We now turn our attention to the AL, starting with the East. The 6-time division champs are the Louisville Legends, who won the division by 11 games. A few years back it looked like it might be Scranton's turn to win one, but that seemed further away after last season. Can they pull it off this season? What about the two teams that would seem to be a natural rivalry (which hasn't really developed), New York and Boston?
Louisville: The Legends had the 4th best offense in the AL last season and have fairly good depth. They'll be led by IF Amp Palmer, DH Ernest Montgomery, 1B Ismael Polanco, RF Pete Mercedes, and 2B Javier Taverez. Palmer's 127 runs led the AL last season; the aforementioned 5 combined for 194 HRs.
Boston: They finished in the middle of the pack (9th) last season and have some pieces. IF Daniel Koch, LF Trever Russell, and 1B Wilton Petrick are all a threat to go deep at any time. RF Brian Saitou had a big drop-off from his big seasons of the past- he needs to step up for Boston to have any hope of respectability.
Scranton: This offense (15th in AL last season) is short on depth and big-time talent. 1B Randall Fisher and OF Kevin Hyun were the only Janitors to drive in more than 70 runs last season. They added LF Chief Pearson from Boise, but he's the only change and he's not enough.
New York: The offense (last in AL last season) was anemic and lost their only run producer (Greg Whitaker) to Houston. 1B Orel MacFarlane hit over .300, but only rove in 52 runs; he's by far the best hitter on this team. This team will struggle mightily to score runs again; I just don't see where the production will come from.
Louisville: The Legends (last season-4th in AL) have very good starting pitching depth, particularly in the rotation. Lance Stevens, Hipolito Maradona, and Carlton Fleming are all top of the rotation-type guys. Albert Herzog and Danny Little do a good job rounding out the rotation. In the bullpen, Milwaukee import Buddy Titan appears to be ready to take over for the departed closer Rob Gilmore. Tyler Wilson is probably the best setup option.
Scranton: The Janitors (last season- tied for 6th in AL) lost their biggest winner from last season, Dennys Fox, to free agency. They'll return solid pitchers Tony Howell, J.R. Guerrero, and Norm Edwards, and they imported Steve Elster from Helena. The rotation would be even better if Michael Giambi wasn't out for most of the season with an aneurysm. Tony Matos comes over from Chicago to be the closer, and Larry Stokes is dependable in the setup role.
New York: New York finished 9th in the AL in runs allowed last season, which kept them out of the AL East cellar. The top of their rotation is getting on in years, however, in Kelly Downs (33), Damon Thompson (37), Vic Chavez (35), and Max Jacquez (40). The solid, if unspectacular, Eduardo Moya returns in the closer's role; setting him up could be the tricky part.
Boston: Fenway yielded a lot of runs for the opposition, as the Bambinos finished 14th in runs allowed last season. Part of it may have been the park, but a lot of blame has to go to the pitchers. The staff was in a constant state of flux, as only 3 starters gave the Bambinos more than 20 starts. Ace Daryl Cashman (12-6, 3.01) was outstanding, but there was a drop-off after that, as Christy Castillo and Davey DaSilva each lost 13 games and rookie Ivan Hernandez struggled mightily, going 0-7 with a 6.37 ERA in 11 starts. In the bullpen, Davey Guzman saved 24 of 30 but had an era over 6 and a half. The setup pitchers often came in to put out the fire well-equipped with gasoline cans.
1. Can't see how Louisville doesn't win this. They should cruise to a 7th straight title.
2. Scranton should be able to claim second in this division. Not sure they'll have enough for a playoff spot.
3. That leaves Boston and New York for 3rd and last. I'll take Boston for third- I think they just have a little more than the boys from the Big Apple.
4. Louisville's come up short against the big boys of the AL in the playoffs, so they may very well make a move or two with competing with Milwaukee and Monterrey in mind. They may look for bullpen help or another bat at the right spot.
5. Most likely star to be traded: Not sure if I'd call Kelly Downs a star, but rumor has it New York has been shopping him. Daryl Cashman could be a name to watch.