-- Cincinnati sped away with the division last as a combination of dominant hitting and pitching propelled them to the #2 seed in the NL. It was thought that Montreal would be able to keep up with Cincinnati but the Expos bats weren't up to the task, still, Montreal earned a WC birth. The Cubs played better than expected and finished only three games back of Montreal for the final WC spot. The Brewers struggled to get consistent performances all around and have much work to do to get back into the conversation in the East.
Despite only earning the second seed in the NL the Reds were the talk of the league as they almost swept all four major awards, easily making them the most decorated team in the league. Jin-Chi Jiang took home the MVP, Michel Santos walked with the Cy Young and Bert Workman won the Fireman of the Year award. Jiang put up a performance that even shadowed that of Oakland's Damaso Torres, tearing apart pitchers with a .361 AVG, 62 homers and 154 RBI. His homer and RBI totals were best in the majors and he was only a single percentage point behind Chicago Cub Geraldo Romano in the race for batting average. In fact, had Jiang played for an AL team, he would have won the Triple Crown without breaking a sweat. Fellow Japan-born catcher Tsuyoshi Chen put up the second best offensive performance for the Reds with 32 HR and 92 RBI. Cincy returns it's full arsenal for Season 2, pitchers beware.
The same warning can go for opposing batters. No major departures from the staff here, and one major addition in veteran SP Joseph Park, mean another season of grinding and empty swings for opposition hitters. Thirty year old Michel Santos comes off his Cy Young season to once again head one of the best rotations in baseball. Santos and fellow starter Teddy Henderson combined for 40 wins and 488 K's last season. Throw in the 14 wins that Park picked up in San Fran and you can bet it will be World Series or bust for the Reds this season.
SP's David Rios and Brook Dodd developed nicely last season and continue their path toward the majors. Dodd is much closer than Rios and if any of Cincy's current starters falter it wouldn't be surprising to see Dodd make his way up to the bigs sooner than later. Rios is potentially just as good as Michel Santos, which really isn't fair to the rest of the league. The Reds system also boasts a couple of relievers with high quality ML potential. This franchise seems set for seasons to come and the shrewd acquisition of players by cbert could guarantee the AL East for long haul.
P Michel Santos
P Teddy Henderson
P Bert Workman
LF Jin-Chi Jiang
LF Jin-Chi Jaing
Fireman of the Year
LF Jin-Chi Jiang
3B Alex Stern
Last season I predicted that Montreal would have the best pitching staff in the division. Cincinnati gave them a run for their money but Montreal still bested them from top to bottom. Unfortunately for les Expos their hitting lagged too far behind to get them to the top of the division and out of the first round of the playoffs. Eduardo Amaro, Hawk Cummings and Wilton Shea were arguably the leagues best trio of pitchers but only combined for 45 wins despite two of them having sub 3 ERA's and sub 1.20 WHIP's in a park skewed toward hitters. Jamie Stokes converted on 34 of 39 save opportunities and was one of only two Expos pitchers with an ERA above 5. The entire staff returns for S2 so look for more of the same on the hill for Montreal.
Montreal hit for a good team average but just couldn't push enough runs across the plate to get over the hump. This is partly due to their lack of power. 1B Grover Lesher lead the team with 37 long balls but only drove in 92, although he did hit for an impressive average at .351. Far behind Lesher was Rusell Bigbie and Adam Heredia with 23 homers apiece. As a team Montreal ranked near the lower quarter in home runs and will need to find about another 20 to crawl up to average. They seem to have the ability to get on base but just lack that big hit. A few vets were allowed to walk as FA's by diesel and as of writing only nine position players are currently on the 25 man roster. One or two more above average bats could mean the world to the Expos and get them to a point where they can challenge Cincinnati.
There are no real big time bats in the Expos minor league system and after drafting a reliever with the 28th overall pick there is no future boost to this offense. Their system still boasts a load of pitching talent like RP B.C. Satin and SP Reagan Green and they should be at on the hill for seasons to come.
P Eduardo Amaro
2B Alving Morales
CF Jose Fernandez
The Cubs surprised many and finished far above what many thought they would. First baseman Geraldo Romano electrified the league and prevented all world Jin-Chi Jiang from achieving his Triple Crown by a single percentage point. Romano hit .362 and hit 45 out of the park while driving in 124. COF Nipsey Holzemer also had a big year with 38/89 and a .277 average and was one of a handful of Cubs players to impress many as shocked many by staying in the wildcard race until very late in the season. Role player Alex Guerrero was allowed to walk by the Cubs but his impact was minimal and the offense should perform once again in S2.
Young starting pitchers Santos Gonzalez and Roger Baker lead the Cubs in innings pitched last season with both posting sub 4 ERA's. Veteran starter John Lomasney turned in an impressive performance going 15-9 and bolstering the rotation. This season the Cubs have called up two pitchers after allowing some vets to walk. There was no real clear cut closer for the Cubs last season but 20 year old Santo Maduro hopes to solidify himself as the go to guy while Henry Garcia will look to provide a dependable long arm out of the pen.
The Cubs did well for themselves in both the draft and abroad. With the 3rd overall pick the Cubs took future ace-fireballer Diego Ramirez and snagged SS prospect Robinzon Benitez from the Dominican. They join an already well stocked system which means the future is bright for the Good Guys.
1B Geraldo Romano
1B Geraldo Romano
LF Nipsey Holzemer
Milwaukee struggled last season and both their hitting and pitching was lackluster. While the staff kept itself out of the statistical basement the offense wasn't as fortunate. The Milwaukee offense posted the lowest team batting average in the majors and scored the second fewest runs despite hitting almost 200 homers as a team. Lyle Long had a great season with 52 homers and 125 RBI to lead the team. Other big boppers like OF Bob Burkett, 36 homers, provided power but couldn't get on base consistently enough to make a difference in the win column. A couple retirements mean open spots on the ML squad this season and catcher Brant York has been called up to help and he figures to provide both average and power for the Crew in Season 2.
On the bump the Brewers were no bed of roses and even if the offense had scored a lot of runs who knows if these guys could have protected the lead. Another group of retiree/releases means openings on the S2 squad and William Hyun and James Scanlan look to fill their shoes. Scanlan in particular looks like a good LR/SP option and should provide a spark to the rotation if he starts. RP David Iwakazi was allowed to walk as an FA despite being Milwaukee's lone All Star, though his second half lead to a bad 1.68 WHIP which probably didn't win him over with new owner buddy996.
With the 24th overall pick the Brewers took Gorkys Delgado, an interesting RF prospect with great discipline and a good combination of speed and a feel for stealing bags. Howie Hollins is still the BrewCrew's top prospect and could be called upon this season if necessary. Shortstop Kiki Lee is an electrifying prospect and could also contribute to the ML squad this season at the age of 21.
P David Iwakazi