Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Preseason Questions - NL North and East

NL North
Augusta A’s
Can Augusta defend the division and return to the World Series?
Unfortunately I believe the answer is no. How many times do you hear that your only good if you can stay healthy. Augusta has been ravaged by injuries in the preseason and very early regular season. None of the injuries are more important than the epic injury to the 17 million dollar man Adam Ramirez. Augusta still has a lot of talent and will be a very competitive team throughout the season. One of their best features in last year’s NL winning run was their depth. The depth remains but losing Ramirez and Milwaukee being good is enough to push Augusta to second place in the North. This could just be one of those years for Augusta.

How devastating is losing Ramirez for the season?
For lack of a better answer it is exceptionally devastating. Augusta has great depth but Ramirez is simply their guy. In his last two seasons on average he has hit 332 with 22 HR’s and 75 RBI. Not only the number but to put it simply he’s clutch. Last year in the playoffs he hit 371 with 5 homeruns and from this guy’s personal experience hit 2 games winning hits to knock out Florida in the divisional series. To lose Ramirez especially after last season’s personal and team success is exceptionally devastating for Augusta and its fans.

Milwaukee Cervezones
Will Milwaukee avenge the last two seasons and win the North?
Last season Milwaukee was one of the best teams in the NL for most of the year. Some bad luck and an excellent Augusta team kept them out of the division title, but they were lucky enough to get a postseason trip. This year with the injuries that are piling up in Augusta Milwaukee has a real chance to take advantage of it and win the division for the first time in several years. With key players returning and the news that Mark James has just been resigned to a huge deal things are looking good in Milwaukee for years to come and most definitely in the short term as well.

Is Mark James the best player in the league?
The two time MVP winner is certainly in the group of players that could be debated as the best player in the league. The statistics speak for themselves, he didn’t win the MVP twice because of his people skills. A proven winner and big time performer the money he would have received on the open market is astronomical. However Milwaukee is where he has been for six years and the franchise is rooted in a winning tradition. James clearly wants to be there and now that he is signed through season 11 the rest of the league better take notice. He will be big for Milwaukee this year and he’ll have to be if they want to knock Augusta off of the thrown in the North.

Chicago FrozenKoreans
Are they rebuilding or just dumping some payroll and age?
The answer is a little bit of both. This offseason Chicago was trying hard to move a number of key veteran high paid players such as Munoz and Stafford. Though not all of them were traded several moves did happen. The most prominent was moving Stafford to Atlanta. Chicago was successful in dumping some payroll and getting a little younger. Two seasons ago they reached the playoffs but last years third place finish is almost a guarantee again this year. The team still has a substantial amount of talent and if it wasn’t for the fact they were in the NL North they could compete for a playoff spot. The interesting questions are if Munoz will still be a FrozenKorean at the end of the year and what other moves will Frozen K make before the year is out?

Who will Paulie Munoz be playing for after the trade deadline?
An excellent question if I do say so and there are many possible answers. A lot depends on Chicago’s position. As previously stated this team is talented but probably not talented enough to compete for a playoff spot. But with Augusta banged up anything can happen maybe he stays and is moved in the offseason or maybe he will always be mentioned in trade rumours and never be traded. Regardless if a team is willing to pay the price that FrozenK wants they will be getting a premier hitter who can play a number of positions. I think Munoz will finish the year in Chicago unless a team is really desperate to get him for a playoff run?

Toledo Mud Hens
With fourth place almost assured will they improve on last year’s result?
In all honesty looking over the roster Toledo doesn’t have much talent, but with a competent owner now entering the second season the future has promise. But unfortunately for Mud Hens fans the present will be tough to stomach. Being in one of the better divisions in the league doesn’t help one bit having to play Augusta, Milwaukee and Chicago almost seems like a punishment. Last year Toledo won 48 games which was a 6 game decline from the year before. However with Augusta being banged up and some moved made by Toledo that weren’t exactly A List free agents the Mud Hens should finish right around the same. However because of Augusta being banged up and Chicago dumping talent the division doesn’t seem as impossible. Look for Toledo to crack the 50 win plateau.

Is Pete Crosby ready for the Show?
Pete Crosby was the second overall pick in last season’s draft, the promising first baseman prospect wowed scouts playing at Adalente Academy. He entered the draft at the age of 18 and by the age of 19 he has cracked the opening day roster for Toledo. The answer to the question is obviously No. Crosby is going to struggle this season but with the right coaching and patience look for him to be an impact hitter next season. Hopefully playing in the Show will do more harm than good, because he will be a dandy!

NL East

Syracuse Symbiotes
Can they defend the division title?
It’s a good thing that the team that wins a division is guaranteed a birth in the playoffs because if that wasn’t the case Syracuse would have been out of the postseason last year. But then look what they do, they make a run to the NLCS and just lose to Augusta, they were that close to the World Series, which just proves the point that anything is possible and you play to win the game! The East was one of the weaker divisions last year and will likely be the same way again. A good balance will make things tough to call in the division but for the last two seasons Syracuse has won the division, however I see no reason why Syracuse won’t repeat. Look for another record similar to last seasons and hopefully for Syracuse fans maybe they’re just a better postseason team than regular season team.

Can Kevin Chiba stay healthy?
The talented infielder needs to stay healthy, it’s just that simple. A very good hitter and an underrated player in the league he has never been to an All star game despite 300 the last two seasons. Last year he was placed on the sixty day DL with a bulging disk in his back, not exactly a broken finger nail. Syracuse’s hopes really come down to Chiba and if he can stay healthy. If Chiba stays healthy Syracuse should win the division but if he goes down for a long period of time then Syracuse could be on the outside looking in.
*As this article was being posted Chiba was injured with a stiff groin and was going to miss almost two weeks*

Columbus Dragons
Are they a sleeper team in the NL?
You better believe the Dragons are a sleeper team, with the defense and pitching that they’ve had for several years and some improved batting the Dragons will be an excellent darkhorse team. With the addition of Ben Fox to this years opening day roster the Dragons could have just enough hitting to battle with Syracuse for the division lead. Look for Columbus to be over 500 this year and in this division that could put you anywhere from third to first in a very balanced division.

Will Ben Fox be the next Adam Ramirez?
Fox was the fifth overall pick season three’s draft. The 22 year old is excited to be on the opening day roster and understands that Columbus’ season is resting in his young bat. Columbus (who was previously NY) had a cornerstone franchise player in already mentioned Adam Ramirez, who left via free agency to Augusta. Fox unfortunately for Columbus will never be Ramirez, but at the same time he’s Ben Fox. He will be an excellent hitter for average as well as being a defensive stud at 3B for Columbus. Regardless of where he plays his defense will be excellent if Fox can hit well he might just hit Columbus into the playoffs this year for the first time since season four.

Washington D.C. Senators
Will they improve again just like they have the last several years?
The last few seasons for Washington have gotten better and better. The team has improved year by year and almost finished five hundred last year. Last season Washington was winning the division early in the year but failed to hold on down the stretch. Here’s the bad news though, with Columbus being better and Syracuse maintaining their talent level Washington could very easily slip from second to third this year and might win less than the 77 games they won last year. Especially with Philadelphia improving as well Washington could have a tough year in the balanced division. However Washington has done a top notch job of scouting, drafting and signing IFA’s. Their talent is on the way they could very easily be winning the division very soon.

What player will be stepping up soon for Washington?
As already mentioned the young talent level is rising very quickly in Washington. The young talent they have is impressive. Stephen Phillips, Robinson Aurillia, Benito Pena, James Chang and and Earl Perez will all be big league players very soon. Phillips will be an excellent big league hitter, he was the ninth overall pick in season threes draft. Look for him to be called up sooner rather than later. If Washington is hanging around mid way through the year they will have some decisions to make about which players should be called up they could compete this year. Thanks to players like Stephen Phillips the rise of the Senators is on the way.

Philadelphia Fighting Quakers
Can they stay out of the basement?
With the division being so close in so many ways Philadelphia will likely finish in the cellar again but I wouldn’t be willing to bet a lot on that. The division is so tight injuries will play a huge factor as well as what players have off years. The Quakers should be better though thanks to some moves in the offseason, most noticeably the trade for SP Kirby Donatello. If the Quakers can stay healthy they should be a lot more competitive which could mean a third place finish. They have been slowly improving over the last few seasons and maybe this is the year that they will make their jump.

How good will Kirby Donatello be this season?
The last three years Donatello was a key pitcher for the FivT’s but with all good things, they must come to an end and he was traded to the Quakers before the start of the season. Donatello is coming off his best season as a pro, he went 21-7 with an ERA of 3.97 and was an all star for the first time. Donatello was openly upset with his handling and playing time as he was one of the longest serving FivT’s but only pitched three innings in their World Series run. He is exceptionally happy to be wanted and to be a teams “Ace”. Donatello’s record will likely not be as good but his numbers could be even better, he will no longer have to face a DH and won’t have to pitch against teams like Nashville and Minnesota and etc. If Donatello can put together a Cy Young year which is possible look for the fighting Quakers to shock the NL East and get out of the basement for the first time in several years.