Tough year for the NL East last year - every team won fewer games than the year before (total of 46 fewer). Seasons like that are usually followed by big snap-back years - is that in the offing for Season 13?
Burlington: With 700 runs scored last year, the Lake Monsters need to add some punch. And so far they're getting it from the same cast as last year: RF Theodore Beckett has 46 RBI, LF Wilt McDowell is hitting .300 with 28 RBI, and C Hong-Jin Kobayashi has 10 HR's and 30 RBI. Currently 6th in runs scored, they'll be a factor if they can keep up this kind of attack.
Toledo: The Mud Hens fell from 4th to 10th in runs scored last year, and appear to be entering a rebuilding phase. They have some good power bats in C Ted Stein, 1B Rafael Carreras and RF Gary Goodwin, but only Goodwin is off
to a decent start. Carreras is of particular concern, hitting .182 with 1 HR. So far, they're trailing the pack. Oddsmakers say Goodwin will be with his 4th franchise by the trade deadline.
Jacksonville: The Jokers are the remains of the Philadelphia wreckage, and will likely be a season or 2 before they start to make an impact. While they're vying for last on offense with Toledo, there are some rays of hope: 23 year-old C Jason Griffin is off to a .327/8/27 start, 25 year-old RF Kevin Grabowski has 15 HR's and 39 RBI, and 24 year-old 2B George Kipling is at .307/12/24.
Indianapolis: The third rebuilding team in the division, the Sluggers are running just a little behind the league average in offense. Their 2 starting rookies are off to divergent starts: 1B Matt Flores is hitting .308 with 10 HR's; RF Dan McCartin is struggling at .210 and 1 hr.
Burlington: The Lake Monsters were 7th with a respectable 4.15 ERA last year, and are running just slightly above that so far this year. Mark Fisher and Frank Huff lead the rotation, but it falls off after those 2. The bullpen has been the early-season highlight, with 6 of the 7 under a 4.00 ERA. One more good starter and these guys could have a pretty dangerous 9-man playoff staff.
Toledo: The Mud Hens were 13th at 4.88 last year and are currently beating that by a decent margin. Of the starters, ace Ruben James has struggled so far (5.26 ERA), but Trever Fielder (3.45) and Al Kingman (3.55) have been solid. Tony Campos and Javier Mendoza have been good out of the pen, but this is one of the oldest staffs in the league - some wholesale changes are coming this year or next.
Jacksonville: Their predecessor Phils were dead last (by a mile) with a 6.57 ERA last year, so their current mark of 5.00 represents a monster improvement. The only real standout performance is LR C.C. Taguchi (2-3, 2.22), but for a bunch of Philly holdovers, Rule Fivers and ww claims, they're mounting a credible effort. If there was a Pitching Coach of the Year, T.J. Reed would have it wrapped up already.
Indianapolis: The Sluggers were 15th at 5.36 last year; in the 2nd year of their rebuilding campaign they've improved a bit but fallen to 16th. The big news here is they've brought up 4 rookies who all have bright futures: Season 9 first-rounder (#30 overall) Enrique Velasquez is off to a rough start (3-5, 6.17), Season 7 first-rounder #29 overall) Darrel Kennedy is excelling (2.66) in a long relief role, Season 11 #1 (11 overall) Mike Franco may have been rushed a little and is showing with a 6.97 ERA, and Season 10 IFA Julian Lopez has 6 saves and a 3.18. Vet SP Felix Cortes is having a career year (1.69) and could be a deadline trade target.
1. Burlington wins in a walk - all the other teams are rebuilding.
2. Indy's 6 rookies produce enough for #2 finish.
3. Jacksonville doesn't have quite the young ML talent the Sluggers do, but they have enough to get 3rd.
4. Toledo will enter tear-down mode at some point and bring up the rear.
5. Rookie Watch: Indy's Matt Flores, Enrique Velasquez and Julian Lopez.
6. Vets on the Move: the Mud Hens have 2 highly-coveted young veterans in Sp Ruben James and RF Gary Goodwin; the potential return for those 2 could be the nucleus of a rebuilt team.