It's time for another season here in The Bigs, and spring training time means season previews. Let's start where we always start, the NL East. Three teams made the playoffs last season, with Washington making a surprise run to the NLCS. So who takes down the title in the hotly competitive NL East this season?
For all previews, offensive rankings refer to runs scored. Pitching rankings refer to ERA.
Washington (last season- 3rd in NL) had its pitching get most of the ink last season, but its offense in the top quarter of the league last season. 2B Willis Biddle (.289-23-108) had a breakout season, and the midseason acquisitions of CF Luis Martinez and LF Burt Stevenson added to the middle of the lineup. IF Vince Salazar (98 runs, 55 steals) had a nice season setting up for the middle of the order.
Trenton (last season- 5th in NL) is hoping to maintain last season's output. They lose MVP candidate 3B/RF Calvin Chang to free-agency, but they return OF Magglio Perez, 2B Cap Herrera, and CF Watty Miller, all of whom drove in 90 runs or more. They hope a full season of leadoff man LF Rico Valdes and SS Ignacio Diaz (.273-21-71 with Norfolk) lengthen the lineup. A return to form from 3B Enrique Park would help greatly.
Atlanta (last season- 10th in NL) has some good table setters but felt it could improve the middle of the order. Last season they got 86 steals out of the trio of 2B Jason Walker, 3B Albie Torres, and CF Paul Turnbow, but LF Trever Russell was the only player to drive in more than 70 runs. As a result, they dealt for former Fargo slugger William Bolling, whom Atlanta fans are hoping can regain the form he had back in seasons 2-4. Losing 1B Stan Starr to a catastrophic ACL tear hurt-how much he can provide is questionable.
Norfolk (last season- 14th in NL) fans might need a scorecard to recognize the starting lineup. Gone are veterans SS Ignacio Diaz (traded to Trenton) and 3B Justin Gordon (left via free-agency). 1B Al Cruz is the only returning Destroyer currently on the ML roster to have driven in more than 50 runs last season. Expect rookies CF Dave Hodges and IF Joey Hartman as well as sophomores Cruz and 3B Kenneth Perkins to be forced to carry most of the load.
Atlanta (last season- 1st in NL) has depth in the rotation and the bullpen. Fred Carter was a Cy Young candidate, and young starters Santiago Perez, Stone Curtis, and Kazuhiro Whang are all very good. Tex Howell was very good as closer, and they get former Chicago closer Graham Rivera to set up. He'll join Emmanuel Nunez, who won 11 games in relief last season.
Trenton (last season-5th in NL) needs its output to catch up to its talent. David Dunwoody almost won another Cy Young, but Dwight Salmon and Damion Mays are both too talented to pitch to below .500 records on a 90 win team. Jason Sprague had a good season, and this season they'll be joined by Woody Hiller to form a very deep rotation. Trenton will go back to Bernie Corino as the closer after Quinton Hughes departed in free-agency. The signing of Hiller sends Will Piper to the bullpen as a setup guy- he could be a question mark. Pablo Rojas and the underrated Karl Coleman both had solid seasons.
Washington (last season- 6th in NL) doesn't quite have the depth in the rotation as Atlanta and Trenton, but only they can boast a 23-year-old who has already won a Cy Young award. Carter Leonard was a big part of the reason they won 95 games, and he'll try to build on his ROY/Cy Young season from a year ago. He'll be joined by fellow young lefty John Balfour, who pitched well despite only winning 7 games. Veteran Graham Costello will likely occupy the third spot, while tall young righty Alex Javier should take spot #4. Alex Javier may be the best closer in the game, while Mark Hogan and Ozzie Ishida were both solid out of the pen.
Norfolk (last season- 10th in NL) has a decent rotation, but can't keep up with the big boys. Bobby Davenport had a 12-12 record but a 2.63 ERA, which is about as good as one can pitch on a last-place team. He'll be joined by veterans Rod Walters, Malcolm Lawrence, and Ariel Lee. Del Aquino is a solid closer, and Nick Sierra is a good setup man.
1. Going to take Washington to take this division.
2. Atlanta and Trenton should be close and should be in wild-card contention.
3. If either the Bandits or Traffic falls out of contention, it could get interesting. Both teams have plenty of veterans with trade value.
4. Norfolk will finish far in last place. The success/failure of their season will be determined by the development of their young players and prospects.