Sunday, April 2, 2017


Not too shabby a start for fearless prognosticators

The fearless prognosticators of Roy Hobbs have nailed 7 of the 8 first-place teams at the midseason point, and 20 of the 32 spots overall for a .625 percentage.

The prognosticators for the NL North, AL East and AL South divisions are perfect in their predictions at the midway mark.
In the NL North, Buffalo holds a 5-game edge over Chicago in what is shaping up to be a two-team race. Iowa City is 10 games back of Chicago, and Toledo is four games behind the Hawkeyes.

In the AL East, as predicted, Indianapolis and Washington are at the top of the standings and Durham and Chicago are neck and neck at the midway point in a heated battle to avoid the doormat.
In the AL South, New Orleans is running away from the rest of the pack, holding a commanding 14-game advantage over second place Nashville. The battle in that division will be for second place as the Legends hold a slim 2-game edge over Louisville.

The division that has given forecasters the most headaches is the NL South, where predictions have missed on all four of the spots. Charlotte was picked to lead the division, but Austin has established a 2-game lead at the midpoint. And Texas looks poised to spoil the third-place predicted finish for San Juan with the Choades settling into a comfortable 7-game lead over the last-place Padres.
All of the other misses have involved the second- and third-place teams in the AL North, AL West, NL East and NL West.

In the AL North, Kansas City’s 3-year hold on second place is in jeopardy at the half-way mark as the lucky Shamrocks of Montreal have lifted the team to a surprising 4-game edge over the Jayhawks.
In the AL West, Vancouver has spent much of the first half of the season hitting less than the team’s average weight and the dismal .244 offensive production has left the Ravens two games back of Cheyenne, which has nicbase2 saying, “I’m your huckleberry!”

In the NL East, Columbus is wrecking the hopes of a second-place finish for Trenton as the Ohioans have put seven games between themselves and the Thrashers. Equally important, the Columbus squad sits just two games behind predicted frontrunner Syracuse, which could be predictive of a second-half scramble for the Lake Monsters to defend their division title.
All in all, our prognosticators have inched a bit closer to the tree trunk as they sit precariously out on their limbs. The only one hearing the faint sound of cracking wood is the NL South forecaster.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Mid-Season Look At the Awards Races

Believe it or not, we're at the halfway point already.  Who are this season's first-half award-winners?  You can read over my choices below, and vote in the "First-Half Award Winners" poll on the right.

NL MVP - the candidates:

Yean Carlos Gonzalez (AUS) is a triple crown-winner at Game 80, with a stunning .353/32/77.  He also leads by a wide margin in runs created and RC/27.

Rick Black (SYR) is right behind Gonzalez in average and RBI (.350/23/74).  With 121 hits through Game 80, he has a shot at the all-time single-season hits record (235, set by HOF'er Sidney Fabregas back in Season 8).

John Small (AUS) is having another excellent all-round season at .333/19/42, with a .423 OBP (2nd to Gonzalez).

Juan Aramboles (IA) just keeps rolling.  In the first half of his age-34 year, all he's done is hit .346/24/62, and is 2nd in the NL in OPS.

Bob Tucker (TEX) edges out Carlos Valdivia, Saul Pinzon, Omir Stowers, and Armando Encarnacion for the 5th spot on the ballot.  His .329/21/58 first half is a nice bounce-back from last season.

And the first half NL MVP is:  Gonzalez by a mile

NL Cy Young - the candidates:

Willie Tepera (AUS) leads the NL in BA allowed, OPS allowed, WHIP and ERA, and is 2nd in Slugging% allowed; and has 8 wins in his 16 starts.  Dominant breakout season.

Rabbit Fried (BUF) leads the league with 12 wins and is 2nd in ERA at 2.23.  He's in the top 2-7 in the other qualitative stats - very impressive for a pitcher who leads the league in innings pitched.

Johnny Gardner (CHA) is 3rd in ERA and ranks very well in the other qualitatives.  In fact, he's first in Slugging % allowed at .300.

Kirk Marks (CH1) has only 1 loss to 9 wins, and has a 2.75 ERA while pitching the 2nd-most innings of all NLers.

Diory Diaz (SAL) secures the 5th spot with his excellent qualitatives record - 4th in OBP-A, 3rd in Slugging %-A, 3rd in WHIP, 4th in ERA.

And the first half NL CY is: Tepera narrowly over Fried

AL MVP - the candidates

Jin-Chi Itou (LV) still leads the AL in HR's (23) and is 2nd in OPS (.983) in a down year.  Pretty far down the list in RC (7th) but 4th in RC/27.

Kelvim Hasegawa (WAS) leads the AL in RBI (68) and stolen bases (30, in 30 attempts), while running 2nd in runs created.  Big defensive contribution with a .973 fielding % and 4 + plays, even though he appears to not have a 3B arm.

David Simmons (NAS) might not have the durability to make the final ballot, but his league-leading .340 BA, along with 19 HR's and 54 RBI, gets him a spot on our first-half ballot.  #2 in RC/27.

Dante Kawasaki (NO) leads the AL in hits and runs created, and is 4th in OPS and 3rd in RC/27.  Biggest defensive contributor on the ballot, with a .989 fielding % and 2 + plays at 2B.

Trenidad Durazo (IND) edges out a host of other contenders - Nick Green, Jenry Zumaya, Jamie Osborne, Darren Walton, Dayan Franco - who have comparable offensive numbers but not the defensive chops.  His .290/19/59 is good for 7th in OPS (.918), 5th in RC and 8th in RC/27.  And with 10 + plays he's in the running for 3B Gold Glove. 

And the first half AL MVP is:  I think I could be a homer and go with Kawasaki, but I'll vote for Hasegawa.  Looking like a tight, interesting race, though.

AL CY - the candidates

Sam Stock (NO) leads the AL in OBP-A (.252) and WHIP (0.97) despite having a relatively poor year.  Only 2 losses in 17 decisions despite a career-high (so far) .342 Slugging%-A.

George Camili (IND) leads in innings pitched (142) and has very good qualitatives (1st in BA-A, 2nd in OBP-A, 3rd in Slugging % - A, 2nd in'd think his ERA would be better than 3.04).

Bralin Kohn (PHI) sports an impressive 1.78 ERA (1st) and also leads the league in Slugging % -A (.290).  A touch of wildness (38 walks in 91 innings) hurts a bit, and he may not get enough wins to make the end-of-year ballot, but he's been dominant so far.

Joe Johnson (IND) has 7 wins, a 2.44 ERA (3rd) and is top-5 in the other quality stats.  Could end up being 1 of 3 (or even 4) Indy arms on the final Cy Young ticket.

Julio Cano (IND) has 7 wins and a 2.74 ERA as a 22-yo. Solid in the other quality stats.  This spot could have just a easily gone to Indy's 4th standout, Wily Osoria.

And the first half AL Cy Young is:  Camili.  Neither Stock nor Kohn is clearly out-pitching him, and he's rolling up a mountain of innings pitched.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Season 34 NL North Preview

Chicago Orphans

Season 33: 86-76

Season 33 In A Nutshell
Drop of 6 wins but still a solid 86-win season.  Nosed out by 1 game for the last Wild Card.  Topped the NL in runs scored (884) but the pitching flopped to a 4.61 ERA (13th in NL).
Big Offseason Moves
Some minor free agent losses, the most notable being OF Brad O'Connor (who looks like he'll be retiring but went out on a high note with an .820 OPS).  Poured some real money into defense with the John Shigetoshi free-agent deal, and made 1 free-agent swing at the pitching problem with Dustin McGee.

Season 34 Outlook
The offense has slumped a bit but at least the pitching has improved marginally to start Season 34.  On-basers deluxe Shigetoshi and Yoslan Goya (moved to RF wth Herm Stein's shift to CF) are setting the table; Stein (.351/11/31 through 30 games - how's that for an aging non power-hitter?) and C Ismael Vidal are driving them in.  Even with some poor starts (Bobby Michaels - .205) I think this offense will be fine and eventually move into the top 3.

2nd-year SP Kirk Marks is throwing aspirins.  He's started 3-0, 1.57 - less than half of last year's ERA.  Kazuhiro Lee has also started well, with an ERA almost a full run lower than last year's mark.  Only #5 starter Darwin Thornburg (6.61 ERA) and (surprisingly) Kurt Esposito are big anchors on the team ERA at this point.  Curious note: big FA acquisition Dustin McGee has only thrown 5 innings so far - perhaps he had a minor injury.

Even though they're 8 and-a-half back of red-hot Buffalo, I like where the Orphans stand.  I think their offense will warm up some more, and the pitching should improve as McGee works into the rotation.

Prognosis:  Likely 2nd (but don't count out Iowa City) and in the thick of the wild-card battle with #2 from the South and #'s 2 and 3 from the West.

Toledo EliteDucks
Season 33:  68-94

Season 33 In A Nutshell

Season 2 of the rebuild.  Hats off to jdrake for sticking it out through a total teardown/rebuild.

Big Offseason Moves
Savvy older free-agent signings for low-budget 1 and 2-year contracts were the order of the offseason for the Ducks. They also brought up prospects Darrell Lee (P), Jalal Carver (RP), and Tex McKnight (OF).

Season 34 Outlook
Not likely to be a big wins year, but vets like Gary Person (who's off to a great start at .303/7/19), Ivan Amezaga, and Matty Campos should keep them reasonably competitive.  3B Ross Geene is the first of the youngsters they'll build their next contender around; they really need him to return to the .240-.260 and 30-40 HR's of his first 2 seasons, rather than last year's .199/22 and this year's .197 so far.  He'll eventually be joined by last year's #14 overall, Stan Story, 3 more #1's from Season 33, and 5 #1's from Season 32.

Prognosis: 4th, but some real momentum building in the farm system.  They have the #8 and #29 in this year's draft, plus 2 more supplemental #1's.

Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalobuffalo
Season 33: 96-66, Won Division, advanced to the World Series and lost to Huntington (now Washington D.C.)

Season 33 In A Nutshell
Oh so close for the buffalo last year as they swept through the NL bracket but lost a game 7 to Huntington (Now Washington D.C.).

Big Offseason Moves
Still a very young team, they needed only minor tinkering this offseason.  Signed FA Sammy Morales, re-signed Dan Dixon, and promoted Season 31 IFA Pascual Castillo.

Season 34 Outlook
Pretty nice start for Buffalo - after 31 games they lead all of Hobbs with 25 wins and lead the NL in both runs scored and team ERA. They build their offense around 3 switch-hitting, power-hitting IF/CF types - CF Charlie Moreno, 3b Esmailyn Reynoso, and 2B Jair Costilla - plus MVP-waiting-to-happen LF Carlos Valdivia.   Actually, any of these 4 are capable of winning an MVP.  Scary news for the rest of the NL - only 1 of these guys (Moreno) is off to a good start.

So far so good for Pascual Castillo after 2 starts - 1 run allowed in 14 innings.  The rest of the starters - Rabbit Fried, Robinzon Megias, Sam Gentry and Jaret, Paquette - aren't scary but they're effective: all are sporting sub- 4.00 ERA's early in the season.  Dixon and Glenn Coste are the stars of a solid bullpen. 

Prognosis:  I can't see anything slowing down this train; I think they'll win the North by 20+ and will be the favorite to represent the NL in the Series again.

Iowa City Hawkeyes
Season 33: 71-91

Season 33 In A Nutshell
Rebuilding a normal team is hard enough.  But the disaster wrought by jbugg has seen 7 long years of rebuilding. Season 33 gave us a few glimpses of a much brighter near future.

Big Offseason Moves
Traded for B.C. Alfonzo, Oswaldo Seguignol, Yovani Guzman, and Benny Marquez.  Signed RF John Harper, SP Lou Donald, P Nate Lary,  C Calvin Uribe, RP Roger Cook, SP Slick MacFarlane, SP Vladimir Abreu, and RP Rick Roberts - all to low-$ deals.

Season 34 Outlook
The trades for Alfonzo, Seguignol and Guzman signal the coming-of-age of this franchise after 7 years in the wilderness. They haven't started terribly well (13-17), but I think they'll improve as the cold-starting Alfonzo heats up. On the last rebuilding move, they seem to be finding no takers for a .372 hitter.  Yep, Juan Aramboles is hitting .372 with 9 taters after 30 games.

The pitching is a respectable 7th in the NL with a 4.19 ERA. Fritz Wells has been terrific so far - 3-2, 2.56 ERA - although I wouldn't bet the farm on that holding up all year.  Donald (1-0, 3.32) has been effective in a long/mid relief role, and #1 starter Dan Keller is below his career ERA, even though he doesn't have a decision yet in 31 IP.  Abreu and MacFarlane are killing them so far...I don't know what to make of this staff, but If they keep that 4.19 ERA all year I think the fans will be pretty happy.

Prognosis:  3rd, with an outside shot at knocking off Chicago for 2nd.

Division Prediction
3.Iowa City

Friday, March 10, 2017

Season 34 NL West Preview

Scottsdale Cardinals
Season 33: 82-80

Season 33 In A Nutshell
Finnski seems to have uncovered the secret to a perennial winner.  Since his first season, he has had winning seasons every year and in the playoffs four of those seven years.  Season 33 was a low water mark, as he finished just a game over .500, but he made some good moves, and has the team to rebound.

Big Offseason Moves
Two major trades were made sending 3B Carlos Polonia (27/80/.327) and LF Tim Young (22/63/.271) to New Orleans for LF Tony Mullen (34/79/.272), 3B Wally Glover 17/47/.292 and Albert Gonzalez (13-4/4/3.65) in one deal.  The other sent RP Emmett Hogan (7-3/5.54) and SS prospect Wiki Guerrero to Trenton for SP Clyde Service (11-5/3.89) and RP prospect Javier Perez.  If Service can duplicate last season's numbers, count those as two good deals for Scottsdale. Polonia was probably the best player in the NO trade, but getting Mullen's power and a very good RP tilts the deal towards the Cardinals.

Season 34 Outlook
Bright indeed.  This is a much better team than what they showed last year.  They have a lot of good players and their best ones are largely in their primes.  CF and possible future HOFer Dwight Herzog (27/62/.299) has won Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers.  He is flanked by Mullen who had a run of four straight 50+ HR seasons snapped by an injury last year, and RF Lou Trammel (60/147/.281) to make arguably the best outfield in Hobbs.  

In the IF, Glover at third joins  Armando Encarnacion (40/108/.299), Carlos Avilan (15/54/.235 as a rookie, with the promise of a lot more power) and rookie SS Vinny Leary who is not an overall great hitter and just adequate as a fielder, but again has big power potential.  Ted Stokes (6/23/.252) is an outstanding defensive catcher who looks to finally get his turn to start.  

Service joins a rotation headed by  Ivan Beltre (10-10/4.27) and Calvin Ratliff (10-8/3.34).  Danry Valdes (14-11/3.78) and Juan Lind (10-10/4.53) round it out.  Gonzalez is going to be a major factor in an already good pen.  He joins Marcos Presley (6-2/2/2.78), Louis Grim (7-2/4.58), Todd Kapler (1-1/4.75) and Howie Iannnone (0-5/40/3.72) as the main contibutors.

While the pitching is good, and Gonzalez and Marcos are better than good, this is clearly a team built on hitting.  And they define hitting as participating in the Home Run Derby! The chicks will most definitely dig this team.

Honolulu Brewed Kona in a Mug
Season 33:  80-82

Season 33 In A Nutshell
After spending his first 2 years loitering around .500 and grooming a nice group of young players, Kona looks to be ready to make a move.  

Big Offseason Moves
There was only one player of note that was acquired,   FA signee Rubby Franco (14-6/3.83) slots in the number two spot in the rotation for some stability.  1B Trenidad Cruz (28/69/.274) will almost feel like a new player as he was injured much of last season.  He should provide a big lift for the middle of the lineup, if he recovers as expected.  

Season 34 Outlook
Cruz will be welcomed back to an above average lineup. CF Gabby Beckett (18/64/.250) is better than those numbers show and is joined in the OF by LF Jeckssen Bailey (17/63/.267) who draws walks better than about anyone else in the league, and BJ Dunwoody (34/107/.261).  Dunwoody suffered a serious forearm injury in ST and will miss most of the season.  He is replaced by rookie Javier Valenzuela, who may struggle early but has a nice bat.  

Another rookie, Tuck Howard looks to have won the starting 2B job, and should be a good hitter, but like Valenzuela jumped all the way from High A ball and may take time to adjust.  SS Hamish Durbin (15/57/.279) has a nice bat but questionable glove.  He might be better served manning 3B and opening up short for Bernie Guerrero, only a 4/20/.178 bat last year, but a much better hitter his first 2 seasons and a fine glove.  Javier Lopez (6/48/.208) is the starting C, mostly due to his glove and pitch calling.

Franco joins a rotation of Zachary McLaughlin (9-12/4.34), Earl Carraway (11-10/4.23), JC Piscotty (8-11/4.21) and Eduardo Johnson (11-14/5.13).  The main guys in the pen are  Polin Araujo (9-4/1/2.04), Del Guapo (5-4/4/4.68), Diego Romo (7-6/40/4.36), Chuck Everidge (1-10/2/3.48) and Alberto Henriquez (7-9/3.89).

While Honolulu is a rapidly improving team and should better last season's record, some of their younger players may not be ready and the pitching looks too mediocre to compete in a surging division.

Salem Witch Hunters
Season 33:  96-66, Won Division, advanced to Division Series and lost to Buffalo

Season 33 In A Nutshell
Another great season for Salem in season 33.  Tk has averaged over 93 wins per season since taking over the franchise and made the playoffs each season.  Will the string continue for season 34?

Big Offseason Moves
Sadly, more talent left than they could afford to replace. The big hit was 2B Jamie Brewington (32/89/.265) who set sail to Syracuse via FA.  Also leaving were pitchers Yank Stein (10-9/6/3.87), Sadie Miller (8-3/3.10) and Alexie Gardel (7-3/12/5.01).  Barry Tobin (1-1/3/7.60) and Talmadge Dillard (0-1/1/4.58 were brought in as replacements for the depleted pitching staff.

Season 34 Outlook
Any analysis of the Witch Hunters has to start with reigning MVP Ike Allen (51/136/.362) in LF.  He is supported by 3B Tito Cooper (29/99/.252), 1B Miguel Matos (35/105/.262) and C Saul Pinzon (33/79/.293).  

To see why Brewington will be missed so much, the best of the rest are 2B Raul Armas (7/33/.275), RF Albert McDowell (25/66/.247) and 2B Carlton Nieve (6/40/.225).  They do have a nice platoon at SS in Donald Moore and Miguel Mejias. Both have a little pop and are plus defenders.  Rookie CF Dolf Grissom has promise both with the bat and the glove.

Unlike the lineup, the pitching rotation is very strong one through five, with Yean Carlos Posada (7-3/1.61), Khalil McKenry (17-12/3.68), Derrek Finley (16-8/3.38), Geofferey Carter (12-10/4.05) and either Davey Rogers (10-6/3.32) or Diory Diaz (8-9/4.10).  I would be pretty tempted to use both Diaz and Rogers in the rotation and try out Posada as a super reliever, but admittedly it will be easier to get more innings out of him as a SP.

The rest of the pen consists of Guy Velarde (2-5/5/3.65), Japhet Buchholz (5-6/7/5.60), Jeanmar Ozuna (6-4/5/4.54), Pasqual Chavez (3-3/7/4.41), Dillard and Tobin.  Other than Velarde, a fairly subpar group.

All in all, a very mixed bag.  A great rotation balance by a weak bullpen.  A very good half of the lineup propping up a suspect bottom half.  I could see them being an 80 win team or a 100 win team, but best guess is a slight dropoff from last season.

San Francisco Fog
Season 33:  80-82

Season 33 In A Nutshell
From a 94 win playoff team to an 80 win also ran.  The Fog's fall was a head scratcher.  There didn't seem to be any one thing that was out of whack, just a little bit down across the board, both hitting and pitching.  Just goes to show what a tiny margin there is between winning and losing.

Big Offseason Moves
Departing were RPs Rio Molina (6-9/33/4.50) and Sean Collins (4-6/5.43) and RF Arthur Bryant (7/36/.258).  The new faces are RP Happy Brock (2-3/4/3.59), LF Kenny Wolf (16/53/.294) and SS Harry Mercado (4/19/.288).  Pfontaine made incremental improvement, but clearly expects a return to form from the holdovers.

Season 34 Outlook
The strength of this team is its rotation.  While they have no clear cut ace, they have quality in all five slots.  Nolan Duffy (9-11/3.68) is probably the most talented and certainly the most expensive, while Chili Baker (14-12/3.68) and Mariano Mendez (11-10/3.34) were the most effective.  Randy Krause (10-11/3.88) and Scott Atchley (8-12/4.65) are the fourth and fifth starters.

The pen is a different story.  Brock needs to provide a lot of help to incumbents Rondell Thomas (5-5/4/3.39), Mark Holmes (6-1/1/4.15) and Aurelio Fernandez (4-3/5/3.41) as the rest of the pen look like BP pitchers.  It is funny how the bullpens in this world seem to all be either very good or pretty poor, with little in between.  Clearly pens, like defense, is an area of team building that polarizes owners and some believe in spending lots of resources on it while others don't.

But on to the hitting.  Mercado will bring a fine glove to SS, but not so much bat.  The other members of the infield will make up for him though.  2B Jack Hayes (33/93/.247), Harvey Tracy (33/127/.325) and Mike Monroe (26/76/.243) can all hit the ball deep.

The OF is a little weak.  A lineup with Wolf (16/53/.294) or Keith Kohn (15/56/.271) at a corner spot would probably be a good OF with good production at the other spots.  The two of them together are a little shaky, especially given the poor production of CF Ronnie Wickman (4/40/.225).  Wickman is a good candidate for a bounce back season though.  C Vance Harris (13/58/.280) is adequate behind the plate and improving at it.

My gut tells me that this team will rebound to season 32 levels, but that still makes it hard to predict where they finish in a potentially very even division.  My best guess: Division Prediction
1. Scottsdale.  big time hitting and good enough pitching
  make this the one slot I am fairly confident about.
2. Salem.  Maybe the best rotation along with star hitters      
 should cover some of the holes.
3. San Francisco.  Actually, very similar to Salem.  The        rotation is just not quite as good, and the hitting stars are    just a little dimmer. 
4. Honolulu.  Just not quite there yet.  In a weaker division      they might shine, but too many question marks.

top's power rankings (win totals only)

New Orleans 115
Charlotte 98
Indianapolis 96
Austin 95
Philadelphia 94
Chicago 93
Washington D.C. 91
Buffalo 91
Salem 91
Las Vegas 90
Nashville 88
Durham 87
Scottsdale 87
Honolulu 82
Hawkeyes 81
Syracuse 78
San Francisco 77
Richmond 77
San Juan 76
Cheyenne 76
Louisville 75
Vancouver 75
Columbus 74
Kansas City 72
Texas 71
Montreal 71
Chicago 69
Trenton 69
Toledo 68
Burlington 67
San Diego 66
Jacksonville 55

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Season 34 AL South Preview

New Orleans has dominated the South for 4 seasons, but Nashville broke through with Hobbs' 2nd-best record last year.  Can the Legends take another step?  Will Richmond or Louisville make a contending move?  Can the Playoff Chokers do something to earn a new name?

Richmond High Rollers
Season 33: 59-103

Season 33 In A Nutshell

Total commitment to rebuild.  Added a nice prospect in the draft at #10 with Tracy Stearns.  The offense was competitive (732 runs) with OF Manny Saitou (.269/34/96) leading the way.  The pitching, on the other hand needs some touching up (5.49 ERA - 15th) to avoid mwr danger.

Biggest Offseason Moves
Waiver claims, Rule V pickups, but also some serious free agent moves:  2B Julio Mercado and  OF Manny Saitou were probably the most interesting.

Season 34 Preview
Another long year at the ML level, but not without its high points.  C Buck Ward (35 HR, 84 RBI) and SS Chick Ross (an off year at .687 OPS) will get some production help from Mercado and Saitou, but they might have to go some to top last year's 732 runs.

The pitching was dreadful last year and looks like it can't help but improve some.  John Punto (7-10, 3.58 in 140 IP) can't throw a huge number of innings, but he's a quality starter.  The rest of the rotation - Bennett, Roosevelt, Pillar and Gabriel - should be better than last year.  Nothing special in the bullpen except 1-inning specialist Al Troncoso and the terribly-wild but live-armed David Mercado.

The minors need more rebuilding, although there are some prospects.  Carter Altherr in particular looks good...he'll be a nice righty power hitter and a decent C by as early as next year.  The High Rollers have #1 this year - they really need to nail this one.

New Orleans Playoff Chokers
Season 33:  113-49, won Division, advanced to ALCS and lost to Huntington (now Washngton D.C.)

Season 33 In A Nutshell

Another 110+ win season, another early playoff exit.  On the bright side, the offense scored over 1000 runs and the pitching staff topped the team ERA ranking for the 3rd straight year.

Biggest Offseason Moves
Paid a huge price for slugging Scottsdale IF/CF Carlos Polonia:  franchise career HR leader Tony Mullen, underrated 3B Wally Glover, and rubber-armed RP Albert Gonzalez. Signing Rio "Wild Thing" Molina for $1.8MM/year may have been one of this year's FA bargains, but we'll have to see how that control plays in a more hitter-friendly park.

Season 34 Preview
The addition of Polonia gives them the option of a lineup with 9 ++ run producers (when Rich Kohn plays SS), although they'll likely go more often with the Suzuki/Torres shortstop platoon and get Kohn plenty of AB's backing up 3B, CF and RF.

With Joe Wilk taking over LF (from Mullen) they may gain a little pop but will definitely lose some depth (which came in handy last year when Mullen was hurt).  But at this point the Chokers couldn't afford to keep 4 COF's making $5MM+ (with Nick Green due for a raise next year).  Barring injury, the lineup seems capable of 1000 runs again.

The staff will once again lean more its deep and talented stable of relievers than its starters, although they may see Vic Merced go deeper into his starts (to get him closer to 200 innings).  Sam Stock will return to his familiar role of locking down the mid-game every other day.  With the addition of short relievers Matt Naulty and Boots Snider they now have even more late-game options.  This is potentially the best New Orleans staff yet.

Prognosis:  Tops in the South again, although Nashville will be tough competition.

Trade I'd Like To See:  Tim Young for a solid prospect who can defend 2B, 3B and maybe CF.  Young needs to be starting somewhere, and the Chokers need a few more minimum salaries.  It would leave them with 1 less bench bat, but solidify the late game defense for Duran, Wilkerson et al.

Nashville Legends
Season 33:  104-58, Wild Card, lost in Round 1 to Philadelphia

Season 33 In A Nutshell
Jumped from 95 to 104 wins (2nd best in entire world) in bighead 34's first season.  The offense improved by 91 runs (moving from 9th to 6th) despite no big breakout seasons. Rather, they got contributions from a bunch of players (6 players had 20-29 HR's, 9 drove in 60+ runs).  While the pitching was not quite up to Season 32's 2nd-ranked ERA, it was still excellent behind Jayson Haywood's 16-6, 3.13 campaign and Felipe Garza's 6 wins, 7 saves, and 3.15 ERA in 123 innings.

Biggest Offseason Moves
Had to navigate some FA losses - Nelson Jordan, Happy Brock, and 3 other pitchers, plus 3B Jim Salazar (career-high .837 OPS last year).  They signed starters Footsie Anderson and Andy Richmond to modest contracts and nabbed an overlooked Takahiro Hasegawa for 2 years, $6.7MM (total, not per year, for his age 33 and 34 seasons).

Season 34 Preview
Most people probably wouldn't guess the Legends had the 2nd-best record in all of Hobbs last year.  Despite the FA losses, it will be much the same team this year.

It's a contact-based offense with decent power and excellent base-stealing skills.  It's a bunch of .280 hitters with some pop, typified by vR 1B Jamie Osborne (.289/21/65) and mostly-everyday C David Simmons  (.284/29/87).  vL 1B Jered Smith leads the base-stealing parade (64) despite only playing against lefties.  Hasegawareplaces Bert Thompson (47 SB) in RF this year, so that's going to give the lineup more pop and less theft.  Oswaldo Alberro shifts from 2B to 3B and Corey Allen gets the 2B gig full-time.  The offense should be as good or better than last year's.

The pitching staff has been no worse than 4th in Team ERA in each of the last 3 seasons.  It might be a challenge without Nelson, even though his 5-year stay in Nashville was only moderately successful (2 seasons under 4.00 ERA, 3 season over).  Jayson Haywood is still money at age 36, but they'll need a repeat from Thomas Kingman (14-8, 3.67) plus a good surprise from 1 of their other 3 SP's (Rosario, Anderson and Richmond).

It's a deep, talented bullpen of short-haul relievers, although Chad Reid and Peter Sonnanstine can stretch out to 2-3 innings occasionally.  It looks like the way to beat Nashville is to pick on their starters and get ahead early - their 30-9 record in 1-run games last year hints at a superior bullpen. But even superior bullpens don't seem to repeat those kinds of 1-run records; keep a carful eye on the Legends to see if they can hang with New Orleans without it.

Louisville Sluggers
Season 33:  74-88

Season 33 In A Nutshell
The Eovaldi/Hannity/Champion free agent signings by previous owner Astro had a distinctly odd aroma right from the beginning.  Once we had evicted astro (again), gmlear stepped in and did a great job righting the ship.  Hannity (4.01 ERA) and Eovaldi (4.39 ERA) both struggled; their comebacks could signal big jump in wins.

Biggest Offseason Moves
Nothing extravagant in free agency for the Sluggers, just budget-stretchers like Glenallen Ward for 1 x $2.6MM and Curt Backe for 2 x $3.2MM, plus elder statesmen like Sammy Ethier and Kurt Marte.

Season 34 Preview
With Eovaldi and Hannity at the front of the rotation, the Sluggers have the potential for 470 innings of 3.00 ERA pitching right there.  And if...just if...they should make the playoffs, is there a scarier 1-2 combination in the AL? They'll need some help, but there is help available.

Despite hitting only 162 HR's last year (15th in AL), Louisville trots out  pretty good offense.  They return 2 players (Raul Villa, and Ajax Williams) who OPS's .800+, and Pablo Valbuena (career .767 OPS) and Douglas Spivey (career .707 OPS) are decidedly plus bats at CF and SS.  Ward roughly makes up for the loss of Wellington Calles, who after not securing a DH role in Spring Training found himself back in AAA.  So far this year they're a bit under last season's scoring (4.29 rpg vs 4.98).

The big question is whether the pitching will improve (a lot) over it's disastrous 5.63 ERA of Season 33.  Eovaldi and Hannity can't do it all, but their returns to form would go a long way.  Al Montgomery (Season 29 #9 and still a rookie after 97 innings last year) is off to a good start and is a better-than-fair bet as a #3 starter.  The bullpen is hit-and-miss; FA additions Marte (even at age 39) and Backe are likely their best bets to contribute.  

Division Outlook:
1. New Orleans
2. Nashville
3. Louisville
4.  Richmond
With the additions of Carlos Polonia and several (more) high-quality arms, the Chokers are as good as ever. Nashville had some free-agent losses but snared a huge bargain in RF Hasegawa; I can see them being very good again but unlikely to overhaul N.O.  Louisville seems to be straddling the rebuild/improve fence and will probably be pretty good as Eovaldi/Hannity bounce back, and Richmond is clearly rebuilding.