Next up on our journey is the NL North, where Fargo has taken the last 3 division titles after Toronto (nee Montreal) won the first season. Can Fargo make it 4 in a row? Does the commish's Chicago team finally break through? Can Toronto or Philadelphia make a surprise run?
- In the Windy City, the winds of change have definitely been blowing this offseason. The lineup will see four new starters this season in 1B Bernie Soriano, SS Andres Calderon, CF Derrin Hernandez, and 3B Jay Walker. They all have talent and, if they mesh and adjust to their new home, should combine with superstar LF Sean Simpson (.313-38-106) to form a dynamic offense. The downside is, with all the new additions, someone has to leave. They lose Trever Russell (traded to Boston) and Paxton Coleridge (left via free-agency), who combined for 98 HRs and 225 RBI. The question is can the new guys make up for that missing production?
- Fargo made a few significant changes of their own. Gone is speedy LF Rico Valdes (traded to Trenton), but they brought in Alex Lim from Boise to fill the position. Lim is a great addition to the middle of the order, but they lose Valdes at the leadoff spot, so CF Stan Peterson (.269-8-39) probably has more pressure on him to be a leadoff/table setter. The other major addition is 3B Leo Miller. Those two will combine with incumbent RF William Bolling (.299-46-134) to form the core of the offense.
- Toronto took a step back offensively last season, and that was a big part of their poor season. RF Vicente Romero (.287-25-75) saw his production decline quite a bit, which was bad news for a lineup that depends a lot on him. CF Dewey Greenwood (.313-34-107) was a bright spot, finally displaying the consistency to go along with his talent. LF Kevin Yamakazi had a solid rookie season and big things are expected from him by fans north of the border.
- Philadelphia had its worst offensive production in season 4, and it probably won't get much better. 2B Reid Colbert (.275-26-77) and 1B Don Meng (.279-46-105) are the only consistent offensive threats. LF Anthony Spencer (.290-15-75) had a solid second season.
- Shouldn't be any surprise we start in Fargo. The biggest reason for their success in the past 3 seasons has been the starting pitching. The Big 3 (Javier Henriquez, Sammy Pierce, Jim Arnold) return for another season, and they added veteran arm Manny Christians to the staff. Their top 4 pitchers rivals Atlanta's. Their bullpen has lots of talent as well, as Alex Javier had a good season at the closer's position, and they still have Bert Price, Christopher Siddall, and Kevin Li (who had an off year) to set him up.
- Chicago has made plenty of changes to their rotation as well, but it still looks a bit iffy. Marty Lane came over from Colorado Springs (now Boise) last season, but he's not a true ace. They also picked up Orber Marin from Buffalo and traded for Hipolito Pujols this offseason. They will be the top 3, but they can't compete with Fargo's rotation (then again, few teams can). Their bullpen has talent, as free-agent pickup Tony Matos joins incumbents Dude Huskey, Achilles Hume, Clay Bell, Benito Chavez, and Bernie Corino. The roles are still undefined, but they should be able to sort it out. Former closer Wily Mo Owens packed his bags for Cheyenne.
- Toronto doesn't have a starter of Robinson's quality, but they probably have more depth than Philly. Hipolito Santana, Harry Lee, Jeremi Gant, and Patrick Clifton are the top 4- all are fairly solid, but none are close to being an ace. Clifton went from 17-7 in season 3 to 8-16 last season, but all his other numbers were pretty much the same. The bullpen is a potential mess- Mark Ott is probably the best option as the closer, but getting to him could prove difficult.
- Philadelphia has ace Bernard Robinson, who is the best starting pitcher in this division outside of North Dakota. Other than that, who knows? They have a few innings-eaters in guys like Victor Aybar, but nothing spectacular. The big question (besides whether or not to deal Bernie) is what to do with starter Turner Darr. He was rushed up to the majors too soon by the old management team, but he's still got talent and he's only 21. Jamey Dwyer is highly questionable as the closer; Kid Johnstone and Arthur Gates both had fine seasons setting up.
1. Fargo takes 4 in a row with little trouble.
2. Chicago takes second by default.
3. I think Toronto is not as bad as their 69 wins last season- I'll give them 3rd.
4. Philadelphia may be hard-pressed to improve on their win total and should finish last again.
5. Chicago stays in contention for the wild card, but I don't think they have enough right now. If they made a big-time deal for an arm, they could sneak in. As of right now, rumors are swirling in Chicago that a deal for an arm might happen soon.
6. It's possible that Robinson gets dealt, but I don't count on it. This will, however, be his last season in Philadelphia.