Here are just some of the things to watch going into season 5.
1. Can Milwaukee repeat?
Milwaukee finally got over the hump and won their first World Series. They've always had the offense and their starting pitching has been solid. They've been arguably the best team since season 1- can they add another title?
2. Who's going to be the favorite in the NL?
Fargo and Houston have each made a World Series in the past and would seem to be 1 and 2 in the NL right now for next season, not necessarily in that order. So does one of them make a second World Series appearance? Or does a dark horse emerge, like in seasons 1 and 4?
3. Who will be this season's Little Rock?
Little Rock, fueled by a massive run at the end of the season, managed to get into the AL playoffs. They overcame what seemed to be a deficiency (starting pitching- nobody won more than 12 games and only 3 pitchers made at least 20 starts) to grab the spot over teams that may have had more talent on paper. Which team curently off the experts' radar will make some noise next season?
4. Is this the beginning of an Atlanta run in the NL East?
The Bandits made a few bold moves this season, in particular acquiring Matty Eusebio and Steven Michaels. Eusebio is signed through next season, but Michaels has a long term deal and Fred Carter hasn't hit arbitration yet, so they could make a long run atop the NL East. Unless, of course, Washington rebuilds, Norfolk's pieces come together (or they retool) or Trenton's young pieces take over for the veterans and gel quickly.
5. What about the wide-open NL West?
The Salem/Cheyenne reign officially ended this season. Cheyenne seems to be in a rebuilding stage, but Salem still has Dunwoody and Salmon and is always dangerous. Salt Lake City took the division; Vancouver won the pennant. So who winds up on top next season?
6. Can San Juan make a run?
If they weren't in the same division as Houston, San Juan would be talked about in the same breath as the other top teams. They've got arguably the best outfield in baseball. The problem is, they can't seem to get past Houston and have to play in the wild card round every season. Could that extra round be what makes the Dead Bunnies fall short?
7. Can Charlotte or New York take down the Legends?
Louisville has won 4 straight division titles, although Charlotte made them sweat it out this time. Can they take the division this time, or can New York break through?
8. What about the other perennial AL contenders?
Monterrey failed to win a playoff game, Las Vegas couldn't get by Milwaukee, and Nashville couldn't even make the playoffs. Could one of them (or one of the AL East teams) knock off the champs?
9. Who is going to try to make a move on the free-agent/trade market in the offseason?
Let the hot-stove talk begin? Who's a player or two away? Which veteran is on the move? Which team is going to make the move to get better? There are many good teams that have a flaw- which team(s) can take that next step?
10. Who's next?
Which rookies are going to make an impact? It always seems at least one rookie has something to say about the playoff race. (By the way, I already have my rookie of the year candidate lined up- wait for the season previews to find out who it is).