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Thursday, January 1, 2009

NL West Preview - Season 7

Look For Helena to repeat as Division champs but the other teams are moving in a direction to be able to compete in the futre.

Helena - Emperors
Last Season: 93 - 69, Division Title
Ballpark: Kindrick Field

This organization knows nothing but winning. Three 100 win seasons, 6 Division Titles, and a World Series championship. The Emperors return almost everyone from last year with little offseason activity.

Offense was not a problem a year ago for Helena and should remain very consistent in season 7. They return Jason Zaun, Howard McCorley, Julio Saenz and Micah Lowery all who hit 30+ homeruns last year. Ozzie Cho returns behind the plate and Dion Durrington will leadoff again this year. The offense finished third in runs scored in the NL last year and should easily repeat that performance. This group also produced one of the top fielding percentages in season 6.

The pitching staff was average last year. Every member of the rotation will be back, which was a strong point of the staff. The rotation will need strong performances from Tony Sasaki and Domingo Montero. The bullpen was the problem area for the staff in season 6. Outside of closer Gene Seabol they struggled. Free agent Hector Rincon will look to add depth to the setup role but the emperors will need better performances from Juan DeRojas and Larry Bichette .

This is a very good team again this year and a 7th division title should not be a problem. The bullpen has the ability to do better than last year and if they do this team could be prepared for a deep playoff run.

Prediction: Division Title

Anaheim-Los Angeles - Conquistadores
Last Season: 71 - 91, Tied for 2nd in Division
Ballpark: Angel Stadium

The conquistadores had a disappointing season in year 6. Offseason moves were made to address issues but this team will have similar problems as they did in season 6.

The offense was rotten for Anaheim last year scoring the least runs in the NL. This run drought can be directly attributed to a lack of power hitting. A slugging % of .376 was the worst in the NL. Trade acquisition Bruce Henderson could add 20 HR and free agent signing Greg Fitzgerald should also help and at his price is a quality signing. The biggest improvement will be waiver claim Vladimir Acevedo who has multiple 30+ HR years. Andres Gomez and Orlando Posada will also be relied on but not as much as last season.

The rotation will be back from a very strong year. Stud Sergio Baptist will lead the way with Edgardo Mendoza and Bronson Wooten playing significant roles. This rotation has the potential to be dynamite, with prospect Tim Steenstra breaking into the rotation for the first time. Jumbo Campos had a good year closing and the bullpen blew only 11 Saves last year. With most of the bullpen returning expect the conquistadores to lean heavily on Pedro Lugo and Marcus Wolf.

This team has improved from a year ago and I would expect a .500 or better win %. Still I think their offense will struggle and unless their bats break expectations I do not see a playoff appearance for Anaheim.

Prediction: 2nd place in Division

Santa Cruz - Is Coming to Town
Last Season: 71 - 91, Tied for 2nd in Division
Ballpark: Vanigila Stadium

This has been a very troubled franchise for some time. 71 wins last year was a big movement in the right direction but going into the offseason a lot needed to be changed to get this team to winning ways. 11 Free agents will start the year with the ML club and 3 more have been promoted from the minors to give this team an overhaul in season 7.

Veteran Vladimir Aquino (free agent) should be the big addition to a struggling offense. Also look for quality “value” free agents Davey Diaz, Willie Robinson, and Tike Ray to have impacts. One of the few returners from last season will be Alan Charles who will play first base. All things considered the offense will be average at best this year. However, so great value signings leave this organization with lots of flexibility for the future.

The pitching staff could go through some rough patches this year. Closer Rod Fryman has never held the position on his own in his career and Wesley Powell is coming off a rough season 6. Felix Sung should add depth to the pen. Bobby Webster is a good call up and why he was in AAA last season you can only wonder. The bullpen will be the stronger part of the staff as the rotation has issues. Joaquin Valdez and Walter Hansen are great value signing this offseason. Junior Yang could eat some innings. But Bill Nelson and Vin Langston have had problems in starter’s roles in the past.

The way Santa Cruz has headed in the past has been troubling for fans. This offseason fans should feel good about. They overhauled their team while staying committed to growing from within. 70 to 80 wins this year would not be a stretch for this team.

Prediction: 3rd Place

San Diego - Beach Boys
Last Season: 67 - 95
Ballpark: Petco Park

The Beach Boys struggled last year, and produced only 67 wins. This offseason a couple of players have been promoted from within to help big club. Also two free agent signings will look to contribute. However, no major changes will leave this franchise in the cellar of the division.

San Diego batted a major league worst .244 last season. There is power potential in the lineup with returners P.T. Wells and Dave James. Look for Darrel Kline to have a productive first year in the league. Orlando Baez will need to improve from a season where he hit just .251. The poor offensive output is coupled with a NL worst fielding % with Ken Levis questionable in centerfield and Raymond Stevenson playing bellow average at shortstop.

The Pitching staff has lost reliever Chris Allen but brought in Joaquin Vasquez who should be able to give more innings. Fred Steele will step into the closers role after a brief stint in the majors last year. The rotation will be lead by Aaron Halladay and Pablo Oliva. The rotation is very suspect with a lack of stamina throughout and serious control issues. Rookie Bernie Gongora may or may not be ML ready and the signing of Ivan Gonzales to a $5 million dollar contract is questionable. (He has since been sent to the minors)

San Diego needs to improve if they want to compete with the top teams in this division. Every aspect of the game needs work and it should be tough season.

Prediction: Last Place

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