Lars the Greek - Cobb Times Herald
#1 Dover Dingos - 106-56, 1st place AL East
Strengths: The Dingos team depth is among the best in the entire league, and they have a very balanced lineup with no real weaknesses. Their team defense is very solid as well, and CF Harpo Hurst is among the best in the game at that position.
Weaknesses: While the starting pitching is solid, it lacks the true #1 SP that is often necessary in the postseason. Alfonso Vega and Micah Conigliaro posted career years, but neither one of them stacks up well on paper vs. the likes of Dean Hernandez, Kaz Ong, or Ruben Gonzalez.
Keys to success: Shawon Lee, Domingo Palaez, and Albert Burnett form a very effective power trio and Mitchell Marshall is great at setting the plate, and they will need to continue their regular season effectiveness into the playoffs for Dover to have a shot. On the mound Ralph Hill will need to step up and be an effective 3rd option, because the likelihood that Vega or Conigliaro will lose a game against the cream of the AL pitching is pretty good.
Team MVP's: C/DH Shawon Lee & SP Alfonso Vega
Outlook: Dover has a good chance of advancing to the World Series, but the road won't be easy, and AL #1 seeds have a habit of falling to Cleveland the
#2 Florida Almendares - 102-60, 1st place AL South
Strengths: Florida is the best defensive team in Cobb World, posting an astounding .990 team fielding percentage this season. The Almendares starting pitching is top notch, and Eric Collins is the type of pitcher who can match up against anyone else in the league. The lineup hits for contact and average quite well.
Weaknesses: The one glaring weakness in Florida's resume is the overall lack of pop in the lineup. They don't hit a whole lot of home runs and depend on moving the base runners around to score, which is difficult to do in the playoffs against the top pitchers in the league.
Keys to Success: The pitching staff has to keep producing as they have been, and the defense needs to keep preventing unearned easy runs for the other team. If they can do that they will be in every game.
Team MVP's: RF Harry Rios & SP's Eric Collins & Danny Beamon
Outlook: Lars thinks that Florida has what it takes to go to the World Series out of the AL. Of course it all comes down to whether or not they can derail the Cleveland juggernaut.
#3 Tacoma Jerry Gang - 97-65, 1st place AL West
Strengths: Pitching, pitching, and more pitching! Tacoma had the best staff in Cobb World this year, and not just because they pitched half their games in the forgiving confines of Cheney Stadium. Tacoma's imposing 4 man rotation was very good this year, and all four pitchers are playoff capable. The lineup wasn't too bad either, finishing in the top half despite playing half their games at home. Tacoma was also a top 4 fielding team in Cobb as well.
Weaknesses: It's hard to find a true weakness on this team, but if one had to be chosen it would be how they match up vs. Cleveland, their 1st round opponent, and their historical lack of playoff success the last few years despite having a very good team on the field.
Keys to success: The pitching is going to have to keep doing what they have been doing all season long, and the lineup will need to step up and produce against the proven and playoff tough Cleveland pitching staff, and steal a game against Gonzalez or Bill Palmer.
Team MVP's: 2B Alex Presley & SP Darren Howry
Outlook: If Tacoma had drawn any other team but Cleveland, he would be picking them to win. But Lars has learned the hard way that when it comes to playoff baseball, Cleveland is one team you don't bet against. But if Tacoma can get past them, the skies the limit.
#4 Pawtucket G-Maniacs - 88-74, 1st place AL North
Strengths: Dean Hernandez. Beyond him, the G's were actually a top team in pitching, hitting, and fielding this season. But really it all comes down to Dean Hernandez, he is irreplaceable for this team.
Weaknesses: Despite being good in all statistical categories, the G's only managed 88 wins and are the worst team in the AL playoffs. So somewhere something went wrong. Looking more closely at the numbers, the young pitching of Hulk Boone and King Gonzalez was inconsistent, as was the aging David Rosado in the closer spot. Joseph Funaki, a key power hitter for Pawtucket had a down year as well.
Keys to Success: Dean Hernandez needs to win his starts, or the kids need to step up and pitch better than they did in the regular season. Rosado needs to discover some of that old magic, or the starters efforts will be for naught.
Team MVP's: DH Ajax Worley & SP Dean Hernandez
Outlook: Dean is great, but despite that Pawtucket will have trouble stacking up to the rest of the teams in the AL playoffs this year. Their first round draw vs. an excellent Nashville squad is brutal.
#5 Nashville Rebel Riders - 100-62, 2nd place AL South
Strengths: The Nashville lineup is the best in the AL playoffs, at least according to the numbers, and boasts two MVP candidates in Pedro Franco and Eddie Guardado. Kazuhiro Ong is pitching for Nashville, which is bad news for the rest of the AL.
Weaknesses: Outside of Ong, the rest of the rotation is capable but not imposing. The bullpen is also only average and will give up the occasional game.
Keys to Success: Ong needs to win his starts, and then the rest of the rotation will only need to get one game, which they should be able to do. The lineup needs to eat up the inexperienced pitchers they come across, and try to steal a game from the aces they will face.
Team MVP's: DH Pedro Franco & SP Kazuhiro Ong
Outlook: If Cy Young candidate Kaz Ong pitches like he always does in the playoffs, the odds of Nashville advancing are pretty good. With the lineup they have, Nashville will be in every game, even against the elite pitchers in the league.
#6 Cleveland Steamers - 98-64, 2nd place AL East
Strengths: Experience, and loads of it. Ruben Gonzalez and Bill Palmer are some of the greatest playoff pitchers in the history of the game. Their starting lineup is very good, and has more power than any other AL playoff team. Trevor Seelbach is an ace in the bullpen.
Weaknesses: They aren't very deep, and if Gonzalez or Palmer misses a step they suddenly become very vulnerable.
Keys to Success: Gonzalez, Palmer, and Seelbach keep up the good work, and the lineup takes care of the rest. Really, the same formula that has taken them to the World Series the previous five seasons.
Team MVP's: RF Vinny Jang & SP Ruben Gonzalez & RP Trevor Seelbach
Outlook: Until they get beat by an American League team in the playoffs, it's hard to pick against Cleveland in the post season. Lars thinks that this year is probably more of the same.