Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Season 10 - AL South Preview

Texas won this division by 14 games last season, and while Richmond looks to play catch up Durham and Memphis are keeping things in neutral. The race between the top two teams could become a tight one, so either owner may be looking to improve before the trade deadline.

Here are the team outlooks with last season's record, followed by offensive/defensive ranks and my prediction for season 10:

Texas Southfork Ranchers (Stewart_UK)
S9: 96-66, 1st place, lost to Ottawa in 1st round;
941 RS (5th), 832 RA (8th)
S10: 97-65, 1st place

Key Additions: LF Santiago Ordonez, RP Pablo Rivera
Key Losses: -

After five straight seasons finishing in the cellar, Texas won the division last season for the second time in franchise history. Now with a new owner, and change of venue, they'll rely on their bats once again to keep them atop the South. Ordonez is a virtual lock for 40+ HRs- he'll protect a potent 2-3-4 combo of Tomlinson, Torres and Camacho. These four will provide plenty of pop throughout the season.

There are some nice arms on this club, headed by last year's 18-game winners Felipe Garces and Kevin Lane. The starting pitching is definitely the strength as the bullpen is very vulnerable. Rivera has been handed the keys to the ninth inning which he hasn't done full-time since his rookie season, so keep an eye on how that pans out.

The Southfork Ranchers added to their 96-win team from a season ago without losing anyone important, so they are still the team to beat in the South. Barring any major injuries expect to see Texas continue their rapid turnaround with a second consecutive division title.

X-Factor: By the numbers, Ivan Hairston had the best season 9 of any pitcher on the staff. His continued success will be necessary to bridge the gap between a solid rotation and a new closer.

Richmond Zingers (hogan11)
S9: 82-80, 2nd place; 892 RS (9th), 793 RA (6th)
S10: 87-75, 2nd place

Key Additions: RP David Bonham, 1B/DH Felix Bard
Key Losses: RP Pablo Rivera, IF Brent Corsi, C Yamil Mesa

Replacing Mesa with Bard at DH might be a slight upgrade in the power department, but otherwise things look awfully similar to last season's 9th ranked offense. Reigning MVP Josias Cortez (69 HR in S9) is still the heart and soul of the Zingers' attack, with 2nd year CF Wayne Long adding some much needed pop after a 48 HR rookie season.

Losing Rivera to division rival Texas will be much easier to deal with if Bonham can be effective out of the pen. Former reliever turned starter Russell McGee had an impressive S9 despite going 6-8, but the Zinger's are hoping he can give them more than 131 innings as a starter (158 IP in S8 as an RP).

The staff as a whole is not going to shut many teams down, but probably won't get lit up much either. Without making any mid-season moves I don't see Richmond seriously challenging Texas for the division, but they may have upgraded just enough to be in the wild card race when the chips fall.

X-Factor: Opening day SP Steven Anderson is entering his third full ML season, and needs to step up if he wants to be considered the ace of this rotation. He's got good stuff, but must cut down on the HRs allowed to keep that ERA down (1.41 HR/9 in S9).

Durham Dukes (mazurkj)
S9: 58-104, 3rd place; 930 RS (7th), 1277 RA (15th)
S10: 54-108, 3rd place

Key Additions: -
Key Losses: SS Anthony Abercrombie

Not much has changed since S9, so Durham fans aren't overly excited going into this year. Letting Abercrombie go was a foregone conclusion as the compensation picks are more important at this stage to mazurkj, considering the Dukes' won't be competing this season. There's not a whole lot in the cupboard at this point either, so I'd look for guys like DH Stump May, 1B Kevin O'Connor, OF Andre Reese and P Ned McConnell to become available as the season progresses.

The Dukes' offense is based almost solely on power. They finished in the middle of the pack in AVG and OBP, but led the league in HR. They had five players, yes five, hit 40+ HR last season- the three mentioned above along with Doug Richard and Mike Griffey.

On the hill is where Durham ran into problems, finishing next to last in the AL in runs allowed in S9. There's only one pitcher who had under a 4.95 ERA, RP Ralph Blalock. McConnell probably has the best stuff on the staff, but will be coming out of the pen again despite his best season as a pro coming when he started 16 games in S8. With roughly the same pitchers as last season, there's little reason to believe the results will be much different.

X-Factor: Following in Bing Herges' footsteps, the biggest factor this season is GM mazurkj. With a $104M player payroll budget it's hard to imagine Durham rebuilding. But instead of getting some decent FA's to place around the team's core, Tom Baez and Mark Grace were signed in arb for $6.9M and $3.3M, respectively. That money should be going to other budgets towards building the future or good FA's to place around the team's core. We'll see which way they're headed.

Memphis Free Marketeers (billhowell75)
S9: 46-116, 4th place; 754 RS (15th), 1107 RA (14th)
S10: 50-112, 4th place

Key Additions: -
Key Losses: -

The battle for 3rd place will continue. But as opposed to Durham's route, Memphis is in a clear-cut rebuilding year. They had the worst record in the AL, and this year doesn't look much better. But there are some nice looking prospects waiting in the wings, which should make this team a competitor within a couple seasons.

The lineup is led by Spud Gilbert, who's been an All-Star the last two seasons. While young 2B Geraldo Rodriguez may be viewed as a platoon player, he has earned the right to be an everyday starter having posted a career .405 OBP.

Leading the pitching staff is... well, I can't honestly say anyone leads the staff. But SP Marc Elster is looking forward to his time to shine, which may not come until S11. I consider Albert Ordonez the best pitcher on the ML squad, which gives a pretty good indication of where things stand in Memphis.

X-Factor: For this one, I'm going with the budget. I didn't really think a budget could be the X-Factor either, but there's not much else. With the maximum put into the amateur draft, the #2 pick, and not much trade bait to land young talent, billhowell needs a good draft and possibly a big international FA or two. The scary thing is with such a small amount of attention paid to the Medical budget, you cross your fingers hoping none of their future stars go down with any serious injuries.

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