Can Tacoma Dethrone PCL Champs?

Leo's bat could be the difference (Photo: M. Waugh

TACOMA, Wash. - The Tacoma Rainiers and the Sacramento River Cats begin their PCL semi-final series tonight in Tacoma. Both teams finished the regular season with identical 80-64 records, but Tacoma manager Dan Rohn says you can throw those records out, starting today.

"The season's over," says Tacoma's skipper. "It's a fresh start."

The first two games of the series are at Cheney Stadium where the Rainiers are 48-24, by far the best home record in the PCL. Damian Moss will pitch the first game for the Rainiers against Sacramento's Adam Johnson.

Sacramento has won their division five out of the last six years, and are the two-time defending PCL champions. Tacoma hasn't been to the playoffs since 2001, when they were PCL co-champions. Rohn admits that defeating the back-to-back PCL champions will be a tall order.

"They can really swing the bat, says Rohn. "They have excellent pitching. We can't afford to give them extra outs."

But the Rainiers haven't given many extra outs all year. The infield defense, anchored by second baseman Ramon Santiago, has been stellar despite having five different players play shortstop. Currently filling the post is 19-year-old Asdrubal Cabrera, who began the year in Wisconsin. The outfield boasts the rocket arms of T.J. Bohn, Abraham Nunez, and Shin Soo Choo. With the call-up of Santiago on Wednesday afternoon, the infield will be shuffled around.

The biggest question mark for the Rainiers has to be starting pitching. Which Damian Moss will show up? The one who pitched a complete game shutout against Tucson, or the one who walks a batter every inning? Will Bobby Livingston be able to mow down River Cat batters like he did last Friday? If Tacoma's starters can get the job done, they have an excellent chance to defeat the River Cats.

The one certainty for Dan Rohn is that it will take a total team effort.

"We need everybody to contribute," Rohn said. "We're not going to win with one or two guys."

If there is an ace in the hole for the Rainiers, it is their manager. Dan Rohn has been the secret to the Rainiers' success all season. Personnel changes are the norm for a Triple-A manager, but Rohn has had to deal with over 200 player transactions. Need more proof? Take a look at the list of players Rohn has lost over the course of the year: Michael Morse, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Lopez, Jamal Strong, George Sherrill, and of course, Felix Hernandez. That's two tons of talent lost from the Rainiers' roster, and the team never skipped a beat. That's the sign of a great manager.

Rohn, of course, doesn't see it that way.

"We're two evenly matched ball clubs," remarked Rohn. "If I can stay out of the way we have a chance."

In a battle between two similar teams, the series may come down to a key decision or two from the dugout. If that happens, Tacoma has to like their chances.

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