By the very nature of the Arizona Fall League, team rosters are completely overhauled every year. But team rank apparently is more consistent, and the Phoenix Desert Dogs are barking for their sixth consecutive title. Phoenix, winner of the East Division, meets the West Division kingpin Peoria Javelinas in Saturday afternoon's AFL championship game at 2:35 p.m. ET/12:35 p.m. MT at Scottsdale Stadium. It will be meaningful baseball in November -- rather, more meaningful baseball this November, with the 2009 World Series being resolved earlier this month -- on MLB.com, which will carry the live stream,and on MLB Network, which will air the game.
However, contrary to original expectations, the game will not provide a competitive preview of right-hander Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals' No. 1 Draft choice. Instead of being on the mound for Phoenix, as scheduled, Strasburg will be in the nation's capital having a twisted left knee evaluated by Nats medical personnel. The injury, suffered during a Thursday workout and diagnosed as inflammation, is not considered serious and the right-hander was scratched as a precaution. Strasburg had similarly missed a scheduled start in the televised Nov. 7 Rising Stars Game due to a neck strain. Rays prospect Mitch Talbot will start for the Desert Dogs in Strasburg's place against Peoria's Anthony Varvaro. TV and Web viewers will still get No. 2, in First-Year Player Draft terms. Occupying the outfield and the batter's box for Peoria will be Dustin Ackley -- whom the Mariners made the overall No. 2 pick in June's Draft. Saturday's one-game showdown is between the obvious lords of the AFL's 18th season. The Desert Dogs (19-13) and Javelinas (18-14) had the only winning records among the league's six teams across the 32-game regular season. Fittingly, they split the six games against each other. They were the league's top offensive teams, by far. One possibly telling difference: Phoenix also boasted the offensive-minded league's top pitching staff (4.35 ERA) and Peoria its worst (6.14). But even that one disparity is mitigated by the fact the Javelinas' power hurlers led the league in strikeouts, with more than one an inning. Strasburg and Ackley both signed too late in the summer to taste any Minor League action, hence they faced their first professional tests in this league populated by top prospects from the Double-A and Triple-A ranks. Both passed those tests. Strasburg finished the five-week league with a 4-1 record, 4.26 ERA and a 23-7 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 19 innings. Ackley overcame a slow start to hit .315, with 12 RBIs in 20 games. The Javelinas are led by Russ Mitchell and Casper Wells, among the league leaders with 25 RBIs. Peoria also lines up Jordan Danks, brother of John and also with the White Sox, a .343 hitter with 23 RBIs, and speedster Lorenzo Cain of the Brewers (eight steals). The Desert Dogs will still have a featured Washington pitching prospect available in the title game: hard-throwing righty Drew Storen, who led the AFL with four saves. Phoenix also packs Grant Desme, the Oakland prospect who topped the league with 11 homers and had 27 RBIs, and Corey Brown, another A's hopeful, who batted .333 and closed hot to grab the RBI title with 28. For one brisk afternoon in November, both teams will be about securing a title. Phoenix has had it for a long time. Peoria longs to claim it.