The NL South was static (maybe even boring) last year...only Mexico City improved (5 wins), and they still didn't get near Charleston. Will anybody shake anything up this year?
Charleston: The Apologists' attack fell off by 76 runs last year to 908 (3rd). That's a nearly 8% drop (NL runs were up 2.2% last year). It's not age - oldest regular is only 32. Andre Brownson already took over as the primary C last year, so Abdul Gload's departure will go unnoticed. Odds are good we'll see a rebound this year to 940-950.
Mexico City: The Desperadoes, on the other hand, pushed across 88 more runs and climbed to 2nd. They gave up some offense in moving SS Clyde Simon to Nashville, but got some back in a deal that secured 3B Aramis Espinoza from Syracuse, a trade that creates a CF surplus - look for them to try to move Ryan Shelley for something, maybe a big bat. Meanwhile, they'll be in the top 3 in runs scored again.
Austin: The Chaloupas young hitters continued to improve last year, scoring 57 more runs (still 7th in the NL), and fans are looking for big things from 1B Marty Daly, 3B Clarence Richard, CF Sid Selby and RF Nap Myatt. So far so good with the Magadan/Vargas "Manny platoon" in LF (7 HR, 14 RBI in 12 games), but one has to think they were both brought in to move at the deadline. More improvement coming this year.
El Paso: The Karn Evil 9 have been scoring in the 600's for as far back as anyone can remember (I went back to Season 7) and need some shaking up. New management appears intent on a youth movement, as C Vicente Arroyo left in free agency and 1B Derek Foster was traded to Nashville. 25 yo Quilvio Marrero takes over at 1B and rookie Johny Everett looks like he'll get significant PT at 3B. Veteran Harry Rodrigo comes in at RF on a nice economy FA signing. I don't know if they're going to crack 700 this year or not, but things are going the right direction.
Charleston: The Apologists had one of their best pitching years in recent memory, posting a 3.37 ERA to lead the league (again). Matty's coming off one of his best years ever, but he's 39 now and starting to fray at the edges a bit. Kaz Lim is a solid #2, Simpson's still a top closer, and Pasqual Tabaka is an extraordinarily productive steup man. Beyond that, Charleston is famous for getting great performances out of pitchers with marginal ratings (Exhibit A: Daryl McCartney last year). With other signs of aging (LR Carlos Gonzalez), that's becoming a taller order. Chalreston will fall to 4th or 5th this year - they'll be scrambling for pitching at the break.
Mexico City: The Desperadoes were 2nd with a 3.65 ERA last year. Their nearly-1000 inning starting staff is headed by Jesus Javier (17-5, 2.31), Pedro Encarnacion (14-9, 3.43) and Cory Mitchell (15-8, 3.61). Yamil Manzanillo is back from knee surgery and should excel in the setup role. Closer Tony Rodriguez is gunning for a return to his Fireman Of The Year (Season 9) form with his 4-for-4, 0.00 ERA start. These guys will be #1 this year.
Austin: The Chaloupas were 10th last year as they continued to wait for their minor leaguers. They expect improvements this year from Woody Blair (4.67), Trent Diaz (4.50), Tomas Cruz (4.48) and Tuck Barkley (4.97). Season 10 #8 pick Louie Paniagua is likely to spend the entire year in AAA. Minor improvement this year.
El Paso: The Evil 9 were 9th (what else?) last year with a respectable 4.39 ERA. They said goodbye to starters Brooks and Jefferson and brought in free agent relievers Alex Diaz and Rick Miller, but the real fortunes of this staff rest on the arms of 2nd year starters Vince Cross and Midre Jose and veteran Terry Pote. They could also get more help at some point this year from Season 10 #4 pick Alex Russell, who starts the year in AAA. Miller has struggled since his rookie year (10) but will get first shot at the closer. They're going to have some great performances and some terrible performances, and end up with exactly a 4.39 ERA.
1) Mexico City treats the fans south of the border to a pennant.
2) Charleston makes a race of it but age takes its toll this year.
3) El Paso edges Austin for third, as both continue to rebuild.
4) Veterans on the move: Austin's Magadan and Vargas almost certainy; The 9 may well get something for Terry Pote this year.
5) Rookie watch: El Paso's Alex Russell