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

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