Last season, the NL West had the odd distinction of being the first division in the history of The Bigs to finish in alphabetical order (according to city). Can the Cheyenne Nation win again? Can their archrivals, the Salem Sacrifices, take another division title? Can Salt Lake City win the division, as it did in season 4? Can Vancouver rebound from its last place finish?
With the addition of CF Dewey Greenwood from Toronto, Cheyenne (last season- 8th in NL) now has a lineup that is solid from top to bottom. Greenwood and 3B Wendell Durrington will lead the charge, but they also have RF Bud Klein, LF Steve Sweeney, 2B Steve Bako, and 1B Eddie Greer for depth. Look for a better season from young catcher Yeico Solano.
Salt Lake City (last season- 5th in NL) has one of the best run producers in the league in 1B Ruben Hernandez (.296-41-150). LF Vic James also drove in 100 while hitting .326, but the rest of the infield- young hitters Che Bong, Jordan Newfield, and Carlos Batista- could be the key to the season. If they take a step up, this lineup could rival Cheyenne's. If not, they'll be back near the middle of the pack in runs.
Salem (last season- 6th in NL) finally found some support for CF Nate Cox, who had an MVP-caliber season (finished 2nd to Osvaldo Johnson). Karim Ortiz, Mo Damon, Max Clifton, and 1B Mateo Redondo all hit over 30 HRs last season, but Damon and Clifton are no longer with the team. SS Reggie Ducati is a pretty good hitter, but could stand to draw more walks. I'm not sure how much IF/OF Eli Jacquez has left.
Vancouver (last season- 9th in NL) has the makings of a good lineup with All-Star RF Cap Herrera, 2B Jerry Strickland, SS Brace Kroeger, and 3B Tony Kwon. They could use some speed, however.
For Salem (last season- tied for 6th in NL), it starts and ends with starting pitching. Dave Dunwoody, Dwight Salmon, and Philip Allensworth are all big-time pitchers. Benji Stewart provides depth in the rotation. The bullpen is a bit of a mystery, with the closer's role a mess last season. Arthur Gates might get a shot at the role.
Cheyenne (last season- 5th in NL) doesn't have the starting pitching that Salem does. Mendy Blackley would be the ace if the Nation could get more innings out of him. Mark Bong and Miguel Reyes are decent-to-good starters. The bullpen is very deep. Willie Nunez was good as the closer, and Wily Mo Owens, Kenneth Schalk, and Paul Schwartz are all quality options for the Nation.
Vancouver (last season- 12th in NL) is another team whose bullpen could be better than its starting staff. Oswaldo Astacio is probably the best starter, with Jesse Bridges a decent choice behind him. Chris Jennings had a good season as the closer, and Ted Reese is one of the better setup men in the league. Cap Herrera had a very good season as a long reliever last season.
Salt Lake City (last season- 13th in NL) is one of the few teams that has gone exclusively with a 4-man rotation. Rob Cepeda is probably the most talented of the quartet, which is rounded out by Rene Alexander, Gary Jackson, and Albert Valdez. Jackson and Alexander both saw their numbers get worse than in season 4- they need to turn it around for the Shakers to compete.
1. I'll take Salem to win the division (much to deacon's chagrin). I think it's easier to add a bat than an arm in a trade. If they win, it probably won't be by much.
2. Cheyenne has too much talent to miss the playoffs- I'll give them the 2nd wild-card spot behind Chicago.
3. Salt Lake City will be in contention, but I think eventually misses out on the playoffs. They should finish ahead of Vancouver.
4. Most likely to be dealt- Brace Kroeger.
5. Most likely to be called up- RF Melvin Taylor (Salem)