This is like the Super Bowl: The upstart looking for its first title. The seasoned defending champs looking to add to an impressive trophy case. There may be some hard hitting. And the biggest difference maker could be a backup thrower.
The Alpha Braves and the DM Palmisano Rangers meet this weekend in the Lehigh Valley Men's Senior Baseball League Premier Division Championship Series.
While Alpha's MVP-caliber top thrower is healthy, the Braves are, like the Philadelphia Eagles, looking for a first title. They'll need to take it from a team with even more titles than the New England Patriots: the defending champion Rangers are looking to capture their eighth championship.
Here's where the hard hitting comes in: The Rangers and Braves ranked first and second in homeruns this season. League leader Joe Wernimont has six blasts to lead the Rangers, who hit a league-leading 17 as a team. Eric Drzewiecki's four homers paced Alpha, whose 11 homeruns as a team ranked second.
But the series is at least as likely to come down to pitching as it is to any longball.
The Pitching Matchup
Alpha's ability to get quality innings from a pitcher other than their ace is perhaps the most pivotal factor in the series.
The Braves have 2018's most productive LV MSBL pitcher, Colton Langworthy, who led the league with 85 innings pitched, 81 strikeouts, and 12 wins. But Langworthy took a bigger portion of his team's mound work than any pitcher in the league, with 63 percent of Alpha's innings pitched. As capable as the rest of the staff may be, they don't have 2018 track records as long as most playoff pitchers -- although there was enough pitching to go around as the Braves held the Macungie Expos to 5 runs in two games in last weekend's semifinal series.
The Rangers split their time on the bump more evenly. Innings leader Scott Moore took 36 percent of the team's innings, followed by 25 percent from Daron Whitmore and 19 percent from Josuha Breittholz. The Rangers didn't use their top two pitchers combined as much as the Braves used Langworthy.
It sets up an interesting game within the game for the managers. Rangers Manager Jason Gonzalez would seemingly have to at least consider lining up his pitching in a way that avoids wasting a great start against a better one from Langworthy. And Braves Manager Zachary Vegh is surely considering how he can get Langworthy into more than one game in the three-game series.
Undoubtedly, however, the Braves will have some innings that their ace Langworthy doesn't pitch. And that sets the stage, just like in the Super Bowl, for a backup thrower to be MVP of the big game.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
After an 11-5-1 regular season, the No. 3 seed Rangers knocked off their chief rival the No. 6 seed UMB Pirates, in the first round of the playoffs. The Rangers then swept the No. 2 seed Rays, who had advanced to the second round on a bye.
After a 17-3 regular season, the No. 1 seed Braves took a free pass to the second round with a bye then swept the No. 4 seed Macungie Expos, who had advanced past the No. 5 seed Northampton Kids.