Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Division Preview Part 3 - AL East

The AL East could be one of the most competitive divisions in the league this year. Richmond is the favorite, but a young Scranton team is knocking on the door, just waiting to break out. The real story here is the depth of the division. There are no doormats here with four teams that have a shot to take the East if the chips fall right for them.

Wichita Shockers
History - The Shockers were founded by bigking in Season 1 as an original franchise. In 7 seasons the team has won 3 division titles and 2 wild card berths, with the high point being a trip to the World Series in Season 2. The team finished under .500 only once, in season 4.

If you're not familiar with Wichita St., they're called the Shockers because, well, this is a family-friendly blog, let's just say their cheerleaders like THIS. (hey I didn't say the links in the blog were family friendly.

Strengths - Veteran SS Rich Clark is the face of the franchise. He's never hit fewer than 38 HRs and has 327 for his career, including back-to-back 50+ dinger years. He's a steady if unspectacular SS out of Washington, DC that turned down a football scholarship to the University of Illinois. Matty Ordoz (acquired from August last year) and 24-year old superstar Vin (El) Guapo provide the rest of thunder in an impressive lineup, that plays better defense than most.

Weaknesses - There's nothing wrong with the rotation, but there's nothing special about it either. Veterans Wally Driskill (12-10, 4.99) and Dick Patterson (11-9, 4.58) are expected to tutor long-awaited future ace Rico Lecuona (37-37, 4.97 career), a 24-year old who debuted in the big leagues at age 20.

- 6:1 to win the division, 25:1 to win the pennant

New York Hellraisers
History B. Dorsey is the third owner of the New York AL franchise. Once a dominant force in the AL, the Clippers fell on hard times, forcing owner nickam to sell the team to New York style pizza magnate, Dorsey. Dorsey named the team after the foster parents that raised him in New York's Hell's Kitchen.

Strengths - Few catchers can match the 3 consecutive 50-HR seasons of Santos Julio who combines with Yorvit Arias to form a deadly C/DH combo. Face of the franchise (999 games played in NY) Garret Spehr sets the table from his 2B spot with a .338 career average. Young 1B Tomas Guzman is an early favorite for the rookie of the year. Manager Rudy Edmonds won 103 games or more in each of his first 5 seasons at the helm of 3 different squads. The Hellraisers will be his team in 3 seasons, and the New York media is expecting much of him.

Weaknesses - The pitching staff relies on 37-year old Woody Foster to anchor the staff. 23-year old Felipe Zorilla, an $8.5M international free agent in Season 3 that's spent 3 years in the New York pen is expected to make a move to the rotation. He's got the stuff to be a star but has yet to start a game in the majors.

Odds - 9:1 to win division, 30:1 to win the pennant

Richmond Confederates
History - szasza purchased the Confederates prior to season 3 and they promptly went the way of the Whalers, leaving Hartford for greener pastures in Richmond, VA. After 5 consecutive 3rd place division finishes, the Feds broke out in season 6 with a division winning 91 wins, advancing to the LCS. They repeated that feat last year following the first 100 win season in franchise history.

The Confederates are the only team that wears the "road" greys both at home and on the road. The team's flying of the Confederate battle flag has been challenged 5 times, with the last fight going all the way to the Supreme Court. The little known back story is that szasza uses the logo in tribute to the University of Mississippi. No cities in the state of Mississippi were economically viable however, so he moved the team to Richmond where he knew history would keep the flag flying.

Strengths - This team can hit. Three time MVP, 7-time All Star, Dick Caruso leads the hit parade. Caruso was acquired from the DC Honor & Courage prior to last season and didn't disappoint, hitting .339 with 55 HR's and 145 RBIs. Caruso has never been on the DL and has an outside shot at reaching 500 career HRs this season (he's at 431). Julio Nunez (.323-51-105) and Jorge Torres (.270-46-119) join Caruso to form a killer middle of the order. The staff is deep, led by Marty Brantley, Vin Sheets, and Oswaldo Owen.

Weaknesses - Veteran free agent signings P.T. Sierra and Brent McGee are being counted on to shore up the pen. Both are talented, but will their age catch up with them.

Odds -
2:1 to win the division, 7:1 to win the pennant - scouts say 20-year old Angel Mercedes could end up being the best defensive shortstop in a generation, but is he too young for a pennant contender to be playing?

Scranton Nittany Lions
History - Camaro took over as bad a team as Second City had seen in seasons 1-3. A season in Atlanta sandwiched between 2 in Boston had yielded 4 third-place finishes. The Season 3 squad won just 12 games. Camaro committed to the youth and the fruits of his labors are starting to show. 89 and 88-win seasons the past two years signal this a team on the rise.

The Nittany Lions are actually named in honor of Joe Paterno, camaro's great-great-great-great grandfather. In four generations, or 327 years in Paterno time, camaro is expected to take over the football program in Happy Valley.

Strengths - Third baseman Bret Davis, the #1 overall pick in Season 4, struggled in his big-league debut, but scouts rave about his 5-tool skills. Davis leads the young talent, with Ivan Barrios, Zach Sosa, and Manny Randolph, all 24 or younger and expected to play big roles this season. SS Alan Pall is likely to join the group in the bigs this season.

- While the young talent is obvious, they aren't superstars yet. The pitching staff is good but not great. This team's peak is still a year or two away.

Odds -
7:2 to win division, 20:1 to win the pennant. Patience is paying off and this team will be great soon.

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