Friday, April 25, 2008

Season Preview Part Five – AL South

Two storied AL franchises in Houston and Monterrey are heavily favored to continue their winning ways in the best hitting division in the AL. Texas and more recently Sante Fe have been concentrating on youth and promise to make strides this year. Still, the youth of Sante Fe and the shoddy defense of Texas will keep them outside the hunt again this season.

Houston Heavy Hitters
History – The franchise has missed the playoffs just once, in season 2 which prompted rudedog to buy the team from pokesfan and move it from Arlington to Houston. A World Series trip in season 4 raised expectations, but 3 straight early exits have fans wanting more.

There aren’t many simpler names in the league, and they live up to it. Every player on the big league roster is over 180 lbs. and almost half the roster is 200 lbs. Have I mentioned that they hit?

Strengths – Banjo White won ROY honors in Season 3, made the All-Star team in Season 4, and has won three straight MVPs since with remarkably consistent performances (.316-72-181, .311-70-184, .308-74-187). At just 6’0 tall and 227 lbs, he’s the heaviest of hitters.

Weaknesses Defense has never been their calling card, but 2-time gold-glover Pablo Guerrero was brought in to play SS. Manny Neugebaeur leads the staff. He was signed as a minor-league free agent to a $43.5M contract (5 years) prior to season 4, but he’s never topped 165 IP or 10 wins in a season. The rest of the rotation is a collection of aging starters and solid if underwhelming younger pitchers.

- 7:2 to win the division, 12:1 to win the pennant – They’ll score and the defense should be solid, but will this pitching staff be able to contribute more than fireworks?

Monterrey Conquistadors
History Monterrey is an original franchise that has never missed the playoffs. Four division titles, three wild cards, and zero seasons with fewer than 92 wins make them one of the premier franchises in Second City. A season 6 trip to the World Series remains the team’s top achievement.

The ‘Quistas are named for Spanish explorer, Hernando Cortez, who is most famous for conquering the Aztecs. The key blow in that battle was Cortez and his army killing Aztec emperor Montezuma. Many visitors to Monterrey still experience Montezuma’s revenge.

Strengths – ‘Quista pitching coach Rigo Valdez is the league’s firmest believer in the controversial 3-man tandem rotation. The tactic gets top pitchers like Lee Rivera 40-50 appearances per year as opposed to the 32-34 a 5-man starter gets. His innings per game are limited, so the IP totals of 225 or so are in-line with the rest of the league. The staff is deep with no 1 standout. Carson Sherman is the top hitter on a club excellent at reaching base, while Roberto Servet’s 87 steals led the jackrabbits on the bases.

Weaknesses – There aren’t a ton of bombers in the lineup so the team must generate runs with multiple hits and moving guys along. The defense, just like the rest of the team is deep, with quality everywhere but few standouts.

Odds - 3:2 to win division, 7:1 to win the pennant. No franchise is more about the team with the tandem rotation, a division-winning club that didn’t have an All-Star, and a lineup that’s as dangerous at 8-9 as it is at 1-2. The only question is whether such a squad can compete in the playoffs.

Sante Fe Fire Hawks
History –After a false start in Charlotte, imaginary internet mogul texas_ron took over the franchise in season 2. Ron proceeded to pour money into the franchise, drastically increasing payroll from $105 million in season 1 to as much as $151 million in season 4. The results were just as distressing, with the El Paso Longhorns posting a worse record than the previous season in each the next 4 years. Tjconnatser attempted to resurrect the franchise gone wrong with a move to Tampa Bay, where officials promised a new stadium that didn’t suck. When that fell through, HBD turnaround artist reigny took over, moving the squad to Sante Fe and drastically cutting payroll, back to $82 million this season. A farm system corrupted by foolish spending habits of an internet mogul is slowly on its way to recovery.

The Fire Hawks are named for a chapter of Space Marines in the fictional Warhammer 40,000 universe. The Fire Hawks chapter is also known the Legion of the Dammed. Reigny made his fortune looting spacecraft with his marines.

Strengths The staff will throw strikes with veterans Steven Serra (39, former All Star), Jim Johnson (37, former All Star), and Bruce Maloney (38, 2-time All Star) present to lead a staff full of young arms

Weaknesses Two 19-years olds, Chris Boswell and Courtney Rhodes, both drafted last year, join season 6 first round pick, Nolan Smith on the big league roster. A total of 10 big leaguers are under the age of 25. That’s not a good thing. This squad has talent, but little of it is truly ready for the big leagues. Texas_ron’s mismanagement continues to hamper this squad.

Odds -
500:1 to win the division, 100,000:1 to win the pennant – The pitching and hitting is either too old or too young. There’s young talent here, but it shouldn’t be in Sante Fe yet.

Texas Riders
History – Single, unsuccessful seasons in Atlanta and Tampa led the franchise to Arlington, TX. Following an 82-80 finish, sean365 sold the team to local beer merchant, jying98. jying founded a successful liquor store in Arlington that made its mark providing kegs for frat parties on the UT campus. He immediately set out doing to the Riders what he did to Austin, pouring money (or beer) into the youth. The results are starting to show as the minor league system has quietly become one of the league’s best, and the major league team continues to make strides.

Despite the common misconception that the team is named for the cowboys of old that would later become known as the Rangers, the Texas franchise is actually named in honor of former college slam-dunk champion, JR Rider of UNLV. Rider briefly met jying at Allen County Community College in Iola, KS, where Rider gave him the idea to sell beer to undergrads.

Strengths – RF Kevlim Roa with 329 career homers and 199 career stolen bases remains one of the top dual-threats in the league 1b Tim Aven, LF Jacob Serrano, and 22-year old C Robinson Frazier all have the ability to hit 40 HRs, so the long ball will be there. AAA 1B Antonio Chapman, a season 6 1st round pick, is pounding on the door and will join the HR fest soon. Watch out for starter Vernon Mota, the 24-year old is a capable of much better than the 12-15, 6.07 performance of last season indicates.

Weaknesses – This is one of the worst defensive teams in the league, with no player sporting a range greater than 73 and only one with a glove over 72. The rotation relies on two pitchers, Greg Glover and Charles Lilly that could walk 100+ batters this year.

Odds -
20:1 to win the division, 60:1 to win the pennant – The hitters already here and those in the high minors will make the offense as good as any team’s. However, the small park, wild pitching, and swiss-cheese defense mean plenty more football scores to come.

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