Monday, February 9, 2009

Season 5 Preview


As the 5th season in Munson is about to begin teams are full of hopes and dreams and are readily awaiting the start of the new year. The AL is full of talented teams and the competition should be as fierce as ever. Durham is the defending champs and rightfully so, as they dominated on both ends to win their 1st of what could be many championships. However, the road is long and full of obstacles as this young team will soon see. There are more than a handful of quality opponents looking to cut their reign short, as we examine the upper echelon of teams in the AL.

AL Preseason Rankings

1. Durham Donkey Punchers - How can you pick against this team? Young, low payroll, best offense in the AL last year, and probably own the AL's best 3 young pitchers. Their staff is among the best in baseball and is anchored by Robb Adkinson (23-6 2.53 era 227 k's). Their offense is led by powerhouse Kenny Shelby (.317 avg 55 HR 144 rbi's) and looks to make their mark as the 2nd team in Munson's brief history to repeat. They should coast to their 3rd straight division title and be amongst the elite teams at seasons end. The champs are pretty much in tact as they signed most of their arbitration eligible players in the off season.
Biggest Strength : Low payroll allowing for a mid season acquisition if needed, and the top 3 pitchers in their rotation.
Question Mark : Rumor has it that the players are fed up with ownerships cursed laced tirades and have threatened to walk out if he unleashes another tantrum in their direction when they don't shut teams out.

2. Madison Mudholes - This team is deep, talented and battle tested as it tries to regain their championship form of season 3. Andre Kydd (.319 avg 49 HR 137 rbi's) leads the charge as they attempt to claim a 4th straight division crown and make an unprecedented 4th straight ALCS appearance. Omar Little (15-6 3.04 era 164 K's) will be vital to a much improved starting rotation. If they can stay healthy, this team is as good as any in the AL as we approach season 5. Controversial FA signee Brace Neal will be counted upon heavily for them to contend with Durham.
Biggest Strength : Position depth and playoff experience.
Question Mark : The window is beginning to close on this team. Their age and injuries could be the straw that breaks the camels back.

3. Vancouver Whalers - A philosophy change and a new location gives this underachieving team new hope. Despite 3 consecutive division championships, this team has failed to thrive in the playoffs. New owner shesaid has the experience to keep this team atop the AL West and hopefully make a run in the playoffs. Troy Hansen (.272 avg 51 HR 132 rbi's) hopes a change in venue will be the solution to their playoff woes. Jim Ramirez (17-2 1.87 era 235 K's) leads a highly vaunted starting rotation. Not much action in the off season for this team. Can they catch the top 2 keeping the same team together?
Biggest Strength : Great starting pitching, plenty of veteran experience, and they have owned the AL West.
Question Mark : They have 3-4 offensive studs. Can somebody in the bottom half of the lineup step up for them. And can they make a run in the playoffs?

4. New York Hokies - This team took a big step last year towards regaining supremacy in the AL, which they owned in seasons 1 & 2, before struggling through season 3 and missing the playoffs. Speedster Ham Davey (.287 avg 13 HR 129 SB) led the way as they battled Madison neck and neck all year for the division title. Albert Sardinha (15-11 3.42 era 187 K's) pitched big for them all year in season 4 and will have to do the same this season! While this team doesn't possess the most talent, they play extremely hard for their beloved owner and continually find ways to overachieve. Expect them to challenge Madison for AL North bragging rights again this year. Perhaps with the best coach in Munson, this team can finally get back to the World Series after a 2 year hiatus.
Biggest Strength : Team chemistry and Ham Davey.
Question Mark : Pitching is thin in a very tough division, can they avoid back to back late season slumps.

5. Kanas City Yankees - After trading away a couple of high salary superstars early last season, the team formerly known as the Boston Yankees (insert comment here) came out of nowhere and fought back to win the AL East, and earned a 2nd round playoff birth vs their bitter rivals. This season the expectations are higher and the talent is there to reach their goals. They have moved to a new city whose ballpark better accommodates their pitching staff. And how good will super closer Nick Gardner (2-2 2.48 era 70 K's/ 72.2 inn) be this pitcher friendly atmosphere? Wiki Cruz (.343 avg 31 HR 114 rbi) is among the AL's best as this team seeks a likely repeat as division champs.
Big Strength : Both pitching and hitting are solid and very well rounded.
Question Mark : Wiki Cruz is on the decline, and can he and the rest of the Yankee offense excel away from the friendly confines of Fenway Park?

6. Jacksonville LEGENDS - 2nd year coach PBOYS is starting to put his stamp on this team. FA closer Andy Barkley (8-4 2.81 era 29 Sv's) should be a welcome addition. He is the highest paid closer in baseball and deservedly so. The Offense will see a boost with recently traded for Greg Turner and has some exceptional hitters including Joe Hansen (.283 avg 66 HR 129 rbi's). Each year in the AL 1 team falls out of the playoffs and 1 steps up to replace them. The LEGENDS have the ability to knock off one of the big boys and are my pick to do so.
Biggest Strength : Pitching talent and depth.
Question Mark : Can ace Blake Faulk return to form following season ending elbow surgery last season? Can young superstar Ernie Stroud stay healthy and be a leader for this club?

AL Dark Horses

Witchita : This team has never missed the playoffs and is relatively still intact. Season 4 MVP Ken Leyritz (.315 avg 58 HR 161 rbi's) and top 5 all-time win earner Dan Davies (19-11 4.24 era) may not be ready to let their post season run end. This team however is notorious for slow starts and is in desperate need of some middle relief if they are to challenge this year.

Oakland : Hopes are high in Oak-Town as they were the best team in the AL not to make the post season tourney last year. Young Steven Merrit (10-3 2.80 era) has found a home here and the fans adore him as he hopes to avoid the Sophomore blues. Adam Wagner (.294 52 SB) and fellow base thief Wallace Williams (63 SB) are joined by FA 3b Gerald Ono and C Buck Ogden to hopefully catapult this squad to the next level. However their price was the top of last years dominate rotation. If the pitching can hold up the offense will be more than adequate. Both Cedeno and Jacquez will be missed.

Cleveland : After trading away their best position player and a horrific start to season 4, mytitan rallied his troops and just missed the playoffs as a wild card. The Cuyahoga's may need a mid season transaction or two to help the offense and rf Gerald Armstrong (.307 avg 41 HR). Kevin Sellers (0-4 2.96 era 42 Sv's) cabooses a very strong pitching staff and I would not be surprised to see them carry this team into the playoffs. It will be tuff but doable.

Playoff Prediction

This season like last will most likely come down to the top 2 teams barring any major injuries. Durham and Madison have the most talent in the AL. Durham didn't make any major moves this off season, although we all know they will be actively seeking to snatch another superstar if offered for the right price. Madison improved their starting pitching and may have done enough to keep pace with Durham. I see this ALCS going 7 this year and Durham moving on to defend their title with a 4-3 13 inning marathon. And questions about Madison letting closer Andy Barkley go in order to pursue 33 year old LF Brace Neal will surface.

NL Season 5 Preview

The NL after winning the World Series in seasons 1 & 2 has been unable to win another as the race to 3 begins today between the two leagues. And by the NL I mean San Fransisco. Will this team continue its dominance over its rivals or will one of the up and comers finally overcome this unstoppable force. Some trash has been talked by the arrogant AL teams the last couple years and this years All Star game may end in a brawl, as the NL looks to put the AL back in check. Only time will tell what this season has in store for a very competitive season 5.

1. San Fransisco Gothams - 4 seasons, 2 owners, 4 World Series appearances! They have been unsolvable in the Nl where even the mysterious disappearance of former owner Drjwhiteside couldn't derail this team. Knucklebones took over early on in season 4, made a couple of trades under heavy criticism and nearly won it all. Bringing in slugger Dummy Alexander (.298 avg 45 HR 111 rbi's) will add a much needed piece to the puzzle. Their pitching is still among the best as career wins leader Donaldo Lunar (16-8 2.67 era 189 K's) looks to lead this team once again back to the promised land. They may be the most complete team in the NL.
Biggest Strength : 4 straight NL championships. Beefed up lineup, and stellar pitching.
Question Mark : How many times can they breeze through the NL playoffs?

2. Little Rock Snappers - Best offense in the NL last year. This team should be just as good this year. Super stud Marino James (.334 45 HR 138 rbi's) headlines an all star cast into season 5. They acquired a top pitcher via trade to complement the best bullpen in baseball. Alex Cordero (24-2 3.10 era 5 svs) and Otis Torres (4-2 1.98 era 56 Sv's) can close out any early leads for them. This just may be their year as they looked primed for a deep playoff run. With this offense and bullpen its gonna be hard for anybody to keep them from winning the NL South for the 4th time in 5 years.
Biggest Strength : Their offense can out score you, their rotation got better, and their bullpen can shut you down. Wow!
Question Mark : Can they break the Gotham Curse?

3. Jackson Black Huskers - If anybody can keep pace with Little Rock, it's this bunch from Mississippi. The pitching propelled Huskers look to take the next step as they finished runners up in the NL. The 1st step may be obtaining the home field in the playoffs, as they are next to impossible to beat there. Their bullpen is top notch an SP Sherman King (17-13 3.00 era 185 K's) should help them pave the way towards their goals. Big time pick up Ernie Harrison (.318 avg 43 HR 103 rbi) can win games by himself. And he may have to do so. He is the lone legit deep threat for this offense. Blake Howard, who was a nice rule 5 pickup should help give the offense a boost.
Biggest Strength : Their pitching is as good as any in the NL.
Question Mark : Can Harrison carry the offensive load alone? Or will they have to make 1 more move to compete with San Fran and Little Rock?

4. New York Highlanders - Drichter appears to have his club ready to grab the division title for the 1st time since season 1, and make a push in the playoffs. Pretty much the same team as last year, they will count on Jason Van Hatten (.325 avg 49 HR 134 rbi's) to deliver them another post season birth. Denny Young (19-9 3.39 era 189 K's) pitched light out in season 4 and should give them more of the same in season 5. This team is close to the top in the NL, but like Jackson may be a mid season acquisition from representing the NL in the Series.
Biggest Strength : Great balance and high contact hitters across the board.
Question Mark : Did this team do enough to gain ground on a much improved upper tier of the NL?

5. Cincinnati Wolverines - HA! The Buckeyes have Power, Power and more Power. Gerald Bryant (.308 69 HR 153 rbi's), Derrek Veanfro(51 HR), and Butch Martin (47 HR) combined for 167 home runs last season. The BIG 3 should be strong enough to capture the NL North and secure home field advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs. Matt Grim (18-3 3.57 era 147 K's) will have to be just as unstoppable for their success to continue. This team seems to improve every year, although they dropped 2 more games in season 4 than 3, they did move up from 3rd to 2nd in their division. Season 5 should see them get back to form and improve by at least 10-15 games.
Biggest Strength : Power, Power, and more Power as stated above.
Question Mark : Depth on offense is questionable. Need somebody in bottom half of lineup to produce.

6. Pawtucket Paw Sox - Another talented team this year. Last season they were exceptional in close games finishing 20 games above .500. Carl McNeil (.301 36 HR 119 rbi's) and company should be just as effective in season 5. Closer Ernie Houston (2-2 1.85 era 44 Sv's) was a major key last year as they went 26-11 in 1 run games. Can the new owner get this team to reach their potential? Can he hire a hitting coach to help struggling potential all star Sam Kingsdale to have the breakout year fans have been hoping for since his arrival in season 2?
Biggest Strength : If the game is close they win it.
Question Mark : They only outscored their opponents by a total of 12 runs last season. Considering they were 91-71 that is not what you would expect.

NL Dark Horses

Toronto : They cut some major salary and traded away a lot of talent after an amazing run last year. Phillip Koch (.268 avg 35 HR) still has talent around him and this team could be dangerous if they get hot. Vernin Buck (19-11 3.37 era 213K's) still anchors a very good pitching staff. They have improved every year thus far, but that task gets much more difficult this year.

San Diego : This team is young and only have 4 guys over 30, and 3 are pitchers. Plus they are loaded with power! They also blew the whistle on Madison during the "Waiver Wire Scandal of season 5" and landed slugger Daniel Walker in the process. He joins Shawn Spencer (.286 avg 49 HR) and Jimmie Rhodes (12-5 2.81 era) as team leaders on a team that could go either way this year. The Baja Racers fell off late in season 4 but contended most of the way and hope to build on that experience. They may be able to sneak into a wild card slot if things go their way.

Playoff Prediction

It is hard to pick who's going to be there when its all said and done this season for the NL. Any one of the top 4 have a legitimate chance to represent the NL. I will say after brutal 7 game series Little Rock and San Fran will emerge to duel it out for the right to face the defending champs. Little Rock jumps out to a 2-0 series lead, only to have San Fran tie it up at 2-2. Lunar gets held to a no decision in game 5 as Little Rock is able to take the series lead after a 2-1 10 inning affair. Building on that momentum Little Rock is finally able to get the monkey off their back and goes to their 1st World Series.

Season 5 World Series Prediction

Capping an unbelievable season Little Rock is able to upset the mighty champions winning again in 6 games. Hanley Hudek is series MVP and the Little Rock bullpen is the difference. For on 3 seperate occasions in this series Little Rock was able to maintain 2-1 leads after 5 innings and the bullpen was able to seal the deal each of the 3 times. Good luck to all and have a great season 5!!!!!

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