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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

NL South Preview - Season 7

Another Division with little activity this off season resulting in little movement in the standings. The top of this division should stay very competitive all year but in the end Little Rock should be poised for another division title.

Little Rock - Anti-Clinton's
Last Season: 100 - 62, Division Title
Ballpark: Ray winder Field
The Anti-Clintons are coming off a 100 win season and a third straight NL South Championship. However, an early exit from the playoffs left a sour taste in the franchises mouth.

Little Rock’s offense struggled to score runs last season finishing 25th in runs scored at about 4.5 runs per game. Though a 100 win season was great management saw a need to add a impact bat this offseason and made it very clear they were going to do just that. In Little Rocks only major move this offseason Cy Young winner from last year Louis Nye Moved to Cincinnati for All Star Slugger Vernon Hubbell. The team brings back RBI men from last year Michael Ishida and Jose Alonso along with leadoff man Rod Cummings. The Addition of Vernon Hubbell is going to drastically alter the clubs offensive production.

Offense was the story this offseason but pitching was the corner stone of the 100 win year season 6. Little Rocks staff finished with a team ERA of 3.20 nearly 0.7 better than the next best team (Tacoma). The rotation loses Cy Young winner Louis Nye but returns four 10+ game winners from last year including Stuart Ramirez, Dave Sefcik, and Mario Connelly. The Bullpen will be just as deep as the rotation. Harvey Cardona blew just one save in 44 attempts last year. Setup men Victor Aven and Wes Brown should get Cardona more save opportunities in season 7.

Lack of a big time hitter held this team back last year. That is scary to think about since they won 100 games. The addition of Vernon Hubbell makes this team a World Series contender.

Prediction: Division title; Championship Run

Lousiville - Sluggers
Last Season: 96 - 66, Wild Card
Ballpark: Louisville Slugger Field

After missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in season 5 Louisville bounced back with a strong performance in year 6. This team is built for offense but the pitching staff stepped up last year to send this team to the postseason.

The offense returns three players who had 100+ RBI’s in seasons 6. All Stars Joe Ross, Henry Salmon, and Mitchell Brower should provide plenty of pop in the middle and the addition of Micah Hill makes this lineup very formidable. Al Espada will be the leadoff man again and provide diversity to a powerful offense. This line up should be terrifying for opposing pitchers.

Torey Chavez will be back from a career year and pitchers Junior Machado and David Gonzalez round out a better than average rotation. Though a true ace is tough to find in that group, if Chavez can repeat last year’s performance he could be that guy but control problems will slow him down. A good bullpen basically all returns anchored by Fireman award winner Corey Cookson. They will lean on veteran Jerry Hansen for setup duties.

This team should make the playoffs again this year and push Little Rock for the division title. In the end however Little Rock will be too much and Pitching uncertainty will keep this team under the Anti-Clintons for another year.

Prediction: Runner up in division; Wild Card

Mexico City - Red Devils
Last Season: 73 - 89
Ballpark: Foro Sol

A sub .500 season in Mexico City was a first for the franchise in season 6. Nothing really went their way last season struggling to get batters out on a consistent basis and struggling to score runs.

Lots of free agent signees on offense but none of them will significantly improve their offense from a year ago. Butch Barker will be the anchor in the middle of the order again this season and Dan Clayton should provide a good bat at SS. Besides Barker the offense really lacks explosiveness and should struggle this year.

The Rotation is full of 3 and 4 type starters. Clyde James and Quinn Flynn have the potential for more but did not show it last season. The bullpen mostly struggled last year. All Star Closer Barry Linton Moved on in free agency. Replacing him will be Jerry Rivers who blew 12 games in 49 SVO last year. The bullpen is full of average ML talent and the rotation is not much better.

Another sub .500 season may be in store for the Red Devils unless their rotation and bullpen play better than they did a season ago. Look for this team to show signs of success but over the whole season they just aren’t there yet.

Prediction: Third Place never really compete with top teams in division.

Houston - Colt 45's
Last Season: 64 - 98
Ballpark: Minuite Maid Park

Houston did not win 90 games for the first time in franchise history last year. They finished with a dreadful 64 wins. The offense was inconsistent last year and the pitching was horrendous letting up 238 HR over the course of the season.

The offense Has seen little change from last year. The Colt 45’s will still lean on stud CF Jack O’Brien. Henry Blalock has arrived in a very unexciting free agent signing class. The biggest news on the offense will be the promotion of 21 year old Kiko Mickinley to the opening day roster. Douglas Grebeck has been sent to AAA after a very good year for him last year where he had a .816 OPS. Another 20 HR’s in J.P Matos left via free agency. O’Brien will have to carry this offense if they want to get any production at all.

The pitching staff finished last season with a 4.78 ERA, Last in the National League. The rotation has no big time pitchers to speak of. The let veterans J.P Martin and Enrique Martin Walk this offseason and have added no legit Major league starters. They Brought up Jackson Helton to join the rotation and signed free agents Dean Green and Julio Pizzario neither of which are major league impact starters. Closer Francsico Marichal pitched well in save opportunities but only had 28 of them last year. This pitching staff is in for another tough year.

Houston will be lucky to get back to 64 wins this year. No significant moves this offseason leave this team in a state of limbo, the team is full of bellow average major league talent.

Prediction: Last Place

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