We turn our attention to the NL South. Houston has won this division all seven times, but it's not total domination- New Orleans made the playoffs and Austin finished at .500 for the first time in 5 seasons. Can either of these two upward trending teams take down the Goliath of this division? And what's going on in San Juan?
We'll begin with Houston (last season- 3rd in NL), who should put up plenty of runs this season. They'll be led by MVP 3B Monte Duvall, but there's more than that. OF Bob Koplove dropped off from his near MVP campaign of Season 6, but he still put up good numbers. C Cy Hughes drove in 112 last season. In an attempt to get guys on base ahead of the sluggers, Houston signed OF Abdullah Dillon (55 steals last season) from Boise in the offseason and traded for Trenton OF Bret King (35 steals).
New Orleans (last season- 5th in NL) spent some money in the offseason to try and add depth to the lineup. 2B Ray Cepicky and 1B Matty Matos are two of the best in the entire NL at knocking in runs (each had 52 homers and 131 RBI). LF Bryan Christansen added a new dimension by hitting 36 homers and stealing 55 bases last season. New Orleans added free-agents CF Scott Diaz (from Houston) and IF/OF Carlton MacDougal (from Atlanta).
Austin (last season- 7th in NL) has a fairly deep and balanced attack. They can hit the long ball (3B Mariano Terrero, 1B Jimmie Williams, and C Sam Brumfield all hit over 30 homers) and steal bases (they finished 1st in the NL in stolen bases, led by SS William Satou's 109). If LF Gerald Stargell returns to the form he showed in his first two seasons, the City Limits should be even deeper.
San Juan (last season- 6th in NL) will be without the biggest offensive threat they had last season, as 3B/OF Calvin Chang will take his 48 homers and 139 RBI to Trenton. They will return some good pieces in C Junior Tabaka, CF John Baldwin, and 2B Derrin Hernandez. They signed 3B Tony Kwon from Vancouver in the offseason. They'll score runs, but probably not at the rate they did last season.
Houston (last season- 2nd in NL) may have traded Jason Sprague to Trenton, but they feel like they had the depth to do so. They'll return ace Lonny Gates; he'll be backed by Perry Herman, Juan Cabrera, and Ivan Castilla. Matt Skinner blew too many saves last season (33 of 42)- he's got decent setup help, led by Cristian Price.
Austin (last season- 9th in NL) made some big moves in the offseason. They had the beginning of a nice rotation in Ed Allen (10-4, 2.87), Marc Bates (12-8, 3.43), and Delino Colon (13-7, 3.81), but felt they needed more to contend for the playoffs, so they went and signed veterans Carlton Fleming and Matty Eusebio. Louie Feliz is another talented arm- his role seems unsettled. The bullpen is what separates Austin from Houston- the City Limits pen is a mess.
New Orleans (last season- 11th in NL) made the playoffs despite their pitching. Jerome Oliver was good last season, but he and Kevin Pong were the only consistent starters. Vance D'Amico was second to Oliver with 11 wins (Oliver won 13) despite not starting a single game. Tom Hernandez saved 34 of 41 and has D'Amico behind him.
San Juan (last season- last in NL) finished more than half a run behind 15th place Philadelphia and could very well do it again. The starting staff is unspectacular at the top in Charlie White, Shooter Mahoney, and Bert Pierre (from Trenton in the Chang deal). Hipolito Pujols, Benny Alacorn, and Joey Adcock were all awful. Daryl McKinley was shaky as the closer and he'll have little to no help setting up.
1. 8 is great for Houston. They should still have enough to hold off the rest of the division.
2. I like what Austin did in the offseason, enough to put them ahead of New Orleans for second.
3. New Orleans will be in contention again for the playoffs, but they'll have company.
4. San Juan needs a pitching staff before they can contend. They should finish last again.
5. Look for the Dead Bunnies to deal some more veterans. Teams will ask about Tabaka specifically.