It's not mere hype to say the Salt Lake Buzz have a good shot at overcoming homefield disadvantage here this week.
The Vancouver Canadians earned the right to host the entire best-of-five Pacific Coast League Northern Division playoff series by winning both halves of the season, but the Buzz weren't far behind in either half and they've handled the Canadians as well as any team.When the series opens Wednesday at 8 p.m. (MDT) at Nat Bailey Stadium, the Buzz will be riding momentum from last weekend's four-game series in which they dominated Vancouver. The only game the Buzz lost was the one they needed to lose to clinch the playoff berth.
In the other three games, the Buzz outscored Vancouver, 22-6, beating the Canadians at what is supposed to be their strength - starting pitching.
Those three victories gave the Buzz a 10-6 edge in the season series with the Canadians, including a split here. In the first half of the season, the Canadians finished 39-32, a half game ahead of the Buzz's 39-33. In the second half, Vancouver ended up 38-33, three and a half games in front of the Buzz, at 35-37.
For all of the above reasons, the Buzz come into this series with confidence.
"Beating them here builds a little momentum, it builds a little confidence," said Buzz third baseman Scott Stahoviak after Sunday's regular-season-ending game. "Our pitching's been great, and we're definitely going to score some runs."
"Anything can happen in a short series," said Buzz manager Scott Ullger. "There's no fear or anything on our part."
It may sound simplistic, but the key to this series probably will be starting pitching. The Canadians have the best team ERA in the PCL, and their 17 complete games were a league best. The Buzz, on the other hand, ranked 7th in ERA and were the only long-season minor-league team in the country not to record a shutout. Salt Lake has had bullpen problems all season and gets a big lift when a starter can go six innings or more.
Hitting-wise, Salt Lake has an edge. The Buzz were tied with Albuquerque for the PCL's best team batting average prior to Sunday's game, while Vancouver was tied for fifth.
"We matched up very well together," Ullger said. "They're more a pitching-oriented team, and we're more a hitting-oriented team."
As for the carry-over benefit of having handled the Canadians in Salt Lake, Ullger wasn't sure. "It's always nice to score a bunch of runs off a team like that," he said. "As far as momentum, I don't know. We'll see."
Stahoviak said he didn't expect the Canadians to let the losses bother them.
"They're going to put it out of their minds, take the day (Tuesday) off and relax," he said.
LaTroy Hawkins (5-4, 4.08 ERA) will take the mound for the Buzz in the opener, opposed by Andrew Lorraine (12-4, 3.42).