Leon Jackson - Cobbfather Post Gazette
Happy belated Play In Round preview! We apologize to our readers for not having the preview out til after game one - we thought the playoffs started tomorrow, but on the bright side - maybe with a one game head start, our predicitions will be more accurate than last year's horrendous showing. Let's get on with the preview!
#6 Chicago Chokers vs. #3 Vancouver Blaze
Chicago's biggest asset is their offense - they finished 5th in the league in team HR and OPS. Leading the way for Chicago on offense is 1B Ed Morris, who is a top MVP candidate, and put up 56 HR and a mind blowing 167 RBI. Equally impressive was mid-season callup Fred McNamara, who in only 84 games hit 41 HR and an out of this world 1.198 OPS. And a couple of more 30 HR bats in Millwood and Washington, and this is one tough lineup that Vancouver is going to have to control if they are going to advance. PItching wise, Chicago was below the league average, and will be largely relying on ace Carl Sosa to pull them through the playoffs, and he's off to a good start getting them the game 1 victory. The AL West champion Vancouver Blaze, didn't have a great year pitching wise either, as they were toward the middle of the pack. Their best pitcher was probably closer Richie Burks, and their rotation is solid, although not spectacular. Offensively, Vancouver is lead by MVP candidate Jordan Abernathy who put up ridiculous offense numbers by posting 69 HR and 191 RBI. They had some other good sluggers as Charlie Dickinson had a good year with 45 HR, and Jeff Peterson posted 30 HR, each topping 100 RBI. Vancouver has a lot of speed too, which will challenge Chicago's catchers, who aren't great defensively.
Final Analysis: These two teams are similar, lead by their offenses. Chicago's lineup is just a little bit deeper, plus they have ace Carl Sosa, who is by far and away better than any of Vancouver's pitchers.
Prediction: Chicago in 4
#5 Austin Rock Stars vs. #4 Burlington Huskies
Austin is on fire, now having won 15 games in a row, counting game 1 of the playoffs. Austin cracked the top 10 in league ERA, lead by a trio of stud starters in Jeffries, Saunders and Nevin. Closer Ralph Michaels was solid in closing situations, and the rest of their bullpen also faired well. Austin was good offensively as well, finishing 6th in team BA. Austin's lineup doesn't feature a lot of power, as only Becker and Herman topped 30 home runs, but it does feature alot of hitters who can hit for average, plus speedster Bryce May who swiped 110 bases. AL East Champions, the Burlington Huskies, aren't a strong offensive team, but they do have a lot speed on the basepaths. Their best offensive player this season was Hector Ball (.270 BA 34 HR 101 RBI). Pitching was what lead the Huskies to the division title, as they finished 7th in team ERA, lead by star closer Yamil Alvarez, who was nearly unhittable, and starter Gordon Oliver (16-5, 2.99 ERA). The Huskies bullpen is extremely solid, but the rest of the rotation is only solid, not great.
Final Analysis: Austin, has the better lineup, and the arms to match Burlington, especially in the rotation.
Prediction: Austin in 3
#6 Dover Diamond Dogs vs. #3 New York Primetimers
Dover, who won game 1 in the series, had an above average pitching staff this season, featuring a solid top 3 in the rotation of Pong, Brown, and Melo, and a very good bullpen. Offensively, Dover cracked the top 10 in HR and OPS, lead by MVP candidate Dan Carter (.333 BA 58 HR 131 RBI) and Martin McCarthy (.291 BA 42 HR 122 RBI). But the offense doesn't stop there, as they had 3 other players with 29 HR+, and their lineup also features a lot of speed. NL East Champion New York Primetimers were about right at the league average in most offensive categories. They did have 4 hitters eclipse the 30 HR marks, but with only mediocre BA's and OPS's. They do feature a lot of speed, however, so it looks like there will be a lot of SB attempts in this series. NY's pitching finished 5th in team ERA, coming just under 4.00, and have 4 great starters who posted sub 4 ERA's that Dover could see in this series. New York also has a very tough bullpen, with several quality arms.
Final Analysis: We like New York's pitching to come through in this series, despite losing game 1.
Prediction: New York in 5
#5 Jackson Rockets vs. #4 Syracuse Sycophants
Jackson finshed #4 in the regular season power rankings, winning 99 games, and barely missing out on a division title, where Syracuse greatly exceeded expectations this season and took the NL North title. Jackson, who won game one, clearly has a strength in pitching, as they finished 2nd in team ERA. No pitcher on their team finished with an ERA above 4.25, and their top 3 SP's, Wirth, Aguilera, and Warden were all outstanding. Also, it's hard to find any weakness in their bullpen. Jackson finished around the league average in most offensive categories, but do have some weapons in Brian Taylor (.329 AVG 45 HR 120 RBI) and Bernie Heiserman (.312 BA 30 HR 120 RBI) and look out for William Katou on the basepaths, as he swiped 70 bases. Syracuse doesn't feature a spectacular offense either, and will be looking for their top performer Candy Daniels (.313 BA 35 HR 104 RBI) to come through and for their top slugger Benny Romano (41 HR) to hit a few out of the park. Syracuse doesn't run much, so the hitters will have to do the work to advance the runners. Syracuse has a good pitching staff, and finished in the top 10 in team ERA. They'll be looking to Dom Lazzeri to continue his regular season dominance in the rotation, Velandia and Berroa to be solid when Lazerri isn't pitching, and for continued bullpen excellence.
Final Analysis: This is a matchup of 2 very similar teams - but Jackson's pitching just looks to be a notch above Syracuse's
Prediction: Jackson in 4
Good luck to all of the teams in this round!