Riding a wave of the best arms in the league, the Hawaii Tropics have made the post season for the first time since 2027—a period that culminated a three-season post-season burst that included that amazing 2025 Landis winner. They draw the California Crusaders, which are a club that, from the 10,000 foot level, looks a lot like the Tropics. California is built on pitching, pitching, and more pitching.
Offensively, the Crusaders hit homers (their 290 was third in the Frick), and walk (besides leading the league, 649 is a freaking lot). In David Simpson and Luis Lucero, they’ve got two of the more impression-making youngsters in the league, and Drew Hair has just put up the year they were hoping happened last season. Defensively, the club is sound, though not particularly notable beyond the obligatory wave toward the venerable Chip Saunders.
Offensively, the Tropics as a whole don’t really do anything. What they’ve got going for them, though, is a cream of the crop defensive club—particularly around the infield.
Add it all up, and you’ve got a deeply interesting match-up.
Can the Hawaii arms and defense keep a lid on the Crusaders long enough for the Tropic bats to find a way to score?
I say this because, while the whole of the Tropic offense doesn’t stand out, they’ve got the top end to compete. First baseman Manny Aguilar, Jr. is a 38-homer stud, and CF Luis Costello ( a mid-season acquisition that should get GM Mike Bieschke at least some nods at the GM of the Year award) is his match. Add outfielder Benton Allen’s 34, and you’ve got a trio with pop. Then put the cherry on top in the form of 22-year-old Mike Campbell, who did them all on better by drilling 40 of those babies.
So, you get the idea. Hawaii’s team offense may not raise an eyebrow when you scan the league-wide numbers, but they’ve got the sneaky bats.
Which they are going to need, because, as San Fernando GM Randy Weigand would say, the California Crusaders are very good at pitching.
Miguel Ramos is a Nebraska winner. As is Cisco Morales. And Luis Gracia may not actually have won one of those things, but it’s easy to argue he could have should have. You can envision a time when Manuel Andres is in the hunt for one. And Jaimie Mercado is merely 99-58 with a career 3.57 ERA at the ripe old age of 30. The bullpen is just as good.
Bottom line: The Crusader staff leads the league in every category but HR allowed and Strikeouts, in which they are second. And, yes, we know about the ballpark—but the whole point of working with a ballpark is to stock it with players who will then dominate (rather than just let the park try to cover holes your guys might have (which is what, say, Madison has been trying to do for the past couple years). Yes, South Pacific Field makes a difference, but California’s management through the two reigns I’ve seen has maintained a firm commitment to that pitching, and it is paying off. Elite lefty pitching in a park that plays to their elite left-handed hitting. Sound
And, yet, here’s the thing.
If there’s a team perfectly suited to face the Crusder staff, it might well be the Tropics.
Campbell, Allen, and Costello are all right-handed batters who like to see the portsiders. As is oft-maligned veteran Dave Tallent, who might find himself in the right place at the right time to get some redemption. And, while South Pacific’s ballpark caters to the lefties, the Tropic’s Le’ahi Diamond Head Baseball Park has a nice shade to the right. Given the insane 1-2-2 cycle of the Geoghegan home field advantage set-up, if the Hawaii crew can steal that first game in California, the odds get interesting.
And, really, in playoff baseball, a pitching staff can be a little leaner and still be good. When you’ve got a lefty like Stephen Taub to throw in California, and a righty like Zak Johnson to roll out there where ever the hell you wanna, that’s pretty good. Throw in a useful start from Patrick Pratchett or Luis Torres—which isn’t beyond the pale, and all bets are off.
So, what’s going to happen?
Who will win the Golden Ticket to the Cartwright in the form of getting to face Yellow Springs in the Doubleday? To be honest, I think it’s a toss-up. But I think I’ll go with a gentle upset, and say:
Hawaii in four games.