Saturday, April 26, 2008

NL East Season 2 Preview

A couple of surprises highlighted this division, as Trenton managed to win 100 games and Norfolk missed the playoffs, despite playing well enough to win 88 games. Will it be another Trenton division title, or will the Destroyers upend the Traffic this year? Could the Philadelphia Blue Jays or Atlanta Bandits make some noise this year?

Trenton Traffic (100-62 last season)

Major Additions: C King Winn (NY)
Major Losses: P Cookie Rijo (Durham)

Offense (last season: T-2 in NL): The Traffic had little trouble scoring runs last year, as they return 5 starters who drove in at least 90 runs. LF Ken Davis was a big part of what made the Traffic go last year, leading the NL in doubles and driving in 92 while scoring 134 times. This year, in addition to sluggers 3B Paxton Coleridge (.241- 49-111) and RF Brian Dunham (.275-54-132) driving in Davis and CF Carlton MacDougal (.301-24-99, 28 SBs), the Traffic will have the MVP runner-up in the AL from last year in King Winn (.307-68-168 for New York) and will get a full year from rookie 1B/3B Enrique Park (.300-19-58 in 247 ABs). This lineup looks even more potent than last year's squad.

Pitching (last season: 7th in NL): This is where the question marks were last year, and in part remain. Last season the Traffic got great performances from a lot of veteran pitchers, which has to make one wonder if they can duplicate that. It's hard to picture Tony Satou going 14-2 with a 2.81 ERA again, for example, but the question is how big is the dropoff? If they pitch anywhere near the level that they did last year, they could cruise to a division title. If they don't, they could be out of the playoffs. Trenton fans are looking forward to seeing rookie Johnnie Reagan pitch every five days. As for the bullpen, they return Fireman of the Year Justin Beverlin and have a full year of Jim Bell to help. Offseason acquisitions Harry Harper and Oswaldo Alou will be counted on to get to Beverlin.

Outlook: Should be in the hunt again, I think their pitchers might have just enough to fend off Norfolk. They won the division by 12 games last year- I think it should be closer this time around.

Norfolk Destroyers (88-74 last season)

Major Additions: None
Major Losses: None

Offense(last season: 9th in NL): Probably not as deep as the Traffic, but still has to be considered a good lineup. RF Justin Gordon and CF Carlos Cervantes both drove in and scored 100 runs last year. 1B is usually thought of as a power position, but Melvin Nakano had a good year as a leadoff hitter for the Destroyers. C Ray Canseco also drove in 100 to provide more depth. 2B Ignacio Diaz hit .218-10-41 in 107 games- he's capable of more and needs to provide it for the Destroyers to stay in the race.

Pitching(last season: 6th in NL): Starting pitching is the one area where the Destroyers are better on paper than the Traffic. Babe Broadhurst didn't get Cy Young consideration last year but was solid, going 15-8 with a 3.37 ERA- expect similar numbers this year. Rod Walters (14-12, 3.66) Javier Sosa (14-6, 4.16) and Malcolm Lawrence (8-6, 3.83 with Norfolk after being traded from Memphis) provide the staff with depth. In the bullpen, Jae Brea went 29 out of 37 in save opportunities, but the Destroyers may go with 25-year-old Ariel Lee instead. Getting to Brea or Lee could be an issue. We could see Jonathan MacDougal at some point this year.

Outlook: The Destroyers decided to stand pat and let their young players develop. They were in the playoff hunt last year but couldn't quite catch the Traffic. Even if they are better, they may have to win the division to get in, as the wild-card race should be just as jumbled as it was last year, if not more so. A division title is not out of reach here.

Philadelphia Blue Jays (74-88 last season)

Major Additions: None
Major Losses: P Roland Casey, P Jacob Herrera

Offense (last season: T-4 in NL): Philadelphia has a few nice pieces to their lineup but do not have enough firepower to compete with the Traffic and Destroyers. Their offense revolves around 3B David Rushford (.293-44-109), who began the year at AAA and ended it as their best ML offensive player. The other key hitters are RF Irv MacCallum (.264-38-110), 2B Ronald Spurgeon (.297-22-95), and 1B/LF Emmanuel Rodriguez (.293-23-97). But there are some major deficiencies. Toby Phillips doesn't hit enough to be a true leadoff hitter and doesn't drive in enough runs to bat lower in the order. They got little last year from their returning catchers and centerfielders, and could very well start a rookie shortstop in Nick Ramirez who will have to prove he can hit.

Pitching (last season: 13th in NL): They have a young staff that is going to have to make huge leaps this year. Starters Terence Gryboski, Edgar Chavez, Matty Grimsley, Lance Rogers, and Sandy Cunanne are all 27 or younger and all struggled either at the ML or AAA level last year. I don't see them getting big league hitters out on a consistent basis. In the bullpen, Torey Carrasco did a very solid job for the Jays last year, saving 37 of 45 attempts and at 25 should be the closer for a while. Rico Mangual did a nice job going back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen; management may need to make a decision as to whether he can start or not.

Outlook: They lost 88 games last season and it could get worse. They lost the only two consistent pitchers they had (although having the sandwich pick could benefit the franchise more than re-signing Casey would have) and don't have the offense to win slugfests. They are hoping to have a surprise season this year like fellow Delaware River denizens Trenton did last year, but I don't see it (of course, I didn't see Trenton coming last year, either).

Atlanta Bandits (62-100 last season)

Major Additions: SS Eric Baker (Ottawa)
Major Losses: LF Harry Silva (Ottawa)

Offense(last season: 14th in NL): The term "pop-gun" comes to mind- there's just no power. That's not to say that there aren't pieces to work with- CF Matt Rivera (.272-16-71) is good at or near the top of the lineup, 2B Johnny Holt (.318- 12-64) is a similarly good hitter and rookie SS Eric Baker should be worth watching, but there's no big-time extra base hit threat. Rookie LF Davey Pena hit 39 HRs last year and drove in 102 runs, but that was at AAA and even if he can translate that production to the next level there's no support in the lineup for him. This lineup will stand in stark contrast to the likes of the Traffic and Destroyers in their own division.

Pitching(last season: 11th in NL): They'll struggle here as well as they look to the future. Alex Sanchez, after pitching lights-out baseball in AA and AAA, will begin his ML career as possibly the lone bright spot on this staff. Sanchez, 24 and current AAA starter Fred Carter, 23, will anchor the staff for the foreseeable future. Look for Carter to make his debut possibly later in the year. Larry Springer went 10-16 (not terrible for a 100-loss team), but had an ERA over 6 and the league hit .307 against him. Trevor Watson closed 26 out of 32 chances with an ERA almost 5. Rule 5 pickup Andres Garces could be an important piece to the bullpen.

Outlook: Could very well be a lot like season 1. Pena, Baker, Sanchez, and Carter are the beginning of a nice future but the Bandits are going to need more than that to compete with the big boys of this division.

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