First of all, a very happy birthday to the league as we hit double digits. Here's hoping the 10th season is every bit as good as the first nine and that we get better with age.
OK, on to business. We'll start with the NL East, which was the talk of the league in season 8 but stumbled a bit in season 9. Atlanta was just as good as they've always been in the regular season (winning 98 games and a sixth straight division title), but season 8 wild card winner Washington dropped from 95 wins to 83 last season and Trenton fans were highly frustrated after their team won 92 games and still managed to miss the playoffs. On the other end, Norfolk won a franchise-low 61 games. So what happens in season 10? Let's take a look at all 4 teams. (Note: for all 32 teams, rankings for offense are based on runs scored. Pitching rankings are based on ERA).
Last season: 98-64 (1st in NL East, 2nd in NL)
Offense: 8th in NL
Pitching: 2nd in NL
Summary: The strength of this team has always been starting pitching, but this season could be different. Their top 3 are quite good in Fred Carter, Santiago Perez, and Kazuhrio Whang. They've lost some of their trademark depth with the trade of Neifi Gonzalez and Stone Curtis (sent to Montgomery)- how they deal with that could have a big determination of how their season goes. With Tex Howell, Emmanuel Nunez, and Graham Rivera in the bullpen, they appear to have enough depth there.
They made only one change to the offense, but it was a massive one. They went out and got young star 3B Mitch Sobkowiak from Montgomery- he'll help the offense greatly. 1B Stan Starr and OF Pete Duvall are the other main cogs in the middle of the lineup. They have speed in CF Paul Turnbow and 2B Jason Walker, but both need to get on base more. Between those two, C Odalis Lopez, and LF Trever Russell (who spent most of last season on the DL), they have plenty of talent that failed to produce last season. There offense should be better than average, which they were last season.
Outlook: I see no reason why these guys can't be in contention again. They are the odds-on favorite to repeat.
Last season: 61-101 (4th in NL East)
Offense: 15th in NL
Pitching: 11th in NL
Summary: The offense may be a little better than last season, but probably not by much. Last season they relied heavily on RF Melvin Nakano getting on base and running and 1B Al Cruz driving in runs; Cruz was the only reliable run producer. Other than those two and CF Dave Hodges, I don't see much in the way of offensive threats here.
The pitching somehow managed to finish ahead of 5 NL teams. Bobby Davenport, Rod Walters, and Malcolm Lawrence are all decent pitchers and innings eaters, but they're in the same division as Atlanta and Trenton; can you see any of those guys being even a #5 in either of those rotations? Del Aquino is a solid (if not spectacular) closer and Nick Sierra had a great season in relief.
Outlook: This is likely to be another tough season. They are light on talent and in what is always a tough division. Destroyer fans are going to have to be patient
Last season: 92-70 (2nd in NL East)
Offense: 5th in NL
Pitching: 6th in NL
Summary: This could be a watershed season for the Traffic. They've got a lot of new pieces (they'll start a completely different outfield from last season) and they'll need production from them. They got LF Bret King from Houston to bat leadoff and steal some bases. They picked up RF Ryan Snyder and CF Dewey Greenwood (who will move Watty Miller to his more natural second base position) in free agency. Between those three, Miller, 3B Cap Herrera, 1B Stephen Mills, and C Vasco Lopez, they form a theoretically dangerous top seven in the lineup.
The pitching staff is solid but not without questions. David Dunwoody and Dwight Salmon are not what they once were, but they both pitched at or close to star level last season. But can Jason Sprague come back from his injury and can Steve Elster (another free-agent pick up) be the lefty they need in the rotation? In the bulpen, Bernie Corino was very good as the closer; the rest of the bullpen was iffy.
Outlook: They should be back in the mix this season. If things break right, they could challenge Atlanta. But if they miss the playoffs again, it'll be a bitter disappointment.
WASHINGTON D.C. BLUE COATS
Last season: 83-79 (3rd in NL East)
Offense: 3rd in NL
Pitching: 10th in NL
Summary: They're solid on offense, but I think they'll be hard pressed to finish 3rd in runs again. They lost leading run producer Burt Stevenson to free agency (went to St. Louis) and will go with Peter Guerrero in left field instead. (I'm not saying the move didn't make sense; Stevenson was never gifted defensively in his prime and now that he's older he can't really play left field anymore and they like Eddie Peters at 1B, so there was no spot for him. I'm just saying they'll miss his bat in the lineup.) They will not be barren on offense, as they still have Peters, Guerrero, CF Luis Martinez, and 3B Ewell Elster. If they get bouncebacks performance from IFs Willis Biddle and Neifi McBride, they should be dangerous.
Like their offense, I think their pitching will come back to the pack a little, but that means an improvement. Ace Carter Leonard just couldn't repeat his stellar rookie season but I think he's closer to his 20-2, 2.00 ERA season than to last season's 14-12, 3.75 effort. A full season of John Balfour should help, and Graham Costello is a very good #3 pitcher. They also have the division's best (and maybe the NL's best) closer in Alex Javier.
Outlook: Hard to tell. I don't see them being able to take down Atlanta, but they could threaten Trenton in a best-case scenario. This may be one of those teams that is a nice team, but may not have enough to claim a playoff spot.