Last season was a wild one in the NL West, with Salt Lake City pulling a bit of an upset by winning 94 games and the division. Vancouver got in as the last wild card team and proceeded to make the World Series. So what does the division hold this season? Is this the beginning of Salt Lake City or Vancouver putting their stamp on this division? Or do the old powerhouses, Salem and Cheyenne, return to form?
- Salt Lake City learned last season how to manufacture runs. 1B Ruben Hernandez (.299-50-137) and 3B Vin Foulke (.296-31-100) are the only two power threats, but they had 5 guys steal at least 20 bases. Vic James was not one of them, but the right fielder will be a key cog in the offense, getting on base for Hernandez and Foulke and driving in some runs himself.
- Vancouver was a bit behind the Shakers last season. RF Cap Herrera had a big year and LF Travis Ryan and 1B Cody Lincoln chipped in, but SS Miguel Cerveza had a down season. So did 3B Brace Kroeger, but he had his bad season for Anaheim; he moves to the NL this season.
- Cheyenne felt they had to make a splash in free-agency, and they did. They landed former Nashville RF Bud Klein (probably overpaying) to help holdovers 3B Wendell Durrington and LF Steve Sweeney, who needs to cut down on his strikeouts. They could use a leadoff hitter now that Justin Hernandez is gone.
- Salem will again struggle to score. 3B Max Clifton and CF Nate Cox are the only two consistent threats; RF Mo Damon (formerly of Austin) just isn't that much of an upgrade in the lineup.
- This is where Salem excels. Former Cy Young Award winners Dave Dunwoody and Dwight Salmon return, and former Monterrey ace Philip Allensworth joins the rotation. Carlos Bennett adds depth. The bullpen is not as settled, with Greg Timmons and Juan Mendoza the best arms in the relief corps.
-Salt Lake City got some good seasons out of their starters. Rene Alexander, Rob Cepeda, Gary Jackson, and Albert Valdez all pitched well last season. Felipe Calles saved 35 out of 43 last season; Bruce Phillips may get a chance to close this season.
- Cheyenne returns Mendy Blackley and Patrick Billingsley, two solid starters. Youngsters Miguel Reyes and Mark Bong will try to round out the rotation. The big difference is in the bullpen, as Cheyenne picked up former closers Willie Nunez and Wily Mo Owens in free-agency. Their presence will allow the other quality arms ( Paul Schwartz, Kenneth Schalk, and Alfredo Canseco) to slide to more natural roles and provide the Nation with a lot of good options out of the pen.
- Vancouver has stalwarts Kelly Downs and Jesse Bridges at the top of the rotation. Footsie Lewis is a good depth starter, and look for Oswaldo Astacio to win a rotation spot. The bullpen is pretty solid, with closer Chris Jennings coming off a very good year and some good arms in front of him in Yuniesky Bennett and Tony Frank.
1. This is maybe the only division where any team can win. Salt Lake City is the defending champs, Vancouver went to the World Series, Salem has the best pitching in the division, and Cheyenne is much improved. This is going to be wild.
2. I guess Salt Lake City is the slight favorite.
3. Don't be surprised if Cheyenne wins this thing- I like them for second for some reason.
4. Can't put the NL champs last- I'll give them 3rd.
5. Hard to give Dunwoody, Salmon, and company last, but they still need offense.