OK, since I did the NL East and no one has sent me any death threats yet, I guess we will move on to the NL North. Currently, the Montreal Maroons sit atop the division at 3-1. The Chicago Cubs and Fargo Dirtbags(that's their actual name) split a series with each other to sit at 2-2, and the Cincinnati Dragons are hopefully not (bad pun alert) burned out at 1-3.
We'll start with the offenses.
- This rundown starts north of the border with Montreal. What else needs to be said? This is an extremely deep lineup, running pretty much 7 deep. Carlton Beck is probably the weakest hitter of the bunch, but he is a very solid defensive shortstop. Dewey Greenwood (CF) and Vicente Romero (3B) are good all around hitters, but Suzuki(2B), Taylor(C), and James(RF) behind them are all capable of driving in runs. Rico Valdez at the top should get his share of hits- I think the question becomes will he walk enough to be a great leadoff hitter. If he can get on base, Thomas Keisler (1B) has all the offensive tools to be a very good 2 hitter and then you have the mashers behind them. Potentially scary.
- I'd say the second best offense in this division resides in Cincinnati. While they don't have quite as many offensive weapons as Montreal, their lineup is fairly solid, as the 3-4-5 combination of Reid Colbert(2B), Antonio Cone(1B) and David Pineda(C) are all well-rounded hitters. Don't overlook Jack Wilkerson(CF) down in the 8 hole.
- Not far to the west is Chicago. The Cubs have a few solid options in the lineup, the best hitter being 1B Bud Klein in the 3 hole. Getting on base ahead of him is Torey Diaz, who maybe doesn't do any one thing extraordinarily well, but is a very well rounded player on offense and defense and could play for me anytime. Mitchell Dunham is a big slugger down in the 7 spot who will drive in runs but couldn't outrun a tree stump from 1st to 3rd.
- Fargo has many questions . Quentin Harper leads off but he, like Valdez in Montreal, might not be able to give the Dirtbags the OBP they need. Benji Crespo is a decent 2 hitter, but is probably overpriced at 4.2 million. Stan Peterson in CF doesn't give you the power you'd want from the 3 spot, but he will definitely hit.
Now to the pitching staffs. As far as the best in the division, it looks like a toss-up between Montreal and Cincinnati. I'll maybe give the slight edge to Cincinnati and start there.
-The Dragons have a lot to like in their pitching staff. Bernard Robinson is the best starting pitcher in this division and can be called a true ace. They picked up free-agent Manny Christians to give Cincy a very good 1-2 punch. There are question marks on the rest of the staff, but these two will win their fair share of games. The bullpen is solid too, anchored by Willy Nunez setting up Wily Mo (don't call me Pena) Owens. They have a good shot to make the playoffs and if they do, this is why they'd be really tough in a short series.
- Montreal is only slightly behind because they lack the big-time starters of Cincinnati. However, they seem to have a solid staff. Except maybe for Harry Lee being a bit of a stretch as an ace(he's more like a 2 or 3-solid, not spectacular), the rest of the rotation falls into line. Pat Clifton is a legit 2, Alex Valdez is a good option at 3, and Tony Howell can give quality innings out of the pen. Jackson Hayes is ok as a closer.
- Fargo checks in next. The bullpen is the strength of this team, as Bert Price is a capable closer and Chris Siddell is a very good setup man. The rotation is led by Tyler Wilson, but could struggle. They made what could have been the biggest deal of the offseason, getting future superstar starter Javier Henriquez from Milwaukee, but the front office is being conservative with him as he will pitch in AAA. If he pitches to his potential he could be the best pitcher in the entire league in a year or two.
- Chicago has very few options as far as arms are concerned. Tito Naulty would be an iffy proposition as a 4 or 5 starter, never mind an ace. Byron Duckworth anchors the bullpen, but getting him the ball to close games could be a challenge.
Predictions (Don't hold me to any of this):
1. Montreal takes the division. Far and away the best offense in this division. Cincinnati should be in the thick of the race for a wild-card berth and could be very dangerous in the postseason.
2. Fargo and Chicago will "battle" for the 3rd spot. Could go either way.
3. Chris Siddall (Fargo) will be dealt to a contender before the deadline. Several Cubs position players could be headed out of Chicago by that time, too.
4. At least for the first few years, Montreal and Cincinnati will be the premier rivalry in the NL.