Sunday, April 20, 2008

Season Preview Part Four - NL East

The Burlington Bulldogs shocked the Second City World, knocking off both heavy favorites San Juan and Mexico City in the playoffs. Even an NLCS loss to eventual champion Sioux Falls did not dim the spirits in Burlington where rookie-of-the-year Miguel Guitierrez and young ace Pedro DeRojas are the favorites to repeat.

Burlington Bulldogs
History - Franchise founder shultz11 declared bankruptcy following an 82-80 Season 1. The bank moved the team to Syracuse while a buyer for the team's assets was sought. mike came along in season 3 and purchased the team, returning it to Burlington Vermont. Since taking over the team, mike has brought it back, rising from 59-103 years in seasons 3-4 to division winning 91-71 finish last year. The squad topped it off with a stunning pair of upsets, knocking down both NL South powers San Juan and Mexico City in the playoffs, roughly the equivalent of the European representative to the Little League World Series knocking off both the Asian and Caribbean entrants in consecutive games.

The new owner made his fortune in maple syrup, farming some of Vermont's best in the forest around Burlington. Forests being unsecure though, the product had to be protected while the trees were tapped. A pack of bulldogs, recruited for their furosity and lack of interest in moving too far away from the syrup, guarded the goods overnight, and gave the Bulldogs their nickname.

Strengths - 22-year old Pedro DeRojas won 16 games as a 20-year old. He's on his way to becoming one of the true aces of 2nd city. Rookie of the year Miguel Gutierrez speed, power, and great strike zone judgment. He'll be patrolling LF for many years. A few other young players offer glimpses of what could be a team to be reckoned with for many years.

Weaknesses - 39-year old Fred Bagley won double digit games (16-10) and threw 200 innings for the the first time in 4 seasons last year. He's being counted on as the #2 starter. Starters 4 & 5 are talented but young, always risky.

- 3:2 to win the division, 13:1 to win the pennant - can they recapture the post-season magic of Season 7 now that they can't sneak up on anyone?

Augusta Storm
History - After 5 seasons of increasing payroll and decreasing wins, hartel moved the franchise out of New York and choose Augusta, hoping the Storm would be as successful after leaving New York as the Dodgers have been. A division title was encouraging, but the squad is re-grouping after a 3rd place finish last year. But fiscal sanity has been brought to the team, and the kids are the future.

The Storm, Maine's only imaginary sports franchise, is named for the Perfect Storm. While the story was told on the big screen, it affected ownership deeply. Hartel had just landed a moderate-sized catch when George Clooney headed for the Flemish Cap. A giant Japanese tour group was headed to Maine and looking to eat fish. When Clooney sank, hartel made a fortune in little known Maine Cod Bubble. Shortly thereafter, he invested in the a struggling baseball franchise and the rest is history.

Strengths - Since leaving the big city, the Storm have invested in pitching and defense. The team can really pick it, but the staff is still rounding into shape. There's quality there, including Pedro DeRejoas' older brother Del down in the pen.

Weaknesses - The lineup lacks a power bat. In fact, this might be the least powerful lineup in the league. The financial scars of New York still show and the team may need another year or two for the pitching and hitting to match the defense

Odds - 4:1 to win division, 30:1 to win the pennant

Washington DC Honor and Courage
History - The franchise has spent time in Hartford, Norfolk, and Charlotte, with the high point coming in a Season 3 trip to the World Series. The price was high however as the team spent heavily in the free agent market, including signing Dick Caruso to a league maximum contract. Some other big deals financially hamstrung the franchise and they're just now recovering as new owner and media mogul, darrenmaybee has made several big deals, shedding some payroll and trying to get younger.

The Honor and Courage are named for the Airborne Warriors, members of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, a highly decorated unit from Vietnam. Their stories were chronicalled in an online book, published under darrenmaybee's pseudonym. The book launched maybee's career which now includes a media empire including an intricate statistical publication entitled maybee you should look at the numbers, oft quoted on this blog, and his own radio station, Easy-Dee's listing, smooth jazz, which also broadcasts on the Honor & Courage games.

Strengths - Former porn-star and Hawaiian-born left fielder Rob Henderson leads the offense and his career .303 BA and substantial power make him a force to be reckoned with. Young 1B Jarrod Overbay (24) promises to reach base frequently. If his power develops, he could become a top 1B.

Weaknesses - The rotation needs a lot of help. When your Opening Day starter went 10-13 last year, there's a good chance that you'll need to score a lot to win. Shortstop Vin Torres averaged an error every three games the last time he was a regular at the position. His below-average defensive skills do not promise to help a rotation that sorely needs it.

Odds -
30:1 to win the division, 250:1 to win the pennant - bad pitching and defense needs some heavy hitting - this lineup isn't heavy enough for this staff.

Pawtucket Quahog Crush
History - The Crush are an original franchise and have remained remarably consistent, winning between 80 and 88 games in each of the first 6 seasons. Financial pressures, an aging staff, and a sharp downturn in beer sales by franchise owner sriram12078's brewery caused the team falter last season, winning just 72. Three previous playoff appearances did not yield a trip to the NLCS.

The Quahog Crush continue to feud with the Augusta franchise for territorial rights. Pawtucket plays 4 games a year in Quahog, Maine, hometown of their Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations, Brian Griffin. They claim this gives them exclusive territorial rights throughout Maine. However, commissioner Wendt has disagreed, allowing the Storm to operate in Maine.

Strengths - Shortstop Alex Kelly is a Crush legend, with a 132 HR's and 172 SB in his 7-year career. However, his glove has not fared well on Pawtuckett's legendarily bumpy infield. The team has some thumpers, with 23-year old RF Paxton Ward appearing to be a future star in a group of power hitters that boasts Ross Baker, .340, 51 HR's and a runner-up finish in the MVP voting after being acquired from Las Vegas a year ago.

Weaknesses - Crush pitching coach Stan Griffen (Brian's uncle) jumped from AA to the majors and has caused quite a stir with his use of the 3-man tandem rotation. The strategy maximizes the appearances by top pitchers without over-taxing them on innings. But, you still need quality pitchers, with 6 guys pitching every three days and this staff isn't there yet.

Odds -
8:1 to win the division, 40-1 to win the pennant, young hitting will be dangerous but too many runs allowed will keep this team in the 2nd division.

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