The regular season of the D1 baseball season has finally come to an end, meaning it’s time to turn our attention to the French league’s four-team playoff phase. The games begin Saturday, with matchups in Rouen and La Rochelle.
Three of last year’s semifinal teams are back: the defending D1 champion Rouen Huskies, the Montpellier Barracudas, and the Savigny Lions. Surprisingly, the Sénart Templiers didn’t make the cut this year. Taking their place are the upstart Boucaniers of La Rochelle, who qualified for the playoffs for the first time in club history (chapeau!).
There’s plenty of intrigue as the four contenders get ready to make their push to the finals. And the big question, of course, is whether anyone can knock off the perennial champs – the Huskies – who have won five league titles in a row and 14 of the past 15.
First to take their shot will be the Barracudas. But beating the big-dogs of French baseball – especially with the first to games of the series taking place in Rouen – will be easier said than done.
Here’s a quick look ahead:
The Huskies (12-4) and Barracudas (12-4) come into the series with identical records and plenty of recent history as big-time rivals.
They met in the final of the 2021 Challenge de France, which Montpellier won, faced each other later in last year’s semifinals (Rouen got the upper hand in that case), and went head-to-head yet again in the semifinal of the 2022 Confederation Cup.
Which team will emerge triumphant this time around?
The Huskies, with their championship pedigree, deep pitching rotation and potent lineup look to have the advantage.
Their trio of Yaeferson Gómez (3-0, 1.51 ERA), a Venezuelan recruit, and French pitchers Esteban Prioul (3-0, 2.03 ERA) and Quentin Moulin (3-2, 2.06 ERA) put them in an enviable position on the pitching front. And with nine players all batting north of .300, Rouen’s offense is impressive to say the least!
Gabriel Harrison (.439) has the league’s top batting average among players with at least 40 at-bats. Slugger Bastien Dagneau (.393), the D1’s HR and RBI leader, with 5 and 30 respectively, has had a monster season. “Balou,” as he’s known, is also tied for the league lead in hits (24) with teammate Hugo Blondel (.369). And don’t forget about Javier Hernandez, a former Toronto Blue Jays prospect, who went 7-for-10 last Sunday to up his season average to .382
The Barracudas will have their hands full, in other words. But don’t write them off just yet. Ace Kevin Canelón of Venezuela has had a sensational year, with a league-best 7-0 record and a ridiculous 0.36 ERA. He also has 72 strikeouts!
Montpellier has also benefited from the developmet of 18-year-old Mathis Nayral (3-1, 1.76 ERA), and the arrival of Japanese two-way sensation Kenjiro Sugiura (1-2, 0.59), who along with Owen Ozanich and Ismail Pontiac give them real depth in the bullpen.
The “fish” have some dangerous bats too. French player Fabian Kovacs (.349) has had a fantastic year, as has Mathis Guiraud (.328). Steve Anderson of the United States has gotten better and better as the season progresses, and is currently batting .328.
Paolo Brossier (.318) has given the Barracudas extra speed and consistency since returning from the United States mid-season. And then, of course, there’s Ariel Soriano (.339), the dynamic Dominican who has been lighting up the league since first arriving to France in 2018.
Game 1 of the series will take place this Saturday (Aug. 30) starting at 4 p.m. in Rouen. The teams play again on Suday (2 p.m.) before resuming the series the following Satuday (Aug. 8) in Montpellier.