For the first time in four years, Taiwanese baseball's annual Fall Classic will be without the participation of the golden-jersey Brother Elephants.
Despite the absence of the three-time defending champions, tonight's 2004 Ford Focus Taiwan Series will feature the showdown between the President Lions (first half champs) and the Sinon Bulls (second half champs) -- two squads with very different styles of play in one of the most evenly matched series in league history.
Loaded with three of the league's top 10 hitters in terms of best batting averages and total RBIs (Chang "Prince of the Forest" Tai-shan (
Meeting the Bulls' potent offense head on is a stingy Lions staff that surrendered the fewest runs per game during the regular season (3.40) and held the opposing hitters to under .210 in batting average.
Led by second-year righty and last season's Rookie of the Year, Pan "Du Du" Wei-luen (
With Garcia's near-automatic ability to close out a game (converting 26 saves in 29 chances), the Lions will essentially be playing seven-inning games.
As long as they can grab a lead before the eighth inning, the game is practically as good as a win with Garcia finishing the eighth and ninth innings.
Although the Lions may not be able to compete with the Bulls on offense as far as explosiveness goes, they are capable of producing runs with their aggressiveness on the bases.
With three of the top 10 base stealers in the league during the regular season (Wu Jia-rong (吳佳榮), Yang Seng (陽森) and Huang Kang-lin (黃甘霖) with 25, 19, and 19 stolen bags to their credit, respectively), the Lions are likely to test the throwing arm of Bulls' catcher Yeh Jung-chang (葉君璋) early in batting order.
Known for their shaky and shallow bullpen, the Bulls could minimize their exposure to base thieves by having their starters go at least seven frames.
Staff ace Yang Jien-fu (陽建福), who lost a hard-fought, regular-season ERA title race to Macoto Cobras' Lin Ying-jeh (林英傑) by .039-run margin this year, can redeem himself for giving up the title-clinching hit to the Elephants last year with a solid performance on the mound this year.
Fastball pitcher Osvaldo Martinez will also have to carry the load for the Bulls in his two scheduled starts by pitching at least seven innings.
Team defense could be the difference in this series, because the strong Lions pitching could very well keep the high-powered Bulls lineup in check. Ultimately, the club with the fewest errors could gain the deciding edge in this year's Fall Classic.
"Even though it's my first title series, I'm here to guarantee victory for the Bulls," Manager Liu Rong-hua (
"Whatever it takes, we'll bring home the trophy after all is said and done," Lions manager Hsieh Chang-hern (謝長亨) countered.
"History can be and will be changed," Bull's slugger Chang Tai-shan (the 2004 home-run leader) said.
He was referring to the fact that the team with the season's home-run leader has never won the CPBL championship trophy in the same year.