Lars the Greek - Cobb Times Herald
Omaha Sluggers (NL) vs. Cleveland Steamers (AL)
Overview: Lars is having a serious case of deja vu, with the feeling that he wrote the same article in season 10, oh wait, he did! It's a World Series rematch featuring the titans of Cobb, the Omaha Sluggers, vs. the team that everyone hates, the Cleveland Steamers. The Sluggers had what could be called an easy road to the World Series, sweeping the overmatched Richmond Cohibas, and handily defeating the upstart Fargo Fug Nuts, the worst two regular season teams in the NL playoffs. The Steamers on the other hand crawled into the playoffs by clinching a wildcard spot on the last day, then proceeding to upset the top 3 teams in the American League this season by beating Nashville, Pawtucket, and Anaheim, all in very tightly contested series. But Lars knows that the road to the World Series doesn't matter anymore, and all that is important is the moment. Here is how the teams stack up.
Position by Position Analysis:
Catcher: The Sluggers C is Ralph Bradshaw, a defensive catcher and fine pitch caller who is also well rounded with the stick. He has been solid in the playoffs, hitting a respectable .294, and is masterfully directing the Sluggers rotation. The Steamers regular C is Mule Parker, a very talented defensive catcher, but is still completely anemic with the bat, as evidenced by his .176 average in the playoffs. Lars likes the C who can hit and field.
1B: Playing 1B for the Sluggers is hitting and OBP machine Josh Price. Price has been cruising through the playoffs thus far, and is an MVP candidate this season. For the Steamers Tony Solano replaced Brace Davey on the bag, but has been a disaster in the playoffs, hitting only .115. Lars likes the .400 average of Price better.
2B: Bill Norton is the regular 2B for the Sluggers, and has proved himself in the post season many times over, even though this season is not his best performance in the playoffs. Cory Gardner is capable for the Steamers, and thus far has been more productive in the postseason, but isn't an all star like Norton. Lars is going to take the hot hand this time around, as Norton's .175 BA in the playoffs just isn't cutting it this year.
SS: John Simpson is a defensive whiz for the Sluggers, but has bat has come back to Earth after last seasons amazing playoff run, with a total this season of .063, which by anybodies estimation is horrible. Steamers SS Paul Roth is a player cut from the same mold as Simpson, and judging by their ratings and regular season stats, are virtually clones, but this time around Roth has the hotter stick.
3B: Veteran Ken Daniels moved from SS to 3B, and is a capable defensive player at the position. He is giving way to young star Albert Burnett, but both of them have been below par this playoffs. Al Rosario takes over 3B for the injured Sammy Maduro for the Steamers, even though his natural position is RF, because his bat is too big to ignore. Maduro should be back by game 4 of the series, but will it be too late at that point? Lars thinks he will be able to make a difference if the series is close.
LF: For the Sluggers, Cobb legend and first ballot Hall of Famer Jose Barrios, and nothing more needs to be said. For the Steamers youngster Nick Weaver is the man, and even though he was good during the regular season, he still hasn't figured out playoff ball. He'll get there, but not in enough time to overtake the awe inspiring greatness of Barrios.
CF: Peter Mullin is the new CF for the Sluggers, bringing defensive excellence and great on base capabilities to the Sluggers team, and has been hitting lights out in the playoffs. For the Steamers Jose Gandarillas is as quality a player as Mullin, but hasn't been quite as effective in this post season as he was last year. Lars thinks the pendulum has swung to Omaha in this position.
RF: Veteran Ernest McConnell brings his talented bat to the Sluggers RF this season. Picked up for the playoffs, McConnell is a defensive liability, but in RF nobody will notice, especially if he keeps hitting like he has. For Cleveland talented rookie Vinny Jang is the new RF, and although he has a very nice bat, he just hasn't adjusted well to playoff ball. Lars gives the edge to the veteran, who is hungry for a title.
Bench: The Sluggers bench is filled with some nice role players, including veterans Ken Daniels and A. J. Buck, although they haven't been used a whole lot this post season. The Steamers bench is non existent, and Lars thinks that it's just mall mannequins in Steamers jerseys sitting next to the manager and bench coach in the dugout. But once Maduro gets back from injury Tony Solano moves to the bench, and while he hasn't been good this postseason, there is at least one warm body on the bench for Cleveland with some talent.
Rotation: For the Sluggers, it's Kazuhiro Ong, Ivan Canseco, and Clyde Ford, with some support from Tomas Tatis. Ong is Ong, and they don't call him the King because he sucks. Canseco and Ford are nearly as good, and Tatis is a quality veteran. Pretty much any team would want this group of proven performers. For the Steamers it's been all playoff monster Ruben Gonzalez, who will pitch until his arm falls off for Cleveland if they had their way. Bill Palmer has also been effective, but David Rosado has again been a playoff disappointment. Two good arms is less than four the last time Lars checked, so he likes the Sluggers.
Bullpen: The Sluggers have a nice bullpen, but it really hasn't been tested this playoffs as the starting rotation has been so good that they really haven't been needed. Still in the limited innings they have gotten, Bobby Flores and Bruce Wilson have been effective. For the Steamers Trevor Seelbach has again carried the team, with a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings of playoff baseball, and has been nearly unhittable with a WHIP of .83. The rest of the bullpen has been solid, with closer Edgardo Romero converting 5 of 6 saves so far this playoffs. Lars likes the proven performance of the Cleveland pen.
Conclusion: The Sluggers have proven over and over that they are the team to beat in Cobb, and this season is no exception as they cruised to the #1 seed in the National League, and easily made the World Series yet again. The Steamers once again overcame enormous odds to outperform their regular season record in the playoffs, and remarkably made the World Series two seasons straight. That being said, Lars thinks it's lights out for Cleveland, as Omaha will once again put them in their place. Until Omaha stops having Ong, Barrios, and an extremely talented supporting cast, Lars has no reason not to pick them.
Prediction: Sluggers in 6