With the first HRLTC playoffs looming, it's interesting to think of who the favorites could be. There are no clear cut favorites, and it's conceivable that any of the eight teams could be left standing at the end as HRLTC Champion. We'll go over each team and look at why they can and can't win the crown this year.
A's (12-7, 1st place)
Why they will win it: With the strongest 1-2 pitching punch the HRLTC has to offer, David Mathis and Greg "The Pirate" Lund are a tall order to beat, especially in the playoffs, where it will likely be those two one after the other. With a combined 12-5 record on the hill, you have to like their chances. Hittng is clearly not their bread and butter. Offensively they are at best an average team, even with Mathis in the lineup. Mathis does, however, provide much-needed pop to an otherwise impotent batting team.
Why they won't win it: With the playoff schedule the way it's structured, there may be Thursdays that Mathis is not available, and that could spell doom for the A's. Also, despite showing flashes of clutch offense at the beginning of the year, the A's bats as they are now aren't going to cut it in the playoffs.
Braves (13-9, 3rd place)
Why they will win it: Perhaps the most complete team in the league, these guys know their roles better than any team in the league. The 1-2 duo of Sanchez and Rocket (6-1 in their last 7 starts combined) are coming on as the pitching staff, and the Chops-Polseno hitting combo is as dangerous as it gets (batting a combined .404). They can put up runs AND shut you down like it's nobody's business.
Why they won't win it: Polseno has been showing up sporadically due to a recent injury/transportation issues, and their lineup is not as potent without the quiet man in it. Sanchez and Rocket, while pitching well of late, are very hittable as well, which could be trouble if they face a good hitting team like the Twins, Brewers or Yankees in the first round.
Brewers (11-15, 7th place)
Why they will win it: Forget the record here. This team, when on, can pummel anyone, with the big bats of Hendi and Costa Rica (combined 27 HR, 63 RBI). Also, Joe Lawrence has come on and put up some big power numbers of late to add to the hurt. Westy has been a steady for-average hitter all year. Pitching wise, Joe has been a steady winner all year long, and Hendi has had no luck as the #2 starter despite pitching some close ballgames. When the bats are working and the pitching is there, the Crew is tough.
Why they won't win it: Just look at the pitching. Despite Joe leading the HRL in wins (8), the Brew Crew's pitching staff has given up the most hits, runs, and home runs in the league. At a time in the season where it's VITAL to shut down the opponent, this is particularly a problem. Even light-hitting teams like the Royals and Phillies have put up some runs on these guys. If the pitching isn't top notch, these guys are in trouble.
Expos (9-11, 6th place)
Why they will win it: Arguably the hottest team in the HRLTC (along with the Yankees), these guys have finally found what works and have gone 9-3 since their horrid 0-8 start. J-Ski has become a legit MVP candidate, and the emergence of late-comer Christian have given these guys a multi-talented hitting (combined .308-24-46) AND pitching (combined 9-3, 2.65) duo that most teams don't have. You can forget the 0-8 start. This is NOT that same hapless team.
Why they won't win it: Good pitchers have been able to quiet this team (see Cota, Truck, Edgar) despite the late run of success. The downer is that outside the J-Ski-Christian tandem, the rest of the club has been spotty at best. M-Ski is a solid contributor when he actually shows up, but isn't there enough to back up his rampant message board banter. The rest of the supporting cast have not been what you'd call key contributors to this point.
Phillies (8-15, 8th place)
Why they will win it: They have one of the top 3 or 4 pitchers in this league in Shirls. To this point they have pitched him every 4th game, when the rules say he CAN go every other. If he goes every other in the playoffs, which would be allowed, the Phils are instantly a contender, despite the regular season record. The bats have not been on the same page all year. Shirls, Peeks, Pace and Nine have all had games this year where they have been the offensive catalyst, so they are all capable of having big games at the plate.
Why they won't win it: The pitching depth behind Shirls is… well… not that good. (Shirls, 5-2. Rest of Phils staff, 3-13.) If they continue to go with more than a 2-man rotation for the playoffs, it could be a short stay. The batters rarely all have a great game at the same time (aka Royals' Syndrome), and this could be a problem in a game where one hit could make a difference.
Royals (13-8, 2nd place)
Why they will win it: With Truck on the mound every other game, you have to like their chances. Their #2 pitching slot has been shared this season by Mikey and The Rick (combined 5-5, 3.32), and it's unclear who will fill that role in the playoffs with Rick's injury situation not settled. The hitting duo of Mikey and Truck, when on, is deadly. Old Man Dave has provided a steady glove all year long. They've won more close games than anyone this year (6-3 record in 1-run games), which could be good experience to draw from in the playoffs.
Why they won't win it: Probably the worst overall hitting team in the league. Mikey, despite getting on base with walks, and leading the team in homers, is barely batting over .200. Dave, despite being a tough man to strike out, is batting below the Mendoza line, as well as The Rick. Truck has been the only real consistently productive offensive player on the team so far, and come playoff time, one bat won't carry a whole team.
Twins (10-11, 5th place)
Why they will win it: These guys just hit, and hit, and hit. Even though they don't hit a ton of homers, (only 23 as a team all year) their team hits very well overall (league best .284 avg, league best 105 runs scored). Any one of the quartet of Edgar, K-Mart, Nelson or Jon can base-hit you to death, which could prove to be a huge asset in the playoffs.
Why they won't win it: Their ace, Edgar, has a losing record (4-5). Their staff as a whole is merely average, but even though they don't have a top-tier pitcher (no Twin is in the top 12 in ERA), their staff doesn't have any disasters waiting to happen either. However, all it will take against these guys is for one pitcher to come in and shut their hitting down, and their playoff dream could be over quick, because these guys' bread and butter have been outslugging the other team.
Yankees (11-11, 4th place)
Why they will win it: This team has unparalleled power hitting, and can run the score up faster than any team (2 mercy wins, 7 games scoring 7 or more runs). Cota, Gus, Scotty and Willie are enough to put the fear of BALCO into any opposing pitcher (combined 37 HR). Cota has also been a Cy Wiffle candidate all year with his pitching. At times, Gus has looked good as a #2 starter as well, but if these guys put up runs like they have lately, they could go deep into the playoffs.
Why they won't win it: Outside Cota, the pitching has only recently been good, but not enough to say that they're a lock to beat you. Yeah, they crush the ball, that's true, but the Yanks are hitting a paltry .223 as a team (3rd worst in the league), so if a pitcher is careful enough not to make any mistakes, they will have success against the Yankees (from the Feast or Famine File: Yanks have been shut out 4 times). Also, no team has had worse personnel issues than these guys. In order to have success, they need to show up first.