This is the division housing the World Champions. Last season, Salt Lake City dethroned 2-time champion Atlanta to win its first World Series. Can they repeat? Will they get competition from the rest of the division in L.A., Vancouver, and Salem?
Salt Lake City (last season- 1st in NL) had a dominant offense last season and there is no reason to expect any drop-off. OF George Lowe (128 runs, 36 steals, .319 avg.) and OF Vic James (.348-21-106) both got MVP consideration, and somehow 1B Ruben Hernandez (.301-44-171) didn't. In addition, they will return IFs Che Bong and Carlos Batista, who both scored 100 runs and Jordan Newfield, who drove in over 100. This lineup is downright scary.
Los Angeles (last season- 8th in NL) is going to be counting on its veterans quite a bit. With the departure of 3B Wendell Durrington to division rival Vancouver, veterans LF Placido Tejada and 2B Lynn Abernathy are the only returning power threats. They signed 33-year-old IF William Nomo and 32-year-old CF Dewayne Castillo in the offseason. On the down side, RF Steve Sweeney and 1B Rick Forster had disappointing seasons after both had a big Season 7 and IF Bud Klein is a $12.5 million albatross. They could sure use a good season out of any of those three.
Salem (last season- 12th in NL) could struggle to score runs regularly. IF Reggie Ducati is probably the best all-around hitter and RF Melvin Taylor is solid as well. But the league seemed to catch up with slugger LF Juan Valdes (.258-24-93 following his rookie season of .301-40-112) and he needs to cut down on the strikeouts. CF Albert Duran provided stolen bases but needs to get on base more. They do have a pair of rookies who scouts seem to like in SS Danny Wilson and 2B Albert Nunez (Rule 5 pickup). They also picked up veteran IF Greg Burkhart from Fargo, but I wouldn't count on him for much production.
Vancouver (last season- 15th in NL) knew they needed to get help for their big two hitters. C Clarence Hartman and LF Donte Webb were the only two consistent threats in the lineup last season, so they went out and got 3B Wendell Durrington from L.A. and picked up IF Jim Gibson in the Rule 5 draft- both should help the offense. Rookie outfielders Roscoe Rigby and Jerry Powell should provide depth. Last season was a terrible one for RF Vin Foulke (.236-8-42).
Los Angeles (last season- 9th in NL) has a strong bullpen but question marks in the rotation. They had 5 pitchers win at least 10 games, but 2 (Christopher Siddall and Kenneth Schalk) did so out of the bullpen and 11-game winner Earl Biddle is pitching in San Juan this season. So that leaves Buzz Linden and Mark Bong to at least duplicate what they did last season, and Enrique Gutierrez (9-16, 5.92) needs to be much better. The bullpen is in much better shape, with the aforementioned Siddall and Schalk setting up a good closer in Paul Schwartz.
Salt Lake City (last season- 11th in NL) blurs the line between starter and reliever- 8 pitchers pitched over 100 innings but no one reached the 200 plateau. Therefore, there is less importance on the starters. At any rate, they'll trot out Alex Sanchez, Rob Cepeda, and Gary Jackson in all probability as starters, and the relievers like Happy Taft, Albert Valdez, Shawn Jacobsen, and Cliff Miller are likely to grab the bulk of the decisions. Closer Felipe Calles was subpar last season.
Salem (last season- 15th in NL) used 20 pitchers last season. The best of the 20 was 23-year-old ace Sammy Garrido (15-11, 2.59). He'll be followed by solid starters Benji Stewart, Nick Davis, and Tito Mercedes. The bullpen is a mess, as Arthur Gates, Wally Sanders, and Jamey Dwyer all tried to close and failed- Dwyer is now in Louisville. Trent Bollea was signed by Seattle and will be given a shot to nail down the role.
Vancouver (last season- 13th in NL) was not helped by its offense or bullpen, as evidenced by the stats of some of their starters. The Golden Otters had some starters have good ERAs but fail to get wins, like Osvaldo Astacio (10-10, 2.83), Glenallen Wehner (11-14, 3.87), and Jose Merced (4-16, 3.93). Ted Reese blew 8 saves and had an ERA of 5.94, which didn't help. They signed Wesley Cora and Quinton Hughes, both of whom were with Trenton last season, to help out the bullpen.
1. Salt Lake City should easily take the division again.
2. I like L.A.'s veterans to carry them to a second place finish again.
3. I think Salem's pitching should enable them to take third.
4. Salt Lake City gets the only playoff bid.
5. Look for the two Rule 5 guys (Nunez and Gibson) to be big contributors.