It's been a long long journey for this ballclub. There's been some mountains and valleys, and now it's our chance to win a title. —Salt Lake Bees manager Keith Johnson
It's been a long time since a Salt Lake team won a triple-A baseball title — 34 years, in fact.
However, thanks to consistent regular-season play and some exciting playoff victories, the 2013 Salt Lake Bees find themselves in the PCL championship series, which opens Tuesday in Omaha, Neb., against the Storm Chasers.
"It's been a long long journey for this ballclub," said Salt Lake Bees manager Keith Johnson after his team's workout at Omaha's Werner Park. "There's been some mountains and valleys, and now it's our chance to win a title."
The Bees and Storm Chasers will play the first two games of the series Tuesday and Wednesday in Omaha, followed by a rest day and three games in Salt Lake City. One way or another a trophy will be handed out at Spring Mobile Ballpark this weekend.
This is the first appearance by the Bees, Stingers or Buzz in the PCL Finals since 2002. You have to go all the way back to 1979 to find the last time Salt Lake City won a triple-A title, when the team was called the Salt Lake Gulls.
This PCL finals pair is a very unlikely one.
Earlier this year, Baseball America ranked the Angels as having the worst minor-league organization in terms of talent. So much for that. In addition to the Bees, the Angels' other top minor league affiliates, double-A Arkansas and single-A advanced Inland Empire, are both playing deep into the Texas and California League playoffs.
Meanwhile, Omaha is the first losing team to qualify for the PCL playoffs since the league went to a four-division format in 1998.
None of those facts are concerning to Johnson.
"(The Storm Chasers) just swept the best team in the league," he said. "You never underestimate anybody in this league."
Omaha (73-74) needed only three games to beat the Oklahoma City RedHawks in the PCL American Conference series. The Bees (81-67) used four games to dispatch the Las Vegas 51s. Each game was decided by one run — the first two were on walk-off victories for the Bees.
"The big thing is minimizing the damage, not allowing the big inning," Johnson said. "The bullpen and starters never gave up more than two runs in any particular inning."
While the Bees used sacrifice bunts and sacrifice flys to beat Las Vegas, a different strategy might be needed against the more well-rounded pitching staff of Omaha, which finished second in the league in ERA.
The teams split the season series 2-2, with all four games being played in Salt Lake City in August.
The Bees will have to make due without shortstop Tommy Field, who the Angels called up Sunday, and third baseman Andy Marte, who injured his shoulder last week. Juggling the lineup is nothing new for the Bees' coaching staff.
"It's kind of been how our team has been all year," Johnson said.