First round match-ups will be as follows:
#4 Anaheim Chiles (86-76, AL West champs) vs. #5 Nashville Sounds (88-74, AL South Wild Card)
Season series: 5-5
All-time series: Nashville 11-9
Preview: As good as these teams are offensively, I think it will come down to whichever team pitches better. Nashville has a deep lineup in terms of power hitters and Anaheim has speed in front of big-time slugger Alex Vazquez. Both teams have question marks in the pitching department. Nashville's starting staff is very shaky- even veteran ace Ham Bruske checked in at 10-11 on a good team. Anaheim's starting pitching behind Ajax Drabek and Roland Casey is probably better; their question mark is at the end of the game, as Alex Brantley had a horrible year.
Prediction: When in doubt, pick the team with starting pitching. Anaheim in 5.
#3 Louisville Legends (94-68, AL East champs) vs. #6 Toledo Mud Hens (85-77, AL North wild card)
Season series: 7-3 Louisville
All-time series: 15-5 Louisville
Preview: As good as Ernest Montgomery and the Legends are offensively, the rebuilt Mud Hens are probably better at the plate. Toledo had 5 guys with over 95 RBIs this season on their way to the second most runs in the AL. So why does Louisville dominate this series? Well, in part because Toledo (then Pawtucket) was putrid last season, but also because the Louisville pitching staff seems to find a way to limit Toledo's offense: in 6 of the 7 Toledo losses they scored less than 5 runs.
Prediction: I know this goes against my reasoning for picking the Anaheim/Nashville series, but my gut says A. Not all the top seeds will win and B. Toledo's offense is going to break through against the Legends pitching staff. Toledo in 4.
#4 Atlanta Bandits (84-78, NL East champs) vs. #5 Salem Sacrifices (93-69, NL West wild card)
Season series: 6-4 Salem
All-time series: 13-7 Salem
Preview: Atlanta was a team that seemed to be a year or two away and wound up winning the division. Even the most avid Bandits fans are probably scratching their heads as to how exactly that happened, as they scored 44 fewer runs than they allowed. But they won the games down the stretch that they had to win. Their reward is the defending World Series champs in the first round, who have both more offensive weapons and the dynamic duo of Salmon and Dunwoody. Atlanta has a good, if less heralded, rotation with Alex Sanchez, Cory Schneider, and Larry Springer; all had very good years.
Prediction: Salem just has too much for the upstart Bandits. I think Atlanta's starting pitching is good enough to take a game, but I don't see them scoring enough runs to end the reign of the champs. Salem in 4.
#3 Houston Riverdogs (92-70, NL South champs) vs. #6 Chicago Cubs (88-74, NL North wild card)
Season series: 6-4 Houston
All-time series: 14-6 Houston
Preview: Quick, what's the only NL team to win back-to-back division titles in The Bigs? That's right, ladies and gentlemen, Houston. They survived both a name change and ownership change to land in the playoffs again. Chicago, like Toledo, was a terrible team in season 1 but rose from the ashes to make the playoffs. This will probably be billed as a battle between Houston's Brian Satou and Chicago's Sean Simpson, but that's mostly to sell seats and TV ads. To figure out who's going to win this, we're going to have to dig deeper. Satou and Miller would seem to give the Riverdogs an advantage on offense, but Chicago scored more runs due to their depth in the lineup, aided by mid-season pickups Denny Moss and DeWayne Castillo. If, however, we see pitching duels, the advantage would probably favor Houston, as they can throw Matty Eusebio and J.R. Guerrero at least 3 of the 5 games and have Tex Howell finish.
Prediction: If Stephen Tucker was healthy I'd probably take the Cubs. As it stands, Houston could have the starting pitching advantage in every game, and that's tough to overcome. Chicago's offense is good, but not that good. Houston in 4.