Monday, April 20, 2009

Season 4 Playoffs - Divisional Championship Series Preview

Leon Jackson - Cobbfather Post Gazette

It was quite the interesting play-in round, as all of the lower seeded teams won, although there were some excellent wild cards this season, it still comes as a bit of a surprise. On to the Divisional Championship Series round, and the matchups look very good. Will the trend continue of road team domination and lower seeds winning? Here's our Divisional Championship Series Preview.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

1 Florida Shark Waves vs. 5 Austin Rock Stars
Season Series:
Florida won 6-4

It’s a battle of AL South rivals in the DCS as Florida takes on Austin. Austin finished the season on a 14 game win streak, won their first 2 playoff games on the road, then dropped 2 at home, and won a 3rd road game to advance. Undoubtedly, it was Stuart Paulson who led the offense for Austin in the play-in round with 3 HR, 7 RBI and a .381 BA. The rest of the offense struggled, and will need to step up in the DCS. Tony Saunders was 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA in the play-in round for Austin, and likely the series MVP, stepping up with 8 scoreless innings in game 5. Other than a rough game 4, the pitching was good for Austin, which is a good sign heading into the DCS.

Austin will need to defeat the most dominant team in the league to make the LCS. Florida posted 113 wins, making it 110+ wins all 4 seasons in the league, and offensively led the league in batting average at a tremendous .310 clip. They were also 2nd in the league in stolen bases, and 2nd in runs scored. They do have power in Luis Martin (55 HR, 155 RBI), Joel Clayton (47 HR, 135 RBI) and Justin Kennedy (33 HR, 128 RBI). The rest of the lineup does a good job of setting these guys up to knock in runs, by getting on bases and stealing bases as well. There really isn’t an easy out in the lineup. Looking at their pitching, once again, Florida led the league in ERA. Their rotation is rock solid top to bottom, hard to say which one SP was the best and stud closer Jeremi Walsh (52 saves in 55 chances, 1.78 ERA) made sure no leads were blown. It’s going to be incredibly tough to beat this team in the playoffs.

Final Analysis: Austin is a great team, and on a hot streak, but Florida is just too good, and should advance here.

Prediction: Florida in 4

2 New York Pride of the Yankees vs. 6 Chicago Chokers
Season Series:
Chicago won 6-4

Two offensive powers go head to head in this Divisional series, as New York faces Chicago. Chicago swept through their play-in series against Vancouver with not only their typical solid offense, which hit over .300 for the series, but also got great pitching, including a CG 2 ER performance from Emmanuel Hartman. Their team ERA was only 2.00 for the 3 game series. But will they be able to keep it up against a more potent offense in New York?

New York posted great offensive number this season, 3rd in team BA, 3rd in home runs, 2nd in team OPS. Hideki Lim posted a nice HR total for them, and rookie Al Martinez shined. And then there’s the 7 other players who posted 20+ HR including Bryant and Boyd with 38. Clearly, it will be tough to contain this offense. Pitching wise, New York was only slightly above the league average in team ERA. But they do have 2 great arms at the top of the rotation in Ken Evans (25-6, 2.68 ERA) and Juan Martin (13-7, 3.69 ERA). They also have a very nice closer in Wil Daneker, who saved 40 out of 46 with a 2.83 ERA. Don’t let their team ERA fool you, New York still has a very good pitching staff, especially for a playoff situation where they can go with a 3 or 4 man rotation.

Final Analysis: New York’s pitching and offense is just a notch above Chicago’s. Although the Chokers are playing quite well so far in the playoffs, it will be tough for their pitching to handle such a powerful lineup.

Prediction: New York in 4

NATIONAL LEAGUE

1 Sacramento Fighting Cornish Hens vs. 5 Jackson Rockets
Season Series: Sacramento won 7-3

It doesn’t seem fair that after all the hard work put in to get the #1 seed, Sacramento has to play one of the best teams in the NL in the Divisional Round. Jackson blew through Syracuse in the play-in round, getting the 3-0 sweep, to win the right to face Sacramento, a rematch from last year’s playoffs. Jackson got great hitting in the opening round with a .303 team BA, lead by Brian Taylor (5-10, HR, 4 BB). Jackson’s great pitching didn’t disappoint either, posting a 2.33 ERA lead by a CG, 2 ER performance by Paul Wirth. Jackson certainly looks geared up to take on Sacramento.

Looking at what Sacramento brings to this matchup, their team offensive stats were right about at the league average. It was a down year power-wise for their offensive leader, Moses Terrero, although he hit for a nice average. Jack Bottalico is healthy for this year’s playoffs – which is a big plus for last year’s World Series runner up, and they also have up and coming rookie slugger Paxton McDonald. It won’t be easy for Jackson to blow through this lineup. Pitching wise, Sacto was 3rd in the league in ERA, and their best pitcher once again was dominant closer Sammy Felix, who shut the door on 53 games in 58 chances with a 2.86 ERA. Their rotation was extremely good, with Andres Cruz (16-4, 3.49 ERA) Brandon Chouinard (14-7, 3.53 ERA) and Elvis Leon (13-7, 3.70 ERA) leading the way.

Final Analysis: This is going to be a tough series, the two teams are very similar, and extremely talented. So close, that it may come down to home field advantage as the deciding factor.

Prediction: Sacramento in 5

2 Memphis Mayhem vs. 6 Dover Diamond Dogs
Season Series: Tied 5-5

Dover beat the New York Primetimers in the play-in round, winning all 3 road games, and losing both at home, just as Austin did. The Dover offense was just ok in the play-in round, benefitting from clutch home runs from Albert Mateo, who hit 4, but struggled otherwise, and solid hitting from Justin Crawford (.316 AVG, 2 HR) and Martin McCarty (.278 AVG, 2 HR). The rest of the offense struggled. Pep Brown carried the Dover pitching staff in the play-in round and was probably the series MVP going 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA. The rest of the rotation was shaky, but the bullpen came through for them.

Dover’s opponent, the Memphis Mayhem, won a duel with Jackson for the NL South title. Memphis’s pitching staff finished in the top 10 in ERA, coming in just above 4.00. Their best pitcher was lights out closer Billy Cox (1.75 ERA, 53-55 save opps.), but they’ll also be relying heavily on mid-season acquisition Pinky Matheson, who shined with a 9-1 record, with a 2.72 ERA. Jayson Haynes and Sammy Pinzon both won 15 with sub-3.60 ERAs, so the Memphis rotation is fairly deep. The same can be said for the bullpen, with several other players supporting Cox with fantastic years. Memphis finished 10th in OPS and 4th in HR on offense, thanks in large to Buddy Poole who knocked out an incredible 72 HR! Marino Rios had a superb season at the plate as well (.357 AVG 38 HR 106 RBI). After that, 5 other guys hit 20 or more HR, but none of them with great averages. Still, Dover’s pitchers must prevent these guys from going deep, if they are going to move on.

Final Analysis: Memphis was a juggernaut this year, and it looks like Dover just barely squeezed past New York in round one. We like Pinky Power and Memphis in this series.

Prediction: Memphis in 4

Hope you enjoyed the Divisional Championship Series Round Preview, good luck to all the teams competing!

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