Our trip around the league takes us north. After a one-year hiatus, Fargo returned to the top of the division. Meanwhile, Philadelphia tried to accumulate more talent, Kansas City had a pleasantly surprising season while rebuilding, and a once-proud franchise came crashing down. So what happens this season?
Last season: 97-65 (1st in NL North, 3rd in NL)
Offense: 2nd in NL
Pitching: 4th in NL
Summary: This was a very good team last season, but I think they've lost some of their depth in certain areas. Fargo has always been known for its starting pitching, and rightly so- Javier Henriquez (always a Cy Young candidate) and Sammy Pierce are both future Hall of Famers. But they lost Orber Marin in free-agency and will be without York Watson for about two months. They did grab the other Orber (Orber Halter) from Minnesota to be the third or fourth starter. In the bullpen, they lost closer Bert Price (free agent- Cincinnati) and setup man Kevin Li (free agent- Salem), leaving Chris Jennings as the likely closer.
On offense, they still have plenty of talent in 3B Calvin Chang, RF Alex Lim, IF Jeremy Glover, and slugging 1B Ricardo Martinez. But OF David Rushford was dealt, and that's one less bat in the lineup.
Outlook: I don't think this team is as good as recent editions. I'd say they may fall short of the division title this season, but I can't see a team in their division that has the talent to knock them off.
KANSAS CITY SCOUTS
Last season: 83-79 (2nd in NL North)
Offense: 9th in NL
Pitching: 7th in NL
Summary: Their offense was decent last season but they lost their biggest offensive cog. LF Albert Castro hit .340 and drove in 100 runs- he bolted for division rival Philadelphia in the offseason. They will return speedy RF Ricky Carpenter, LF Fernando Ibanez, 3B Orlando Diaz, and 1B Fritz Wilkerson, but none of those guys are great and there's little after them. They could struggle to score runs.
Kansas City is proud of its homegrown arms. Ozzie Acker and Rob Cather combined for 35 wins last season, and they're solid at the top- not sure they are aces on a title team, but they are good starters. Jeremi Gant is an innings-eater type pitcher, which was needed on a young team like this last season. They'll need more from Hipolito Santana this season. In the bullpen, Heath Rollins had a nice season with 35 saves, and former closer Mark Ott returns for another season.
Outlook: I think they need some more pieces before they can contend. They may take a step back this season- I think they overachieved last season and losing Castro doesn't help.
MINNESOTA NORTH STARS
Last season: 53-109 (as Pittsburgh)
Offense: Last in NL
Pitching: 12th in NL
Summary: This once-proud franchise is going to struggle on offense again this season. They are not returning anyone who scored over 70 runs or drove in more than 57. Slugger OF Bernie Soriano jumped to Boston in the offseason and 1B Tony Percival wasn't brought back, leaving very little. CF Cody Smart and 3B Orlando Lee don't scare anyone, but they are the returning leaders in RBI and runs, respectively. They picked up OFs Chief Pearson and Randall Fisher from Scranton and they're OK. Minnesota fans are excited about Rule 5 pickup Zach Leary; if he can hit righties he could be a dangerous player.
Willie Williams, Emil Blanco, and Orber Halter were the top three in wins for this squad last season- all are gone. Jesus Estrada also comes over from Scranton to help with depth, but they will rely on guys who struggled last season: Don Chong, Murray Crane, and Daniel Jones (who pitched in AAA last season for Jackson after pitching poorly in the majors in season 8).
Outlook: Not good. I think they should win more than last season's 53, but I'd be surprised if they can reach 65 wins.
Last season: 79-83 (3rd in NL North)
Offense: 11th in NL
Pitching: 5th in NL
Summary: They finally put together a support staff for longtime ace Bernard Robinson. They got Harry Lee to be the number 2 starter and then picked up Albert Herzog. That slides Turner Darr to the 4th spot, which better fits him. This is a sold starting staff. Kid Johnstone was fairly good as the closer last season.
The question with this team is the offense. They needed more than young double play combo SS Doc Bowen and 2B Brian Sweeney, so they got LF Albert Castro from Kansas City. I'm not sure they can count on the other guys like RF Sam Graham and C Juan Francisco.
Outlook: If they had some more offense, I'd tab them as a possible threat to Fargo. As it stands, I think they will finish second but out of the playoff race.