A Look at Dodger System Playoff Pitching

Pitching may be the name of the game anytime and that's most certainly the case in short series. Which is why the three Dodger farm teams that qualified for post-season play approach the best-of-three opening division title sets with mixed emotions.

All three teams assured themselves of the playoffs with first division wins so they've had time to set their rotations for the extra games. In the case of Jacksonville in the Southern League, that means a formidable group to throw against the Birmingham Barons, a White Sox affiliate. On the other hand, Vero Beach, in the Florida State League and Ogden in the Pioneer League have had some shaky performances of late and can't be sure about their depth.

Vero Beach is first up, going at the Palm Beach Cardinals tonight. The Dodgers will go with experience in game one, opting for righthander Brian Pilkington, who's 7-3, 3.71 but who hasn't been sharp recently. The scene will shift up to Vero for games two and three (if necessary) with righthander Danny Muegge (8-2, 3.38) set for the second contest and lefthander Chuck Tiffany (11-7, 3.93) in the third one.

Pilkington, who was out all last season after shoulder surgery, and Muegge are both location pitchers with the latter being the most consistent of the Dodger starters for some time now. Tiffany was the best pitcher in the league for its first month but has been off-form lately althougn he showed some of his best stuff in his last start Saturday, throwing five hitless innings albeit with seven walks mixed in.

If Vero goes on, it will be hard -pressed for a reliable fourth starter for righthander Julio Pimentel (8-10, 5.08) has been shelled of late and lefthander Mike Megrew (0-2, 20.25) is just off rehab and plainly hasn't recovered arm strength. They may be tempted to use righthander Jarod Plummer (1-1, 3.20), who recently came back from Columbus.

Vero does have a reliable set-up man in righthander Casey Hoorelbeke (9-3, 2.40) and closer in righthander Mark Alexander (5-4, 3.03 with 23 saves) although both have shown signs of tired arms in recent games.

Jacksonville opens at home with righthander Chad Billingsley set. He's not only one of the top mound performers in all the minors but throwing his best lately. They can back him with righthanders Justin Orenduff and Joel Hanrahan. Orenduff 5-2,4.07), who is also throwing well, came up at mid-season from Vero where he was 5-3, 2.24. Hanrahan, the 2003 Southern League Pitcher of the Year ,has had an inconsistent year as his 9-8, 4.92 record indicates.

Manager John Shoemaker can also call on righthander Eric Hull (7-7, 3.38) He has a deep bullpen including lefthanders Luis Gonzalez (7-2, 2.21) and Greg Miller (0-0, 2.77) since coming back from rehab. The closer is flame-throwing Jonathan Broxton (5-3, 3.17, five saves), who was returned by the parent Dodgers.

Ogden doesn't end the regular season until Thursday, then opens playoff action the next evening but it's not sure where with both Orem ( Angels) and Casper (Rockies) still in the second-half chase. Since the Raptors close the regular season at Casper, they'd be able to rest but if it's Orem, they'll have to return to Ogden, then travel across Utah for the opening game.

Whomever they play, manager Juan Bustabad knows he'll go with righthander Brent Leach (5-3, 2.43), his number one man all season. He'll be followed by righthander John Meloan (0-1, 3.44) who came on well in the second half and rightnander Cory Wade (2-2, 3.89), who threw the league's only nine-inning complete game in his last start only to lose 1-0.

Beyond that, the Raptor starters are wildly unpredicatble, with righthander Mario Alvarez (3-3, 6.14) and lefties Marlon Arias (4-7, 6.71) and David Pfieffer (7-3, 5.83) all available. Righthander Aaron Klusman (4-2, 3.06) is the best set-up man with righthander Ramon Troncoso (6-2, 3.68, 13 saves) the closer. Troncoso has been a force although he, too, has been showing signs of fatigue lately.

Opening set victors will move on to the leagues' championship series.