Wow, hard to believe it's been seven full seasons of great baseball here in The Bigs, the best league in all of HBD. Last season was something new, as we saw our first two-time champion in the Atlanta Bandits, who have pulled it off back-to-back. Can they 3-peat? Can Trenton, who threatened them late in the season and then took them to the brink in the playoffs, overtake them this season? Is this the season a better Washington team makes some noise? Do southern Virginia baseball fans have hope after a tough Season 7 in Norfolk?
Note: All offensive team rankings are by runs scored. All pitching rankings are by ERA.
- We'll start in Trenton. Their offense made a quantum leap, going from 13th the previous season all the way to 4th and they should be even better this season. OF/3B Calvin Chang, long an MVP candidate, makes his way to New Jersey from San Juan to join 2B Cap Herrera, 1B Stephen Mills, C Vasco Lopez, LF Magglio Perez, and 3B Enrique Park to form a long and dangerous middle of the order. CF Watty Miller had a very good season in the leadoff spot (.331-20-61). The only question mark may be speed- Bret King was the only stolen base threat and he was just traded to Houston.
- Atlanta was inconsistent offensively and it may happen again- they finished 14th and still have some holes. They've got offensive talent, but only 1B Stan Starr and 3B Albie Torres seemed able to drive in runs consistently. RF Ryan Snyder, C Odalis Perez, and CF Paul Turnbow all have offensive talent- if they realize it, this is a viable offense. If not, they could struggle again.
- Washington scored the 13th most runs in the NL last season and their leader in RBI, Eddie Greer, is still unsigned as of press time. They'll be counting mostly on the running game, as SS Marino Coronado and CF Tony Delgado both stole over 40 bases last season. However, they can't steal first- Coronado's OBP last season was .304. 2B Willis Biddle is a good all-around hitter and LF Peter Guerrero seems to be a legitimate slugger for the Blue Coats.
- Last season was all but a 1-man show in Norfolk (15th in NL last season). RF Justin Gordon had another fine season, reaching 50 homers for the first time (which was a full 30% of the team's entire total). C Tony Gutierrez was the only other Destroyer to top 20 (he had 23). OF Melvin Nakano had a nice season, scoring 80 runs and getting on base at a .381 clip. SS Ignacio Diaz was a huge disappointment, and 2B Del Hernandez would have been too if not for his 27 steals, which makes him only an ordinary disappointment.
- As we always seem to do, we'll begin in Atlanta (1st in NL). Yes, they may have lost Eusebio and Michaels, who combined for 28 wins, but there's still plenty here. Fred Carter and Stone Curtis are legitimate top of the rotation guys, and expect rookies Santiago Perez and Kazuhiro Whang to fill in nicely to the #3 and #4 roles. The bullpen was remarkable last season, as close Tex Howell had an ERA under 2, and setup men Rob Gilmore, Emmanuel Nunez, and Trot Fultz all were sparkling in their roles.
- Trenton (4th in NL) definitely stepped onto another level when they grabbed aces David Dunwoody and Dwight Salmon from Salem last season. They became the front line starters the Traffic have never had in their history and were almost enough to take down Atlanta. Jason Sprague comes over from Houston and should be a very good #3 starter. Damion Mays, Will Piper, and York Watson all won 10 games and will battle for the #4 and #5 spots. . Another 10 game winner, Bert Pierre, is now in San Juan. The bullpen is a little iffy as well- Chris Jennings is gone and Bernie Corino was a little shaky at times but wasn't bad. Karl Coleman had an outstanding season as a setup man- it may be a little much to ask him to repeat a 9-0 record and a 3.15 ERA over 100 full innings.
- Norfolk rode ace Rod Walters to an 8th place finish in NL ERA last season. Walters won a career high 15 games for a last place Destroyers team- he and Gordon are the unquestioned leaders of the team. After Walters, the rotation is in flux- Bobby Davenport (9-13, 4.89) was the only other pitcher not to make a relief appearance. Eddie Marquis, Malcolm Lawrence, and Ricardo Gabriel were just three of the guys who tried to start with little success. Dan Young was the only person to put up good numbers outside Walters. Out of the bullpen, Del Aquino saved 33 of 37 despite giving up way too many baserunners (1.51 WHIP). Ariel Lee, a long-time quality setup arm, remains in Norfolk.
- Washington finished 13th in ERA and they should struggle, perhaps for the last time for a while (more on this later), again this season. The team leader in wins was Dixie Reynolds with 10 -he might have pitched a bit over his head last season. Alex Samuel looked very solid in 13 starts after coming up from the minors- it will be interesting to see how he fares in a full season. Bip Brock took a step back last season. The best arm on the staff probably belongs to closer Alex Javier, who saved 35 games with a WHIP under 1. Setup could be a big question. What is not in question is Washington fans are looking forward to the arrival (maybe in part this season) of what they call "The Legion of Lefties" in prospect starters Carter Leonard, John Balfour, and Barry Rader.
1. Hard to pick against the champs. Guess I'll have to take Atlanta by a nose. Expect Trenton to be right there with them yet again if they don't win it outright. (yes, I know that's hedging my bet a little. Deal with it.)
2. Second place team here should make the playoffs and be very dangerous. Whether it be Trenton or Atlanta, this division's wild card team could end up winning the pennant in the end.
3. Washington won 74 games last season- I'll give them 3rd at about the same win total. They've come quite a way in the last few seasons, but I think this season is about treading water until the big arms in the minors are ready.
4. Norfolk is in full rebuilding mode. I see them still behind Washington but not awful (as in 1962 Mets) and they'll look to make some moves to get younger.
5. Look for Atlanta to try and add some bats (at least one) and Trenton to go after a starter to go behind Dunwoody and Salmon.
6. Most likely to be traded- definitely one of the Destroyers, not sure which. Biggest deals would be for Gordon and Walters.