It may not be the same division it was in seasons 1 and 2 (Salem winning a title and the Salem/Arizona rivalry coming down to the last days of the season in season 2), but it's still an interesting division. Salem and Arizona (now Cheyenne) have come back to the pack a little bit. Interestingly enough, the only team in the division to score more runs than it gave up last season (Scottsdale, now Vancouver) finished 3rd. What should we expect from this division in season 4?
It's not going to be like the versions that threatened 1000 runs in seasons 1 and 2, but Cheyenne has the best offense in this division on paper. 2-time MVP Osvaldo Johnson fell off a little bit in his RBI total, but he's still a complete hitter. He will have support in the lineup from recently acquired IF/OF Wendell Durrington and holdovers C Willis Petrov and 1B Eddie Greer. If young players 2B Willie Scott and RF Orlando Diaz can step up (and that's a big if), this could be one of the better offenses in the National League.
Vancouver comes next, although it remains to be seen how the switch to Vancouver will affect the offensive numbers. While they don't have a hitter of the caliber of OJ, they have some depth in the lineup. Newly acquired CF Cody Lincoln will head the offense, along with IFs Miguel Cerveza and Tony Kwon, and RF Cap Herrera. 1B Thomas Keisler took a step back in his first year with the franchise- he'll need to revert back to the form he showed in Montreal/Toronto at the top of the lineup to really make this a potent squad.
Salt Lake City has a superstar in 1B Ruben Hernandez and not much else. The best hitter in the division not named Johnson has 3B Vin Foulke to protect him in the lineup and LF Charles Tomko as the leadoff hitter. 2B Paul Ingram is the most likely to step up here.
Salem will struggle again to score runs. CF Nate Cox is the superstar here, but the rest of the lineup is filled with young, unproven players like LF Reggie Ducati and 2B Derrek Bedard or one-dimensional players like RF Richard Little.
Salem, as it has been since season 1, has one of the best staffs in the NL. Dave Dunwoody and Dwight Salmon are as dominant as ever, and there is some depthbehind them in Dan Pederson and Carlos Bennett. Benjo Stewart could be the 5th starter or a swing man. Tony Matos is a solid closer.
Vancouver is next, a slight favorite over Salt Lake City. They don't have anyone near the caliber of Dunwoody or Salmon, but Kelly Downs had a very nice season last year. Downs, Jesse Bridges and Footsie Lewis form a decent trio, but the last two spots are a mystery- I don't expect much from John Gibson. In the bullpen, Chris Jennings is decent out of the pen (don't like blowing 15 saves, but he did nail down 39), but he'll need help. One thing they can do to help is moving Cerveza out of the shortstop position- he plays it as if he has a few beers before taking the field.
Salt Lake City checks in next. Rob Cepeda, Rene Alexander, and Albert Valdez form a fairly solid top 3 (not to mention young- the first two are under 26). They have the potential to pass Vancouver if they get one of their current AAA starters to step into the #4 role, but as of right now those spots as well as the bullpen is in flux, so I can't elevate them past the Golden Otters yet.
Cheyenne's starting staff features Kane Grahe and... ummm... did I mention Kane Grahe? Lariel Perez could make Rick Ankiel look like a control artist, and both Tim Gonzalez and Hideki Tanaka haven't had success at the ML level yet; I just don't see it coming. Manny Christians becomes the highest-paid closer and Paul Schwartz and Alfredo Canseco are pretty good setup guys, but they may not get many leads to protect.
1. There was only a 6 game difference from first to last in this division last season, so it's hard to say any team is a clear cut favorite. It should be almost as bunched up again this season.
2. Took out my dartboard and assigned each team a quarter of the board. First one hit the wall (my landlord is going to be pissed). Second one hit Vancouver, so that's my pick.
3. I'll take Salem second just because of the pitching.
4. Can't wrap my brain around deacon's team (whatever they're named) finishing last, so I'll say their offense carries them to third.
5. I'll take Willie Scott as the breakout star.
6. I don't really forsee any big name here getting traded, but if I had to take one it'd be either Kane Grahe or Nate Cox.