The briefly-Hartford Katanas dominated last year, winning a league-record 125 games en route to their 8th straight division championship. A year ago, D.C. looked ready to challenge, but they backed up by 16 games (not to be blamed on the .291/32/127 with 44 SB's Victor Morales). Pittsburgh posted a nice 7-game improvement in its first season of the Rebuilding Challenge; Rochester's 12-game slide has sparked rumors of a tear-down.
Cleveland: The Katanas plated a monstrous 1247 runs last year and bring back a nearly-identical roster. They feature 4 hitters with 40+ HR potential (Encarnacion, Fitzgerald, Langston and Joyner) - although the end of the steroid era and the move from Hartford may suppress the power totals some. On top of that, there are seemingly countless .300 hitters (in addition to the above 4) running around. About the only real concern is whether LF John Tamura can stay healthy. Runs are likely to be down, but they'll still lead the league by a healthy margin. Trend (-)
Washington D.C.: the Revenge add a pair of new weapons to last year's 851-run (8th) team: LF Miguel Mesa looks like he could put up a .370+ OBP and 30 HR's, and DH Hooks Allen, has the potential for .340 and 25. They join last year's MVP, 1B Eric Brantley (.324/54/143) RF Victor Morales (.291/32/127), and 2B Danny Pride (.292/13/69) as the team's core run producers. Trend (+)
Rochester: The Phantoms have also been busy tinkering with last year's 3rd-ranked offense (922 runs). FA's Pablo Padilla and Pablo Cerveza move in at C (versus righties) and 3B, meaning last year's ROY, All-Star and Silver Slugger 3B Jesus Gomez (.334/28/126) shifts over to SS. Robert Franco takes over at DH from the 13 different ones they tried last year, and should be a big upgrade. I like the moves, but you have to be wary of fall-off's from Wally Reid (career .296 hitter who exploded to .349 last year) and Gomez. Trend (even)
Pittsburgh: The Allegheny's were 15th with 742 runs last year, but were the talk of free agency with their Brogna and Cota signings. Now if Neifi Foster (new record for stolen bases last year - 113)can keep getting on base at a .345 clip, they'll be set for a nice jump up the offensive rankings. Trend (+)
Hartford: The Katanas led the league at 4.22 last year and brig back the entire staff intact. Cleveland's staff is outstanding not in having 1 or 2 killer studs (although Vic Benitez and Roger Lawson do have Cy Youngs ), but in having no weak spots. They throw 6 starters who are capable of making the All-Star team (4 have); Lawson heads a pen that is equally free of deadly flaws. Trend (even)
Washington D.C.: 6th at 4.65, the Revenge staff let them down last year. They especially need improvement from big talents Jimmie Feliz (7-14, 5.44) and Esteban Velasquez (11-14, 5.40). If anyone on the rotation falters, we could see Season 11's 2nd overall pick, Omar Carrasco, sooner rather than later. The bullpen looks shaky...they need a big comeback year from Edgardo Diaz and a couple of surprise breakout seasons. Trend (+)
Rochester: The Phantoms tumbled from 6th in ERA in Season 12 (4.30) to 16th (5.71) last year. Ouch. To try to reverse the trend, they signed FA SP's Corky Durham and Cesar Mendez, and brought up rookie Ossie Johnstone. Season 11's 10th overall pick, Rich Grace, will also probably get the call shortly. Jose Guardado and Rich Rollins head a bullpen that's a bit more settled. Odds are they'll improve, but they need more talent. Trend (+)
Pittsburgh: The Allegheny's were 13th at 5.43 last year, but things are looking up. They benefit immediately from the Kaz Lim signing and the debut of Season 11 IFA Max Cruz. When it comes to Pittsburgh pitching, though, the real buzz is about AAA phenoms Jung Wanatabe and D'Angelo Cerda (overall #1's in Seasons 12 and 11) and when they'll be promoted. The JBT says they'll be in the big club's rotation in another 9 days or so. Trend (+)
1. Despite facing 3 much-improved competitors, Cleveland wins again.
2. D.C. makes the jump we all expected last year - I'll say 95 wins
3. Pittsburgh wins 90 to take 3rd
4. Rochester could well improve it's win total but still fall to 4th
5. Rookies to watch: D.C.'s Miguel Mesa and Omar Carrasco, Pittsburgh's Wanatabe and Cerda.
6.Vets on the move: I have to think the Phantoms will try to move some vets for young pitching at some point. Wally Reid will have a new team by mid-season.