Huskies will get a breather in the second week, and so on and so forth. Also, because of those bye-weeks, the Pool A teams will play just 16 regular-phase games. The teams in Pool B, in contrast, will play 20.
Rouen Baseball 76
MUC Barracudas Baseball
La Rochelle Boucaniers
More Post-Season Drama?
The other BIG BIG change compared to 2019 will be this year’s playoff structure.
Last season, the two league finalists were determined based purely on their records. And because the Sénart Templiers and Rouen Huskies were quick to establish their dominance in the D1, by mid-season there was little doubt — barring a total collapse by one or the other — that they would meet in the finals.
The format made things a bit boring, quite frankly, for the rest of the teams. And so, to spice things back up again, the FFBS decided to reintroduce a proper playoff format for 2020, with the top four teams from each pool earning a chance to compete in a best-of-five quarter-final series.
The winners of those four series will then face off in a pair of best-of-five, semi-final series to determine the two finalists. Will the top teams run the tables? Might one of the lower ranked teams pull off an upset? Could there be a real Cindarella story in 2020? With the new format, anything is possible.
Mark Your Calendars
The regular phase of the season, as previously mentioned, begins on April 12.
There will be a pause in the action the weekend of May 9-10, when the league’s top 8 teams meet in La Rochelle for this year’s Challenge de France tournament (May 7-10).
The 10th and final games of regular-season ball take place July 19, with the following weekend reserved for any make-up games that may need to be played.
The various quarter-final series are scheduled to begin about a month later, on Aug. 22, and wrap up the following weekend. The weekend after that (Sept. 5/6) will see the start of the semi-final playoff series. And the championship series — The French Series, as it’s called — will begin on the weekend of Sept. 19/20.
The league’s 11 teams have yet to release their rosters, so it’s too early to say with any certainty which groups are likely to make the most noise this year.
Still, based on past success — and on recent recruiting announcements from individual teams, there are a few early-season matches that promise to be more intriguing than others.
Here are few recommendations:
April 19: Montpellier Barracudas at Metz Cometz
The Barracudas have bulked up big time this off-season with new pitchers (Owen Ozanich and James Murrey) and a trio of experienced American batters (Andy Cosgrove, Patrick Cromwell and former MLB player Desi Relaford).
But the Cometz, despite joining the D1 just last year, have also made moves. They’ll have a trio of two-way players from the United States, plus hard-hitting Cuban veteran Hasley Medina, who played last season for Nice Cavigal.
April 26: Montigny-Bret. Cougars at Rouen Huskies
The Rouen Huskies have won five titles in a row, and until further notice, remain the team to beat. They play Paris UC the first weekend of the season, and are off the second. But on the third weekend (April 26) they’ll host the Cougars of Montigny, which finished 5th in the league last year and will have the services this year of one of the league’s best, most experienced French hitters: Victorien Roze (formerly of the Metz Cometz).
April 26: La Rochelle Boucaniers at Sénart Templiers
Like the Huskies, the Templiers should have a relatively easy first two weeks of the season (against Nice Cavigal and Clermont-Ferrand). Against the Boucaniers, though, last year’s runners-up will have to bring their A game. The April 26 double-header in Sénart should be an opportunity for both clubs to test their new lineups and get a proper sense of where they stand.
To see the complete 2020 schedule, click here.