Oakland improved 12 games to an NL-best 107 wins, while their Season 12 close pursuers, San Jose and Las Vegas, both fell back. Fresno improved 8 games and has new management and young talent. The Surenos are probably the favorites at the start of the season, but the Bees and 69ers both have a lot of talent and could make it close.
Oakland: Led the league in almost every offensive category last year, and there's no reason to think that will change in Season 14. There's power at every spot in the lineup (3B Willie Uribe was low among starters with 18 HR's) and plenty of speed, too (124 steals). With the "steroid era" over, I don't think Joe Rivera will hit 65 HR's again (but as I write this he's hit 5 HR's and driven in 16 in his last 2 games), but he'll still be a preeminent power hitter. J.T Burns (C), Wilfredo Feliz (LF), William Kwon (SS), Erubiel Maduro (1B) and Vinny Zhang (RF) are all among the best hitters in the league at their postions. Trend (even)
San Jose: 12th with 700 runs last year. Derek Walker fell off quite a bit from his ROY season; the Bees need a comeback from him. 2B Tim Murray and 3B Patrick Bell are solid hitters - they typify the San Jose lineup (at least last year) where nothing was either terrible or extraordinary. AAA 1B Mickey Maxwell looks like more of the same but might help this year. Trend (even)
Las Vegas: 8th with 746 runs last year. The 69ers add a nice group of rookies to an already-decent attack this year. Bill Wengert joins Brendan Keeler to form probably the best catcher platoon in the league. 2B Ken Morris has started strong (.365 OBP) and Walter Turner takes over at 1B. John Li is a top LF and has also started hot. AAA SS Lance Belitz could add some punch later this year. Trend (+)
Fresno: 14th with 689 runs last year, up to 11th so far this year. Last year's ROY, Ernest Farr (.318/9/38), has picked up where he left off last year, and Rule 5 pickup David Whitehead leads the team with 40 RBI. One would think Jacob Nomura (.373 in only 51 AB's) is due to take over as the fulltime C anyday now from Chick Holdridge (.220 in 205 AB's). Trend (+)
Oakland: 5th last year, the Surenos have moved right to the top of the pitching rankings with a sterling 2.59 ERA. Not unexpectedly, Gary Ramsay is having his best season ever with a microscopic 0.97 ERA and 14 wins already. He's getting plenty of help - 3 relievers have sub - 2.00 ERA's, #2 starter Kyle Bradshaw is 8-2, 2.89, and closer Andy Wilson is 20-for-21 in save opportunities. Trend (+)
San Jose: 8th last year, 7th so far this year. Say hello to Craig Hague. The Season 9 first-rounder has an OPS against of .506 (better even than Gary Ramsay's .559). 5 relievers have ERA's under 3.20, and Bernie Tejada and Midre Estrada have each won 7. Trend (+)
Las Vegas: Currently running 3rd in team ERA (same as last year). When the worst ERA on your team is 4.44 (Bartolo Velazquez), you know you're doing something right. Juan Gomez (20 of 24 saves, 2.61) is making a FOY bid and all 5 starters have ERA's under 3.65. Good playoff formula. Trend (+)
Fresno: Still undergoing rebuilding pains, the Grizzlies are one of the few teams with a higher team ERA this year than last. Some of the youngsters are giving reasons for hope: 2nd-year man Javier Batista has a 2.97 ERA and rookie John Tomko has a 3.71 ERA. One of the best arms to come out of the draft (Season 11 #4) in recent years, Kenny Frascatore, is ML-ready but will probably finish the year in the minors. Trend (+)
2. Las Vegas
3. San Jose
5. Rookie watch: San Jose's Craig Hague and Las Vegas' Bill Wengert
6. Vets on the move: Fresno's CF Vic Pascual could make a pennant race impact, and he'd probably get a better prospect than any of the Grizzlies' pitchers.