The NL East Looks to be the toughest division in the NL again this season. The top three teams all have legitament shots at winning the division and it will be interesting to follow league injuries and trade deadline moves to see who comes out on top.
Philadelphia - Pirates
last Season: 94 - 68, Division Champs
Ballpark: Citizens Bank Park
The Pirates will set out on season 7 looking for a third straight NL East divisional title. With a mindset that they could accomplish much more, this year looks to be bright for Philly who made no substantial offseason moves.
Offense was a constant for the pirates a year ago. With big name bats such as season 6 MVP Alex Morales and All Stars Earl Donavan and Henry Kirk, the lineup has plenty of star power. Through in Big names such as John Rose and Ed Serrano and you have a real murders row developing. Carlos Arias adds gold glove caliber fielding and another 20 home runs from last season. The big addition to the offense this year will be 21 year old Jamie Cunningham who has been added to the opening day roster at second base. The organization loves this kid and he has rookie of the year written all over him.
The pitching staff remains intact from an excellent season last year, were their 3.94 ERA ranked 2nd in the NL. The rotation should be deep this year with pitchers such as Jason Carter, Al Nunez, and Cecil Magnante. Brian Hara is moving out of his prime and it will be interesting to see how he rebounds from injury and poor performance in Texas. The bullpen also is deep with veterans like Craig Scott and Darren Rath. It will be interesting to see how the closers role gets defined with guys like Gregory Webster and Clarence Kolb.
Very good team should see 95 to 100 wins. However it will be interesting to see if one of their starters can step up and become the Ace of the staff to start a championship run.
Prediction: Divisional Champs, Pennant Run
Charlotte - Blue Devils
Last Season: 92 - 70, Wild Card
Ballpark: Knights Castle
Coming of their first ninety win season the Blue Devils hope to build on that and compete for the division. A very balanced team returns a majority of their core from a year ago and added pitching depth and defense.
The offense had a good year last year scoring the most runs in the national league while hitting 247 home runs. The offense will again be anchored by All Stars Emil Escobar and Magglio Morales. With additional power coming from Fausto Martin and Santiago Guerrero, who both produced 30 home runs a year ago. Mark Herges and Clayton Pavlov will be looking to get things started for the big sticks. Harry Stark should be intriguing to watch in CF for his rookie campaign.
A solid pitching staff that produced a team ERA 4.05 last season is mostly back with some added bullpen depth. Starters Maximo Meche and Robert Edmonds will look to anchor the rotation. Newcomers Alex Figureoa and Mark Cintron will add depth to the bullpen. Rosevelt Acosta will move to a set up role this year to make room for Darrell Boudreau to take the closers role.
All in all this team is sound top to bottom and it should give Philadelphia a run for the divisional title again this year. A major impact bat I think is holding them back from being elite, Morales could be that guy but has struggled durability wise behind the plate.
Prediction: second in division, Wild Card
Scranton - Tough Streets
Last season: 88 -74
Ballpark: Lackawanna County Stadium
Injury’s plagued the though streets franchise a year ago. Notably Third Basemen Alex Abe, Starter Albert Wallace, and CF Ricardo Granados all made trips to the 60 day disabled list. Abe has since moved on and Wallace and Granados are back healthy for season 7. Despite the rash of injuries last year the team finished with 88 wins just missing the wildcard.
The pitching staff had a tough time last year finishing games. The team blew 22 games and dragged the team ERA down to second to last in the NL. The Rotation was solid and returns a majority of their starts from a year ago including Cy Young candidate Victor Vega and Veteran Jin-Chi Maedea who will anchor the rotation once again. The bullpen has made some changes for the better, All Star closer Walter Ogea is out after a poor second half left him with a 6 ERA to end the season. Replacing Ogea will be Free Agent signee Hades Riley. You will also see new setup man Luis Bocachica make a large contribution to the team after he was acquiered via Trade.
Offensively the big story this offseason was the trade of Walter Gabriel whose at bats saw a significant drop from the previous year. Scranton sheds his $14million dollar salary and receives two prospects along with Darrel Collins. At SS Timo Bong returns from a strong year and Patrick Borland has proven himself behind the plate the last couple of seasons. Lewis Andrews left for free agency but newly acquired William Speier should add some pop and Tony Vasquez will be look towards to set the table for the big bats. The offense though will live or die on the health of cleanup man Ricardo Granados who was an all star/silver slugger/gold glover in his only full season of big league duty.
The Though Streets are a very intriguing team. They can go as high as win the east this season or as low as cellar dweller. The Rotation should carry them but their bullpen is still suspect. The offense relies to heavily on injury prone guys and in a very tough division it will be tough to overcome any major setbacks. Still if this team stays healthy and the bullpen produces they could make a serious playoff run.
Prediction: Third Place in a though division; Run at a wild card spot.
St. Louis - Birdos
Last season: 78 - 84
Ballpark: Busch Stadium
The Birdos were in a rebuilding phase last year for the third straight year and more of the same is expected for this season. The team will be shooting for their first winning season since season 1. Trades and promotions from within will be how this team has looked to increase their win total.
St. Louis finished around middle of the pact or bellow in every major offensive category last season and not much has changed from last year. Brandon Bates will be relied upon in the middle of the order after a career year in season 6. The departure of 30 HR man Glenn Burnett will try to be offset by rookie Davey Hollins and rule V pick up Walter Charlton. Rule V pick from last year Andrew Whitehill will be the spark at the top of the lineup. Perennial Gold Glover Ernest Hernandez will join fellow Gold Glovers Frank Won and Bryan Brooks in the field which looks to be a strong suit for the team. The offense will look for Quinn Mathews to bounce back from sup par performance.
The Pitching Staff for the Birdos finished middle of the pact a year ago and some key additions have been made to try and bolster the rotation and bullpen. They Traded for lefty Tony Costilla and signed free agent All Star closer Barry Linton. Costilla was very pricey trading away two very good prospects but management loves this kid. Barry Linton, like many other players on the team, appears to be an older “stop gap” type until prospects develop. The team will also rely on pitchers Kelly Rolls and Bobby Langston to have good years. However, unless some lower level starters step up another mediocre season for this staff is in order.
In the hardest division in the NL last season St. Louis will be luck to repeat the win total they had last season. Another year of waiting for prospects is in order and the organization seems committed to building from within.
Prediction: Last Place