Thursday, December 1, 2016

Season 33 NL North Preview

Chicago Orphans

Season 32: 92-70, Wild Card, lost in Round 1 to New York (now Syracuse)

Season 32 In A Nutshell

For the third straight season the Orphans finished second in the division, but they did manage to narrow the gap in what has become a two-team race. The Orphans sent more hitters to the plate in S32 than any other team in the league, and their lineup posted some impressive statistics – first in hits with 1,647; tied for second in batting average at .282; fourth in runs scored with 871; and 11th in home runs with 217. Those statistics, which were all improvements from S31, helped propel the Orphans into postseason play as the NL wildcard team. 

Season 33 Preview

Offense is the name of the game for this franchise, and the Orphans should be a formidable offensive force once again in S33. The lineup, which returns intact, features four .300-plus hitters in CF Yoslan Goya (.340, 26 HR), SS Bobby Michaels (.329, 12), 2B Herm Stein (.315, 20) and 1B David James (.304, 38). Everyone in the starting lineup had 12 or more homeruns.

The Orphans bolstered their reserves with the addition of free agent C Ismael Vidal, who hit .277 and had 25 HRs last season for New Orleans. He’ll combine with young outfielder in waiting Jose Pineda (.260, 15) to give Chicago some additional power options off the bench.

With such an offensive juggernaut, it’s easy to overlook the Orphans pitching staff, which combined for an ERA of 4.12, which ranked 12th overall. Not bad for a team built on offense.

The rotation features four pitchers who logged 175-plus innings of work each. Three of them are under 29 years of age, including staff ace Cliff Floyd (4.21 in 205 IP), Corey Booker (4.62, 175) and Ivan Roark (5.22, 193). Shannon Rivera (3.16, 180) at 31 is the grizzled veteran of the starting corps, and another youngster, 28-year-old Kazuhiro Lee (3.60, 153) rounds out the rotation.

By contrast, the bullpen features an experienced group of relievers in their 30s, but the star is 23-year-old long reliever Kirk Marks (3.86). Marks’ 124 innings pitched was the heaviest workload of all the relievers – more than double that of any of the relievers returning. Collectively, the bullpen had a 3.90 ERA.

The addition of closer Alex Almanzar (3.40, 56 IP, 16 saves) from Boston gives the Orphans a nice upgrade for former closer Yamil Ozuna, who left for Charlotte via free agency.

By electing to virtually stand pat during the postseason, the Orphans are banking on their lineup to put up enough offense to lift them past nemesis Buffalo in the division title race. But four members of that vaulted offense range in age from 32 to 36, so time is of essence for cretins’ aging squad.

Toledo EliteDucks
Season 32:  78-84

Season 32 In A Nutshell

After coming within a game of nudging the Chicago Orphans out of second place in S31, the fortunes of the EliteDucks crumbled last season. It was a wholesale regression. The Ducks scored 101 runs less in S32, hit 38 fewer home runs, and for the second season in a row they led the league in strikeouts with 1,203. The pitching staff saw its ERA mushroom, jumping from 3.56, which was the second best in the league in S31, to 4.23, and the mound crew gave up 38 more home runs.

Season 33 Preview

The EliteDucks packed their bags in the offseason and moved to the more pitching friendly confines of Toledo’s Fifth Third Field in hopes that will be the elixir that brings back the magic for their aging pitching staff. Four of the Ducks starters and two relievers are over 32 years old, which also happens to the average age of the entire returning staff.

Despite their advancing age, those six elderly statesmen turned in solid performances during the dismal Season 32. All four starters compiled ERA’s under 4.00 – Javier Gutierrez, 35, was 3.99 in 189 IP; Dustin McGee, 36, finished 3.91 in 182 IP; Ivan Amezaga, 35, was 3.96 for 179 IP; and Ned Shields, 36, was 3.61 for his 117 innings. In the bullpen, the only two relievers with ERAs less than 5.00 were 38-year-old Kurt Marte (2.43, 59 IP) and 33-year-old Parker Walker (2.25, 84 IP).

The Ducks will need similar performances from their aging stars if they hope to have any chance at improving on last year’s 78 wins. They’ll also need improvement from the three younger pitchers that returned – SP Mark Cromer, 26, (4.60, 170 IP), and relievers Ralph Lewis, 27, (5.09, 94) and Kennie Hardy, 29, (5.30, 71).

Toledo lost three pitchers to free agency but made no moves during the offseason, so just days away from the start of a new season, jdrake’s pitching staff totals just 9 players.

The offense will be led by LF Josh Garcia, whose .293 average and 40 home runs paced the EliteDucks last season. Three other returning Ducks had 19 or more home runs – 3B Ross Greene with 26, RF Donnie K’aaihue with 20, and 1B Pedro Ortiz with 19. Greene’s batting average fell 45 points to .216, and that coupled with the light hitting tandem of SS Don Maeda (.222) and CF Jim Rogers (.234) and a bench that featured four players whose BA’s were under.250 were major reasons the Ducks’ offense underperformed last season.

The offensive challenges could continue in S32. Power-hitting C Eduardo Franco (.252, 23 HR) left for free agency, and both of the reserve catchers are gone as well.

The Ducks did sign two aging free agents in the offseason – 34-year-old 1B Tony Jones, who hit .257 with 12 homeruns in 187 AB for New York, and 39-year-old infielder Rip Baker, who spent all of S32 in HiA. Neither has any catching experience.

The EliteDucks need more than a new ballpark and fan base to be a factor in the AL North division chase this season. The starting rotation is solid, but advanced age will soon be a factor the Ducks must contend with. The bullpen is undermanned heading into the season, and the four reserves that will back up the starting lineup are 34 to 39 years old. To be considered a serious contender, jdrake needs to make some last-minute moves to get the depth this team will need to return to competitiveness.

Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalobuffalo
Season 32: 99-63, Won Division, lost in Round 2 to Salem

Season 32 In A Nutshell

The BuffaloX4 won their third straight division title in S32, and pitching was the difference. Buffalo had the best pitching in the league last season with a 3.45 ERA, which was more than a third of a run less than the previous season. That improvement was enough to offset a stumbling offense that scored 59 less runs, hit 11 fewer homeruns, and struck out 46 more times than the season prior.

Season 33 Preview

If Buffalo earns a fourth straight division title, it will be pitching that gets it there. All five of the starters return, and three of them logged more than 200 IP. The staff ace is 34-year-old Steve Davis (3.50, 216 IP) but rising young star Sam Gentry (3.58, 211) is poised to take over the reins should Davis falter. Rounding out the rotation are Robinzon Megias (3.48, 202), Vladimir Abreu (4.27, 129) and 24-year-old Omar James (4.08, 163).

Two members of Buffalo’s stellar bullpen are gone to free agency (Vicente Prieto and Dioner Duran), but there’s still plenty of talent left to keep opponents at bay late in the game. Long reliever Jaret Paquette had a stellar 1.70 ERA in 85 IP. Glenn Coste (3.63, 119) and Dan Dixon (2.97, 100) were effective in their setup roles. And youngsters Buddy Wells (3.19, 62) and Jhoulys Colon (3.09, 32) had solid years.

The Buffalo live and die with the long ball. All eight starters had 17 or more home runs, and the team’s 261 dingers ranked third in the league. Four starters hit 30 or more home runs – 3B Esmailyn Reynoso and LF Carlos Valdivia each had 40; CF Charlie Moreno had 37; and 2B Jair Costilla had 30. 

But the long ball strategy has its challenges – a rising strikeout rate and a team batting average that dipped to .253 last season, which ranked 27th overall. A continuation of those two trends could be a silent predictor of this year’s finish.

There were no postseason moves made by Buffalo, but cyben5150 should look to pad his team’s bench by adding a couple of players before the season’s first pitch is thrown.

Iowa City Hawkeyes
Season 32: 56-106

Season 32 In A Nutshell

The Hawkeyes have been the whipping boy of the NL North for the past five season, finishing dead last each season while averaging 57 wins per season. Season 32 was exactly that – an average effort, albeit a noticeable improvement from the 43-win effort in S31. A better offense gets credit for the reversion back to norm. The team scored 171 more runs last season and slapped 214 homers, more than double the number of round-trippers the season before.

Season 33 Preview

The Hawkeyes will play in their third different ballpark in as many seasons. The move to the pitcher friendly confines of Principal Park in Iowa City will hopefully benefit a pitching staff that had one of the worst ERAs (5.80) in the league. The Hawkeyes’ top four pitchers all had ERAs north of 5.75, and only one member of the bullpen had an ERA under 5.40. Only one of the team’s pitchers worked more than 150 innings last season – 27-year-old Fritz Wells (6.59, 198 IP).

Five of those pitchers left via free agency in the offseason, but the Hawkeyes failed to take advantage of the exodus and they picked up just one reliever – Yeico Ortiz (4.83 in 78 IP) from Vancouver. So the big question mark entering the season is how all those plus-5.00 ERA pitchers will fare in a pitcher’s park. Slashtc has his fingers crossed the move will help slice into the team’s inflated ERA.

Last year’s offensive improvement was driven by the team’s top four hitters – 1B Juan Aramboles, who bombed 56 home runs while hitting .310; catcher Calvin Uribe (.310, 22 HR), RF Left Hubbard (.338, 12) and LF Rafael Vincente (.311, 12). Vincente and 3B Kennie Levrault (.241, 26 HR) left for free agency, but slashtc signed former New York 3B Harry Estrada (.258, 20 HR) to help fill the hitting void.

Vincente’s outfield spot is up for grabs with the most likely candidate being reserve Danys De La Vega (.294, 14 in 326 AB) or Didi Carrasco, who has been activated from the disabled list. One of those two will join free agent Marcus Martin (.285, 7), and Rule 5 pickup Julian Fernandez (.285, 13 in AA for Nashville) as the best options off the bench.

Iowa City’s chances for another “average” season will boil down to how well the Hawkeyes pitchers adapt to their new home stadium. If that transition doesn’t produce an overall reduction of at least one run in the team’s ERA, it could be another disappointing doormat season for the Hawkeyes


BuffaloX4 has to be the odds-on favorite to capture its fourth straight division championship, but that prediction comes with a couple of qualifiers: The Buffalo should win 1) IF their aging pitching staff can avoid injuries and show no signs of diminishing skills, and 2) IF the “Count Them Taters” offense can stop whiffing long enough to deposit enough baseballs into the outfield seats to support those elderly gentlemen on the mound. But should those IFs not materialize, the Orphans will be eagerly waiting to mount a challenge that could lift Chicago to its first division title since S29.

-- editor21

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