Chicago, IL - The field is ready, the fans are pumped and the chilly fall weather is here for the opening of the World Series. As the Norfolk Tars come into town to face off with the hometown Billy Goats, both teams look back at the long road that brought them here.
Norfolk entered the playoffs with the second wild card slot, which they secured in the last two games of the season after passing division rivals the Indianapolis Redlegs in the standings. Once in the playoffs, the league's version of David - the Tars - stormed through the playoffs, taking no prisoners and conceding nothing to their rivals. Norfolk defeated Helena 3-1 in the Divisional Play-in Series, swept Colorado 3-0 in the Division Championship Series and then swept Las Vegas in the League Championship Series. They have been resting, waiting to face off with the champions of the junior circuit.
The road the Billy Goats traveled was no less arduous, but they managed to win 109 games during the regular season - 20 games more than the Tars - and finished with the second-best record in the majors. Their regular season record bought them a first-round bye in the playoffs, but quickly dispatched the Trenton Fire 3-1 in the Divisional Series. In the League Championship Series, the Billy Goats faced off with the best record in the majors and returning AL champion New Britain Bombers. The series went to 7 games, but the Billy Goats emerged as the new AL champions. Meet the mighty Goliath.
Despite their regular season records, these teams match up pretty well. Without the advantage of a DH, Norfolk hit 73 homeruns less and hit 11 points lower than Chicago. The Billy Goats led the majors in team homeruns, and were only second to Colorado in team slugging and OPS. Despite facing far fewer pitchers at the bat than designated hitters, Chicago's pitching staff almost matched the Tars in almost every category. And thus, this battle will be a good one, likely decided by the details and nuances of the two teams.
Norfolk's record "on the road" was only 41-40, and the Billy Goats will likely benefit from the friendly "confines" of Wrigley Field, where they finished with a 54-27 record. The Billy Goats had 6 players who hit 20 or more HRs, but none if feared more than 1B Kevin Rolls, who hit 54 HRs, 141 RBIs in the regular season. Shortstop Albert Bell hit a career best 43 HRs to make up for his poor defensive play in the field. Rolls has had a disappointing post-season, but he is likely to turn it around at any moment.
Norfolk does not have a single player with 30 hrs or more, but their team OBP was 20 points higher than Chicago's. Albert Moraga led the team with 26 HRs, but the individual player stats are misleading, as Norfolk utilized a deep bench and only 4 players had 500 at bats or more. Norm Parris, who hit .237 in the regular season with 25 HRs, has hit 7 HRs while hitting for .375 in the post-season. Moraga is an exciting player that hit 26 HRs while stealing 72 bases and playing gold-glove defense in CF. All-Star SS and Silver Slugger Patrick Page brings his gritty play with a combination of power, contact and speed.
The Billy Goats had one of the most consistent and reliable starting rotations in the majors in the quintet of Gerardo Cedeno (22-9, 2.72 ERA), Joaquin Valentin (14-2, 3.14 ERA), Joaquin Gil (14-7, 3.54 ERA), Brooks Reames (14-6, 4.40 ERA) and Pedro Uribe (13-10, 5.04 ERA). Cedeno, the leading candidate for the AL Cy Young award, has a 4-0 record in the postseason. Norfolk's starting rotation features Andre Sparks (13-8, 3.63 ERA), Dave Lewis (11-6, 3.47 ERA), Oswaldo Ramirez (12-4, 3.93 ERA), Billy Fox (6-9, 4.34 ERA)and Juan Cueto (7-6, 3.45 ERA). A late season injury to Ramirez has kept him off of the playoffs so far, but the Tars have not missed a beat, maintaining a 2.16 ERA in the post season while holding opponents to a .212 average. Sparks leads the pack with a 0.47 ERA in 3 starts.
Prediction: Chicago is the favorite to win this series. In a short series likely to feature impressive pitching, it may be the long ball that decides it. Chicago's home record, Norfolk's road record and Chicago's ability to hit HRs give a slight edge to the Billy Goats, but don't count out the underdog Tars just yet. Remember David? Oh yeah, the kid did kill the giant Goliath when nobody expected it...
ADDENDUM: The Billy Goats announced that no fans will be allowed to sit in the first row of the left field line for any home games.