The NL North improved by 20 games last year, thanks to jumps of 12 and 8 wins by Ottawa and Syracuse. So far this year Syracuse is off to a strong start, with Ottawa hanging around 7 games back. Trenton and Sioux Falls aren't out of wild card contention if they can swing some moves...any shakeups in sight?
Syracuse: The Warriors are currently 2nd to Oakland in runs scored. Rookie Clarence Marte has made an immediate impact, hitting .322 and scoring 67 runs (2nd in NL). The main return of the Hartford trade, Rafael Brogna (.285/20/74) and Marquis Seo (.364/19/70), are the leading run producers. There are just no holes in this lineup - even journeyman 3B Tomas Montero is hitting .333 in a platoon role. At this point they're on about a 950-run pace.
Sioux Falls: The Presidents have improved their attack this season, rising from 9th in runs scored last year to 5th. 2nd-year LF Richie Scheffer is well ahead of his excellent rookie-season pace at .327/22/69; although SS Bailey Johnson's contact numbers are off some, he's still the #2 run-producer at 17 HR's and 53 RBI. They also have a trio of sluggers at 15 HR's - 2B Ricardo Nunuz and rookies Jimmie Stokes and Garrett Durbin. It's a very young lineup that ranks 3rd in longballs - they should be high in the offensive rankings for years.
Ottawa: The Ice attack has gone a little chilly this year, falling from 8th last year to 10th. Last year's top OPS'er, 2B Vance Carter, has slumped from .885 to .694. A pair of rookies, Brandon O'Halloran (11 HR's, 42 RBI) and Quilvio Suarez (12 HR's, 40 RBI), are leading the offense with credible numbers. Ottawa has 2 more rookies and a 2nd year man in the lineup, and more help at AAA (Brian Jiang, Taylor Rivers and Cesar Liriano); by next season they'll have one of the youngest adn most promising lineups in the NL.
Trenton: The Trogs have moved up from 11th in runs scored last season to 7th this year. They're getting great production from their 2 big power guys, RF Jesus Mendez (27 HR's, 54 RBI) and LF Vladimir Lopez (.306/31/66), who's 4th in the league in HR's. It's an all-or-nothing offense, though - 5th in HR's and last in OBP. Table-setters needed om coming seasons if they're hoping to stay in the top half of the league.
Syracuse: The Warriors' ERA is up half a run a game this year, and something tells us they're looking for help. Brian Nakajima (9-2, 3.52) and Felix Woodward (7-3, 3.33) have been excellent starters, but the rest of the rotation is getting blown up. Relievers Dingo Hawkins (2.55), Diego Martinez (3.07) and Damaso Arias (3.52) are pitching well, but closer P.T. Lincoln is inexplicably struggling. The Warriors are leading the division comfortably, but will have to pick up some pitching help to advance deep into the playoffs.
Sioux Falls: The Stoned Presidents are up over a half-run a game in ERA this year. Starters Tyrone Broome (7-4, 3.77) and Bernard Myette (5-2, 3.96) are solid, setup man Freddie Berger is out of his mind (1.61 ERA), and Enrique Ramirez (2.72) has been outstanding, but that's where the good news ends. Last year's #1 pick, R.A. Everett, is in AAA but at least a season away, so there's no near-term improvement in sight.
Ottawa: The Ice are 12th in ERA at 4.67 and still somehow hanging around. They have a nucleus of 3 young starters to build around: Jorge Dejesus (8-5, 5.16), Albert Dejean (8-5, 2.78) and Raul Arias (5-6, 4.53). Closer Doug Brown (23-of-25 saves, 1.24) is headed for the All-Star Game and Shane Sirotka has been solid (3.18), but the rest of the staff has been forgetable. Their best high-minors pitching prospect, AA starter Julio Santana, was set back with elbow tendinitis this year, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the Ice trade a hitting prospect or 2 for some arms.
Trenton: The Troglodytes are posting about a half-run a game improvement over last year. Magglio Nunuez is pitching lights-out but has only 5 wins; look for a big 2nd half from him. Vic Mesa's 1.98 ERA is guaranteed to go up, and closer Casey Sherman (20-of-22 saves, 2.74) is probably going to see some ERA inflation as well. Rookie Hank Newman was called up recently and has impressed; we could also conceivably see Harry Viriato in the majors this year. Some good young arms here, just not eough of them.
1. Syracuse cruises to the division title.
2. Ottawa hangs around .500 and takes 2nd.
3. Sioux Falls' offense will carry them to 3rd.
4. Trenton's overachieving pitching staff comes back to earth - 4th.
5. Vets on the move: Ottawa could stay in the wildcard race if they can hang at .500, but Trenton and Sioux Falls could move a number of guys - we'll predict the Presidents' SP Daryl Holtz and the Trogs' closer Casey Sherman.
6. Rookie Watch: There are quite a few good rookie preformances in the division, but Syracuse's Clarence Marte leads the way.