We head next to the NL North. Kansas City took down its first division title since Season 1 (back when they were in Montreal), upending Fargo and Philadelphia. Minnesota brought up the rear with only 65 wins. Will the mighty KC do it again, or is Fargo back? And what about the Phantoms?
Kansas City (last season-5th in NL) finally saw its young talent hit the big time. RF Ricky Carpenter jumpstarted the offense, stealing 76 bases and scoring 112 runs. He was part of the reason LF Fernando Ibanez, 3B Orlando Diaz, and 1B Heath Christiansen had big years themselves. Expect big things from 2B Geraldo Santayana this season as well.
Philadelphia (last season- 10th in NL) should be slightly better than last season. They'll add RF Steve Sweeney to last season's lineup, which is an important pickup. He'll join 2B Brian Sweeney (no relation), LF Albert Castro, 1B Freddie Bradley, SS Doc Bowen, and C Willis Petrov to form a fairly deep, if unspectacular, lineup.
Fargo (last season- 12th in NL) is struggling to find its offensive identity. They still have RF Calvin Chang, who can still hit and draws walks like no one else, and OF/1B Pete Duvall, who had a nice season after coming over from Atlanta. But after that, they've got a lot of question marks; 1B Luis Javier looks like he could be a very dangerous hitter, but SS Benjamin Smith disappointed last season and they have a lot of guys who will hit a lot of homers and strike out a ton.
Minnesota (last season- 15th in NL) will likely be offensively challenged again. 3B James Palmer would be a star if he didn't play in Minnesota and RF Zach Leary and LF Ron Cookson are decent hitters, but there's little around them. 1B Matty Matos and LF Chief Pearson were two of their top 4 run producers, and they both left via free-agency.
Kansas City (last season- 2nd in NL) had its top four starters all pitch to ERAs under 4. Sammy Pierce was very good after joining the squad from division rival Fargo and Ozzie Acker, Jeremi Gant, and Rob Cather were all solid last season. The closer is a bit of a question mark, as Mark Ott and Heath Rollins are two options- Rollins struggled in the role last season.
Philadelphia (last season- 6th in NL) has a solid starting staff, although age is starting to become a concern. Harry Lee (36) had his worst healthy season of his career and longtime ace Bernard Robinson (35) arguably had his. They'll join Albert Herzog, Turner Darr, and possible future star Alberto Vidal in the rotation. The bullpen could be an issue, as Kid Johnstone left for Scranton and there's no clear-cut replacement.
Fargo (last season-8th in NL) will always have star power as long as Javier Henriquez mans the mound. At 31, the surefire future Hall of Famer doesn't seem to be slowing down; the big issue is who's behind him. York Watson is the only established starter behind him, and his contract may make him expendable. Malachi Clifton, Yogi Hissey, and Dan Young are all candidates for the back of the rotation. Their bullpen was a mess, so they grabbed Cristian Price from Huntington.
Minnesota (last season- 14th in NL) should be near the bottom again this season, although that could change in the near future. Their only two double-digit winners, Jesus Estrada and Stu McLaughlin, both went the free-agent route. That leaves 15-game loser Shayne Gil and 17-game loser Rollie Spears to "anchor"(?) the staff. A makeshift staff of some combination of those two and Murray Crane, Ryan Martin, Don Chong, Shane Simms, and Vicente Gandarillas will have to make it through the season. The bullpen is highly questionable. Their AAA staff might actually be better than their major league staff.
1. Kansas City looks like the best of the bunch- they should be able to win the division again.
2. I'll take Philadelphia over Fargo for second.
3. Minnesota won't be anywhere near the other three teams.
4. Philadelphia and Fargo both have talent to trade if they decide to rebuild, Fargo in particular. Most likely to be traded- I'll go with Chang.