Following a pair of hard-fought first-round series that both went to a decisive fifth game, the Omaha Storm Chasers and Reno Aces are ready to battle in the best-of-5 Pacific Coast League Finals starting Tuesday.
Omaha, the defending PCL champion, enjoyed an offensive outburst in the opening round, scoring a total of 44 runs over five games to dispatch the Albuquerque Isotopes, including a 16-7 pounding Sunday in Game 5.
Reno, on the other hand, rode solid pitching to victory over the Sacramento River Cats, the top team in the PCL this season. The Aces, who yielded a total of one run in Games 1 and 2 and averaged just three earned runs allowed per contest for the series, hope to continue that formula in the Finals.
"Pitch well -- that's the bottom line," said Reno manager Brett Butler. "If you look at their ERA compared to ours, theirs is probably better. Do they play in a park where the ball carries as much as ours? Probably not. But they're pitching well, and that will carry you as far as you can go. In terms of the playoffs thus far, we've had good pitching, and good pitching will beat good hitting every day of the week. That's what we hope happens."
The Aces and Storm Chasers met once in the regular season, a four-game series they split back on Aug. 1-4.
Reno Aces (81-63, Pacific Northern Division champions) vs.
Omaha Storm Chasers (83-61, American Northern Division champions)
Season series tied, 2-2
Game 1 at Reno, Sept. 11, 10:05 PM ET
Game 2 at Reno, Sept. 12, 10:05 PM ET
Game 3 at Omaha, Sept. 14, 8:05 PM ET
Game 4 at Omaha (if necessary), Sept. 15, 8:05 PM ET
Game 5 at Omaha (if necessary), Sept. 16, 3:05 PM ET
After rolling to an American Northern Division title and edging out Albuquerque in their first-round series, the Storm Chasers have put themselves in position to become the PCL's first repeat champion since the Sacramento River Cats achieved the feat in 2007-08.
Their opponent in the Championship Series, the Reno Aces, search of a first title since joining the league in 2009. The Aces lost in the first round to Sacramento last season.
"It would be a bow on top of the package," Butler said of bringing a championship to Reno. "We played well last year and got beat, and we got one step further this year, being able to go all the way. For us to beat Omaha and move forward would be a tremendous accomplishment for us in four years."
The best-of-5 Finals kick off Tuesday with a matchup of premier pitching prospects as Omaha sends Jake Odorizzi to the mound against Reno's Trevor Bauer. Odorizzi, the No. 36 prospect in baseball, got the win in Game 1 of the semifinals but suffered the loss in his lone start against the Aces this year, yielding three runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings back on Aug. 3.
Butler is hopeful his Aces can get to Odorizzi again like they did during the regular season.
"Hopefully déjà vu, it'll happen again," he said. "But this is a whole new animal -- everything starts fresh. You have guys who struggled, who will have to come through. Omaha during the season, they were less of an offensive threat than we were, and they have had the better pitching. But in the postseason at this point, their average is better than ours, but our pitching is better. It's flopped, so whoever can execute the best will win."
Bauer, No. 6 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospect list, did not face Omaha during the season and won his first-round start against Sacramento. The 21-year-old righty pitched the opener and yielded one unearned run on three hits in five innings, working around five walks while striking out six.
"He's a different animal," said Butler. "he has big league stuff, knows what he's doing, gives you everything he has, keeps the ball down in the zone and stays in the zone. He'll be hard to beat."
Mitch Maier and Max Ramirez provided the bulk of Omaha's run production in the opening round, knocking in eight runs apiece. Top Royals prospect Wil Myers went deep twice and had six RBIs in the series.
Two major contributors to Omaha's title victory in 2011 -- Clint Robinson and Irving Falu -- are again enjoying stellar postseasons. Falu is batting .316 with five runs scored, while Robinson is hitting .308 with four runs scored.
The teams split their regular season series, 2-2, but Butler knows many names have come and gone since then.
"It's going to be completely different," he said. "We have some guys who understand what's going on, they've been out there before. They beat us the first two games, but again, I think we had different players. Bottom line, we have guys like Josh Bell and Mike Jacobs and A.J. Pollock who have been here most of the time. They have an understanding that younger guys don't, and we need those guys to step it up. Myers, Falu will set the table for them."
Bell, Jacobs and Pollack did the most damage for Reno in the first round, driving in five runs apiece.
"They have a calming influence," Butler said of his veterans. "They've been here before, they know how to set an example for the youngsters and everyone relaxes."
Butler also highlighted some of the role players who have helped Reno play deep into September.
"We have Wladimir Sutil, who was more or less a backup. He wasn't going to play a lot, but he was catapulted into a starting role," Butler said. "He's been very unexpected. We have [Tyler] Kuhn, who we got from Memphis. He came over and got four hits in one game. He's a second baseman playing left field. Tyler Bortnick came over -- he's been solid at second base. Those are the keys that get you to the top."
Runnin' Aces no more: The Reno Aces led the Pacific Coast League with 155 stolen bases during the regular season but had only one steal in three attempts during their opening-round series with Sacramento. Jake Elmore and Adam Eaton, who led the team with 70 steals combined in 2012, were both called up to the D-backs over the last month to make their Major League debuts.
Stepping up: Reno reliever Sam Demel appeared in four of the Aces' five first-round games. The 27-year-old right-hander hurled four perfect innings in the series, fanning six Sacramento batters. Demel also earned a save against the River Cats, matching his total for the entire season.
We meet again: In four regular-season games against Reno, Myers managed just one hit in 15 at-bats. Teammate Tony Abreu enjoyed the most success against the Aces, going 6-for-14 with five RBIs in the early August series in Omaha. Reno's Taylor Harbin hit .462 against Omaha, collecting six singles in 13 at-bats.