Saturday, 2007 October 3 – the cool autumn breeze and the turning of the calendar to October means one thing for baseball fans – the playoffs are in the air, and while the Daly City Montis enter the postseason as dominant favorites once again, intriguing storylines abound everywhere, especially in the SWL where the four contenders were separated by just 4 games in the regular season.
While the past four years have been a gradual downward decline for the Montis (albeit still playing in a different class compared to other teams in the league), the Montis roared back to vintage dominance with a 131-31, .809 record, their second-best in team history and a 12-game improvement over the previous season. A weaker field also meant they completely ran away in the division – they clinched the division crown by August and finished with a staggering 41-game lead over the 2nd-place Microsoft Longhorns, who were no chumps themselves at 90-72, .556 with the 2nd-best record in baseball.
The Mozilla Firefoxes rose out of the cellar for the first time, as the bottom seemed to fall out of the Apple Septic Tanks, who have fallen from 2nd to 3rd to 4th place in the division in consecutive season, and finished with an abysmal losing record – 72-90, .444. They’re definitely feeling the loss of ace pitcher Kyle Katarn, who achieved the Triple Crown in the SWL with a 19-11, 3.34 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 298 K season.
Over in the tumultuous and always disappointing Terran Division, the Caribbean Pirates ascended to the top, posting a strong 79-83, .488 record – the best any Terran team has ever played. The Pirates were buoyed by the addition of free agent Simeon Sarvis who defected over from SWL’s Pentax and put up a .309-.376-.580 line, and the continued development of monster prospect Clifford Alfano, who followed up his outstanding rookie campaign (3rd place in UL rookie of year voting) by posting a .349-.446-.584 line and a scary 11.2 RC/27, 4th-best in the UL.
Last year’s first place Asia Giants took a slight step back, winning two fewer games but still managing to snag the last playoff berth with an abysmal 67-95, .414 record.
Following a tumultuous offseason in the Shinto-World League, the playoff picture will look massively different, both in terms of the teams present, the faces on them, and the familiar faces missing from October baseball.
The Canon Image Stabilizers, who had secured the division both years, plummeted to a tie for 3rd with the loss of all-galaxy slugger Gates Skywalker, who left to shatter his previous records in leading the Pentax Shake Reducers to the division crown. The Nikon Vibration Reducers, despite suffering from the loss of their own all-world slugger Richard Eager, replaced enough of his offensive prowess with free agent 1B Maul Foundation (.367-.403-.687, 2nd-best OPS and RC/27 in the SWL) to again finish 5th in baseball in offense, while shoring up their pitching with free agent Josue Berrero, who became the team’s ace with a 14-11, 3.88 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 234+1/3 IP season, good for the 5th-best ERA and 2nd-best WHIP in the SWL. They rose from the cellar last season to finish 84-78, .519, securing second place by 12 games.
Despite winning their division cleanly by five games, and dominating both sides of the ball by finishing 3rd in both runs scored and runs allowed (for a +119 run differential – no team outside of Daly City was better), the Pentax Shake Reducers come in with a bevy of question marks after their offseason makeover. Having lost their best two sluggers from 2006 – 1B Walter Vanish and RF Simeon Sarvis, who both went on two post .950+ OPS seasons with new teams – the Shake Reducers pulled in a free agent haul to more than replace them – 1B Barney Raymo slugged .292-.357-.558, and the ever-growing legend Gates Skywalker obliterated all records with a .359-.444-.981 season (1.426 OPS, 16.93 RC/27) to carry the team. If the prolific Skywalker can replicate his regular season success, even the veteran Montis offense will be pressed to keep pace.
The most dramatic late-September race was in the World Cities division. On 2007 September 23, with five games to go on the season, the Tokyo Samurai stood at had 84-73, and had secured a mildly comfortable lead over the 82-75 Las Vegas Valleys, who themselves had a 2-game margin over the 80-77 Paris Forfeiters. Tokyo went 3-2 the rest of the way to win the division by two games, but the Valleys stumbled a bit at 2-3, while the Forfeiters swept five games, including a crucial 161st game, 8-2 win against the Valleys to finally move ahead into second place, leaving the mercenary Richard Eager, he of the record-busting $38.3M annual salary, out of the postseason once again (something that will no doubt vindicate fans of the playoff-bound Vibration Reducers, his former team).
Round 1: Asia Giants vs. Daly City Montis
Interestingly enough, despite being the weakest team in the playoff field this year, the Asia Giants tied with the Mozilla Firefoxes as the most succesful team against the Montis in 2007, albeit that “success” meant losing only at a 7-16 clip (.304). Still, they’ve fared much better against the Montis than either the Microsoft Longhorns or the Caribbean, who had combined to go 5-42, .106 against the Montis. Nonetheless it looks to be a longshot for the Giants – while rookie of the year Benjamin Trepanier has evolved into one of the top-five players in baseball (4th-best 11.9 RC/27 this year on a .316-.461-.606 line), and franchise cornerstone 1B Alex Quiros (who recently signed a 7-year, $8.45M per deal) whacked .294-.388-.616 over a full 162 game season, they lost their #5 slugger Tom Clark (.294-.373-.553) to a torn back muscle a few days before the end of the season. The powerful Montis lineup should also feast on the Giants’ atrocious hitting (5.87 ERA, 1005 runs allowed, both last in baseball).
Prediction: Daly City, 4-0
Round 1: Caribbean Pirates vs. Microsoft Longhorns
The Microsoft Longhorns come into this matchup noticeably less balanced than the year before, when they finished 2nd both in runs scored and allowed. Despite some importance losses – .300-.335-.583 SS Maul Foundation to free agency, .300-.339-.593 1B G.A. Thrawn to a complete skills regression (he hit .186-.233-.316 over 249 plate appearances this season), the rapid development of some of their younger hitters allowed the Longhorns to keep pace with 941 runs to once again finish second. Of particular note is the star-studded trio of gap hitters Jango and Boba Fett (.368-.453-.655 and .336-.407-.599, respectively) and UL homerun champion Jabba Desilijic Ture, who hammered 63 homers and a .246-396-.605 line). The Fetts and Desilijic Ture make Microsoft the only team with three players with a 1.000 or greater OPS. Their pitching, however, has been just mediocre – while Kernel Tyranus dominated once again (18-8, 2.80 ERA, 1.10 WHIP), no other member of the rotation has an ERA less than 5.00.
While the Longhorns’ potent offense and ace Tyranus will present a tough matchup for anyone, the 2007 Caribbean Pirates squad – 10th in runs scored and 9th in runs allowed – is about the best the Terran Division has ever fielded, about on par with the 2005 European Cricketeers. Their lineup boasts a trio of stars – 20-year-old phenom Clifford Alfano, RF Simeon Sarvis, and 1B Luis Devitt, who on a good day can hit as well as the Longhorns’ three stars. The Pirates’ pitching features solid but thoroughly unexciting innings-eater workhorses in Wilfredo Raposa, David Barnett, and Glenn Robertson.itt
On the surface, Longhorns-Pirates looks to be an awfully lopsided matchup, but the Caribbean pitching staff, while not the dominating playoff ideal, actually match up well against Microsoft’s #2-4 starters. With the right offensive burst, the Pirates might manage to win out two or so games in the series.
Prediction: Microsoft, 4-2
Round 1: Nikon Vibration Reducers vs. Pentax Shake Reducers
Though the Shake Reducers’ record did not fare much better than previous Photomaker division winners (they tied last year’s pennant-winning Image Stabilizers), their team looks to be the most stacked and balanced of all in the SWL, with a solid top-3 pitching rotation and the simply unstoppable Gates Skywalker, who could absolutely demolish the left-handed hopes that Nikon will ride on, #1 starter Josue Berrero and #2 Josue Huerta (Skywalker was a staggering .444-.529-1.294 against lefties this season). The Shake Reducers’ hopes will lie almost entirely on Skywalker, however, as the team simply has no offense outside of him, while the Vibration Reducers can rely on young sluggers Maul Foundation and Brandon Wroten (.367-.403-.687 and .322-.405-.615, respectively). Look for the Nikon squad to win a few games on a Skywalker off-day, but there likely won’t be enough of those before Skywalker single-handedly demolishes their pitching staff (especially against the lefty-heavy rotation).
Prediction: Pentax, 4-2
Round 2: Paris Forfeiters vs. Tokyo Samurai
A classic matchup of fearsome pitching against a fearsome lineup. Tokyo run the division by bashing away at the opposition – they tied for 2nd in homeruns and 3rd in runs scored, led not only by free-agent import Walter Vanish (41 homers) and RF Ronald Peterson (39 homers), but also three additional batters who hit at least 20 round-trippers. Their swing-for-the-fences approach, however (they ranked 3rd in the SWL in strikeouts), could be exactly the wrong matchup against a lights-out Paris pitching staff that led the SWL in strikeouts and were 2nd in baseball, especially against Triple Crown winner and ace Kyle Katarn. The problem for Paris will be generating enough offense; they don’t have a star hitter in the bunch, with shortstop Lamont Sanchez, at .271-.393-.471 (.864 OPS) as their best hitter. The Forfeiters do make up for this in terms of consistency, however – their lineup is loaded with 6 regulars with an OPS between .798 and .864, which should mean slow but steady run production. Combine that with a star-studded pitching staff that doesn’t need too many runs to begin with, and the Forfeiters should be able to upset the division champion Samurai, and have a fair shot at going far in these playoffs.
Prediction: Paris, 4-2