The start of the season is just around the corner and the teams and fans are eager to get going. As the season progresses, there will be a number of storylines and dramas that develop. Some will have a happy ending, whereas others will feel like a bleak soap opera or Danish crime drama. I have looked at some of the key storylines for fans to follow during the season and considered pose the question whether they will play out as people expect.
1. Manse PP – the super-team with high expectations
Manse broke convention during the offseason by signing a raft of veteran all-star players in a bid to break through into the top 4 in 2021. The aim of Manse is not simply to slot in amongst the top 4 teams however; they are in it to win. If Manse manage to hit their stride, anything less than a championship win be a consolation prize. Most teams have historically based their teams around players who develop through the club or their affiliates in lower leagues; however Manse’s aggressive strategy hasn’t been seen since the days of the ill-fated Kaisaniemi.
Kaisaniemi’s 1997 and 1998 seasons were successful, but not successful enough to earn them the championship. At the end of the 1998 season the club ran into significant financial problems and imploded. The key question for Manse is whether they have learned from the difficulties Kaisaniemi ran into and what will happen if they cannot perform to the levels they are expected to. If Manse fail to reach the top 4 or 5, expect to see some major arguments at the club over their future direction. If they succeed, they will be a force to be reckoned with, on a mission to claim the championship.
Manse will make the top 4 but will not reach the final. Expect more moves in the offseason and more pressure to perform in 2022.
2. Petteri Alanen – the make or break season for Hyvinkää
Last year was a nail-bitter for Tahko fans, with Juha Korhonen sidelined through injury during the middle of the season and a defence that seemed to have more holes than a broken colander. Kalle-Tapio Huusko failed to impress as pitcher and the team leapt at the chance to sign Manse’s outgoing pitcher Petteri Alanen during the offseason. Alanen had some highs and lows with Manse in 2020 and was one of the more efficient pitchers (according to my stats) at producing outs per batter faced. The biggest issue Alanen faced was the high volume of runs allowed from game to game.
The storyline to watch out for here is whether Alanen will help to breath life back into the Tahko defensive game and back up the team’s potent bating lineup, or whether the team’s woes will continue. Hyvinkää’s 6th place finish last season was a solid result for the team, but it is hard to see whether the team can better that position in 2021. Kitee continue to look strong and have added Sami Partanen back to their ranks along with Juuso Lattu. At their best, Tahko can be in he mix for a top 5 spot; at their worst they could be out of the top 8. Alanen will need to prove his worth – will he help Tahko kept pace? Or will Tahko continue to be one of the worst defences in the league?
Alanen will make a significant difference to Tahko’s defence, but they will still be short of a top 5 spot. A 7th place finish will be a more comfortable ride than their 2020 rollercoaster, but not what Hyvinkää fans will be hoping for.
3. New faces at Joensuun Maila
The end of 2020 was a sad occasion for many Joensuu fans and players, as the core of the championship winning side parted ways. Juha Puhtimäki and Lauri Kivinen joined former JoMa champions Tuomas Jussila and Juha Niemi at Manse, leaving a void in the team. This sad feeling however was soon rectified when JoMa announced the signing of RBI machine Patrik Wahlsten and top pitcher Ville Väliaho. The signings are a perfect fit for the team, but really take them in a different direction to the Putimäki years. The question here is whether the team can find their stride and challenge for the top spot once again. There is little doubt that JoMa are top 4 contenders, but can Väliaho and Wahlsten win their first championships and bring the title back to Joensuu?
Expect to see games at Kerubi stadium late into September, but a silver medal is probably on the cards.
4. Perttu Ruuska – the craft of the pitcher
In 2020 Vimpeli started the season out of form and with low expectations. The novelty of Perttu Ruuska moving from joker to the role of pitcher seemed like a gamble with little hope for winning a medal. Yet, by the final game of the post-season, Vimpeli beat Joensuu to win bronze in a match that was full of twists and turns. Ruuska’s development as a pitcher last season was a great talking point, but many still question whether he has the depth of knowledge and skill to rival the top pitchers in the league like Puhtimäki, Kivipelto and Väliaho.
The story for 2021 will be whether Ruuska can navigate his team through the season even better than last year, or whether 2020 was a fluke. Vimpeli are a solid bunch of players, but they struggled at various points in the regular season last year and gave up runs and ultimately games that they could have won. If Vimpeli are to jostle for another medal in 2021, they will have to contend with an all-star Manse team, Sotkamo (with their young players already in full bloom), KPL (with last year’s pitcher of the year and an explosive batting lineup) and Joensuu (with quality pitching from Väliaho and a batting lineup that will give any pitcher nightmares). Having said that, if there is one person who will easily take on that pressure and look to deliver results, its Ruuska.
Ruuska improves as a pitcher in 2021, but Vimpeli end up in 4th. A spirited win over Sotkamo in the Semi-finals would put Vimpeli on a collision course for a wild and unexpected final.