As much publicity as the AL West and the NL East has received over the past few seasons, one could make a good argument that the AL South was the best division in baseball. Monterrey returned to prominence with 98 wins and a division title, and an exciting race for the final wild card spot saw Jackson beat out division rival Montgomery. Can Jackson or Montgomery take down Monterrey? What about basement dweller Charlotte?
Last season: 67-95 (4th in AL South)
Offense: 12th in AL
Pitching: 14th in AL
Summary: On paper, this isn't a bad offense. They have plenty of veteran bats in C Tony Stieb, DH Mel Messner, LF Andre Eckenstahler, 3B Alex Lugo, OF Luis Melo, and IF Albert Reith. They're not outstanding but there is some depth to the lineup.
I can't say I'm terribly high on their pitching staff. The starting staff is cobbled together with journeymen veterans in Lawrence Carver, Jerry Terry, Ryan Martin, Alfredo Veras, and Felix Comer. They signed longtime starter Manny Christians to be the closer in the twilight of his career and I don't see where the setup help will come from.
Outlook: Not good. Even in the best-case scenario (where their offense is clicking and around average in the AL) they can't pitch anywhere well enough to be even a decent team, nevermind a contender. Look for another last place finish.
Last season: 83-79 (2nd in AL South, 6th in AL)
Offense: 4th in AL
Pitching: 5th in AL
Summary: This is a deep and potentially scary lineup, complete with power and speed. They had 4 guys (2B Tony Johnson, LF Dennis Tamura, 1B Kevin Nakano, DH Esteban Vega, and RF Neifi James) who drove in at least 80 runs and 4 guys (Tamura, James, CF Raul Vallarta, and 3B Steve Lofton) who stole at least 30 bases. Collectively, they could hit for a higher average and get on base more, but they've got the individual talent.
Last season saw the homegrown staff further define itself, good and bad. Fausto Almanza won 20 games and earned a Cy Young Award last season. Ivan Webster and Jimmy Cole both won 11 games, but Cole did it with an ERA over 5. The most talented of the group, Alex Samuel, cemented his reputation as a guy who can't throw much more than 150 innings and won only 8 games. In the bullpen, Garry "Dreamweaver" Wright is still one of the best closers in the game and he'll have Vic Molina to set him up.
Outlook: They should be in contention again, possibly having enough to take down Monterrey. Getting Samuel back healthy (currently on the 15-day DL) would be a good start.
Last season: 98-64 (1st in AL South, 2nd in AL)
Offense: 5th in AL
Pitching: 4th in AL
Summary: Last season's massive deal to bring in superstar LF Sean Simpson had a huge impact. Simpson had, if not for Buffalo's A.J. Leonard, what easily could have been an MVP season. With Simpson, DH Tony Escuela, CF Del Lopez, C Vin Logan, RF Trot Turner, 2B Nate Cox, and newly acquired OF Magglio Perez (from Trenton), they've got a star-studded lineup that can slug with anybody.
The pitching staff is loaded with solid veterans. Longtime Sultans Luther Brush, Albert Gonzalez, Johnnie Reagan, Patrick Clifton, and Jocko Keats form the rotation. Closer Pablo Rijo still notches saves but blows more than he used to, which is a bit worrisome at age 37. Tony Merced could conceivably take over if necessary- as it stands, he's a good 8th inning guy.
Outlook: They should be in the playoff mix again. They've got two good teams in their division, so another division title isn't a lock. But they'd have to be the early favorites.
Last season: 82-80 (3rd in AL South)
Offense: 3rd in AL
Pitching: Last in AL
Summary: The one position player Montgomery fans are talking about right now is the one who isn't on their team: Mitch Sobkowiak. The star 3B was dealt to Atlanta in the offseason, all but ensuring the offense won't be as good this season as it was last season: it's hard to replace 43 homers and 113 RBI. As it is, they aren't bereft of talent; LF Alex Suarez, RF Felipe Valdes, DH Vladimir Rodriguez, CF Matty Clemens, and OF Thurman Allen still remain. The loss of Sobkowiak puts them closer talent-wise to Charlotte's offense (although I'd rather have Montgomery's) than Monterrey's or Jackson's.
The reason Sobkowiak was dealt was because the pitching was so bad, and Montgomery knew they needed a change here. So Mitch was dealt for two top pitchers in Stone Curtis and Neifi Gonzalez. Sadie Witt, Russell Newson, and Mark Bong should not be your top 3 starters, but they are acceptable as the last three starters, which is what the acquisition of Curtis and Gonzalez has done. The rotation goes from terrible to somewhere from acceptable to good- it's hard to say exactly where. It still remains to be seen if anyone in the bullpen can get hitters out consistently.
Outlook: At first look, I'd have to put them a step behind Monterrey and Jackson in this division. But they only finished a game back of Jackson with no pitching whatsoever, and now they have some. I still think they need work on the bullpen, however.