Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Season 33 NL West Preview

Scottsdale Cardinals
Season 32: 83-79

Season 32 In A Nutshell

The pitching fell off just a little, the hitting fell off just a little (despite the usual Bash Bros routine with 249 HRs), but it was enough to make a 5-win difference and a drop from 1st to 3rd.  Among the hitters, RF Lou Trammel (.293/41/114) and 3B Dwight Herzog (.290/27/68) stood out; Ivan Beltre paced the pitchers (10-3, 2.44 ERA) despite only getting in 129 innings.

Season 33 PreviewScottsdale has largely stayed away from free agency, preferring to "grow their own", and they stayed with the plan again.  This year will see the passing of the LF torch from 2-time MVP Moises Morales (664 career HR's) to Season 24's #17 overall pick, Tim Young (.285/.352/.491 over parts of 4 seasons).  Young joins a power-packed lineup that annually sees 5 or 6 players top 25 HR's.  They also keep the bases jammed, leading the NL with 600 BB's last year (CF Polonia led with 86).

While the offense has consistently thrived with that HR's + BB's formula, the pitching hasn't found similar success.  The talent is undeniable - Beltre (3.63 career ERA) and MR Marcos Presley (career 3.67 ERA) have been excellent, but others have been up and down.  Perhaps no player has typified the Cards' pitching frustrations like Calvin Ratliff, the #11 pick of Season 25.  After breaking in with a decent rookie season, he followed up with a 6.31 ERA in Season 29, then returned with his best season (3.09 ERA), then saw his WHIP balloon to 1.36 in an 8-9, 4.07 campaign.  He settled down to a reasonable .695 OPS-against last year, but has yet to put together 2 consecutive seasons commensurate with his talent (or really even 1 complete season).  If Ratliff (and maybe 1 or 2 others) can really harness his immense potential, the Cards will truly be dangerous.

Scottsdale sends out a pretty good defense behind those pitchers - a .986 fielding percentage and 55/45 on +/- plays last year.

This is one of our really fun, predictable teams in Hobbs. You know they're going to hit bombs with men on base and score runs, and you know the pitching is going to be all over the place.  In a different division, they might have won 3 or 4 in a row...in the competitive West, they're good enough to compete every year.

Honolulu Brewed Kona in a Mug
Season 32:  82-80

Season 32 In A Nutshell

Been awhile since the glory days of this franchise (the back-to-back 104 and 105-win Seasons 19 and 20, although they did win the Division with 80 victories in Season 24).  Behind the All-Star, .313/50/130 season of 1B Trinidad Cruz and rookie Jecksson Bailey's 132 walks (.433 OBP), the offense totaled a respectable 747 runs (9th).  The pitching improved by half-a-run a game (Zach MacLaughlin was the workhorse, going 13-14 with a 3.57 ERA in 234 innings) and was key to the 7-win improvement (to 82).  The year was about squeezing talent from the farm system, as the Kona put (gotta be a record) 4 players on the ROY ballot (Bailey and SP Earle Carraway shared the ROY).

Season 33 Preview

Now can they get some more improvement out of all those kids (17 of their ML roster players are 27 or younger)?  It's an average offense that's about average (or a little less) in most categories except stealing bases (only 35 thefts). 3B Bailey is an extraordinary leadoff man and could steal a lot more than 19 bags.  Cruz is one of the league's premier sluggers, and is well-protected in the lineup by B.J. Dunwoody (3 straight 46+ HR seasons).  Beyond that the lineup is pretty soft, and isn't helped by the injury to Hamish Durbin (out about 65 days).  That also complicates their defense, which had its problems last year (.981 fielding %, although the 58/34 on good/bad plays was OK).  They go with defensive players at C and CF, although it's plausible that CF Beckett could improve on his rookie .723 OPS.

Whether their pitching can come through again is the big question.  3 of their big pitching seasons came from MacLaughlin, Carraway and rookie RP Diego Romo (7 wins, 13 saves, 2.48 ERA in 72 IP) - all with pedestrian splits but very good pitches.  Can guys like that consistently put up 3.50 or better ERA's?  The move to more pitcher-friendly Honolulu (from neutral Helena) will help, but of course will challenge the offense more.

This club definitely has things headed the right way, but it's hard to see how they can challenge the Big Boys of the West this year.  Still, a fun young club that completes one of Hobbs' best all-round divisions.

Salem Witch Hunters
Season 32:  93-69, Wild Card, reached WS and lost to Huntington

Season 32 In A Nutshell   
Great year for the Hunters as they fought through Austin, Buffalo and San Fran to reach the WS.  1B Miguel Matos (.289/60/142) took home the MVP, 2B Brewington (.264/37/85, 38 SB) and 3B Cooper (.287/33/101) were All-Stars, and LF Ike Allen (.321/32/104, 71 SB) took home the LF Sliver Slugger.

Season 33 Preview
Only minor changes for the NL Champs, although we're deep into Spring Training and we don't really know who's in CF.  The one big off-season move was the acquisition of RF Albert McDowell from Jacksonville for a pair of prospects. McDowell had a breakthrough season last year (36 HR's) and adds yet another power bat to Salem's long-ball lineup (240 HR's, 3rd in NL).  They're only an average contact team (.260 BA) and below-average in drawing walks...I'd like to see more of either from their non-power lineup positions (SS and CF), but you can't have everything.  Whoever mans those spots is at least going to contribute good defense.

4th-year ace Juan-Carlos Posada leads the staff.  The righty from Kellogg Community College has compiled a superb OPS-against of .591 so far; he can't throw enough innings to get a lot of wins but he keeps them in every game he pitches.  Geoffrey Carter (12-9, 3.99), Sadie Miller (14-11, 3.45), Davey Rogers (10-4, 2.92) and Derrek Finley (18-8, 4.50) fill out the rotation expertly behind Gonzalez (and for the 2nd year in a row, those 5 started ALL 162 games for the Witch Hunters...what are the odds?).

The bullpen is, shall we say, not the strength of the team.  FA signee Alexei Gardel might help, but with a career OPS-against of .748 it's far from a sure thing.

Still a team with its stars in their primes...look for another strong year from Salem.

San Francisco Fog
Season 32:  94-68, Won Division, advanced to NLCS and lost to Salem

Season 32 In A NutshellDivision crown and a trip to the NLCS in pfontaine's 4th season.  The Fog had the NL's 2nd-best (to Buffalo) Team ERA at 3.72, and pumped up their scoring from 668 in Season 31 to 741.  Closer Rio ("Wild Thing") Molina, SP Chili Baker, 1B Harvey Tracy and LF Wolf Purcell made the All-Star Team; and Tracy won the 1B Gold Glove.  Rookie 2B Jack Hayes (Season 30 #3 overall) sparked the revived offense with 31 HR's and 84 RBI.

Season 33 PreviewSan Fran dipped into free agency for OF Arthur Bryant, who looks to be part of a RF platoon, and SP Scott Atchley, who last year had his 11th straight season of 217+ innings pitched.

Otherwise, it's pretty much a copy of last year's team.  Not a big HR-hitting squad, Tracy and Hayes led the team with 35 and 31.  Leadoff man Purcell is one of the league's top table-setters...if he can get anywhere near last year's .326 BA and 62 steals (of the team's league-leading 189) they should be well over 700 runs again.

Staff ace Nolan Duffy has been superb since coming over as a free agent last year, winning 16 and 14 with ERA's of 2.82 and 2.53.  #2 starter Baker has been totally transformed in San Francisco:  3 straight sub-3.50 ERA seasons after a career of 4+ and 5+ years.  Mariano Mendez, Randy Krause and Atchley round out the rotation

Molina (control rating 38) is one of the wilder pitchers in the league, but seems to get the big outs - he's had 35+ saves in 5 of his 6 seasons.  Rondell Thomas (9 wins, 6 saves, 2.93 ERA in 107 innings excels in middle relief.  Sean Colin ("Wild Thing II") further solidified the bullpen with his excellent rookie outing - 6 wins, 8 saves, 2.30 ERA in 66 innings.

On top of everything else, they play very good defense - .986 fiedling % and 71/34 on good/bad plays.

This team will be very tough to beat if they can keep their scoring up to the 730-740 range.

Division OutlookIn the only division with all 4 teams over .500 last year, can ANY 4 win it all?  Almost.  I fully expect Honolulu to improve again, but realistically the competition is too tough for them to go worst to first.  Conventional wisdom would predict a SF or Salem victory, but I'm going out on a limb and picking Scottsdale.  Calvin Ratliff finally figures out how to pitch and propels their staff to the top 5-or-6 in Team ERA.

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