Season 15 Recap: Jackson won its 6th straight division title, while Richmond, Nashville and Little Rock won 88, 88 and 86, respectively (the Ramblers edged out the Poor Men for the last wild card spot). Jackson went to the WS for the 4th straight year, but lost for the second straight to Oakland. Nashville lost in the first playoff round.
JACKSON had a few FA losses but plugged holes with RP's Ken George and McKay Casian, and IF Chin-Hui Song. They're also expecting big things from Season 11's first-rounder, LF Dennis Hewson. Collier, Costello & co. may be a year older, but they're still dangerous.
NASHVILLE is coming off its second straight playoff appearance and is gunning for a division championship. Lance Reed (.305/44/145), Richie Elder (.294/22/90) and Frank Schmidt (.269/45/131) lead the power side of the attack; Emil Morales (.295, 43 steals) leads the speed side - he'll get table-setting help from rookie 2B Tom Fischer. The staff needs help for Luis Martinez (20-6, 3.540 and Harold Bryant (17-9, 4.21); it's most likely to come from rookies Charlie Hernandez and Michael Burnitz, but it's also likely that more is needed.
RICHMOND had some significant free agent losses in Sean Hines and Daniel McDowell. They countered by signing Fred White to play 3B and brought up rookie SS Trent Gray. They also added a pair of promising rookies to the staff - SP Josias Rodriguez and Wiki Batista. Looks like they could score fewer runs this year but also allow fewer...if they could improve on last year's 16-25 in 1-run games they could be poised for a breakthrough.
LITTLE ROCK has their string of 8 straight 90+ win seasons snapped last year, although 86 was respectable. An era ended in Little Rock this season as 13-year vet and future Hall of Famer Lon Andrews moved on to a FA contract with Baltimore (although the loss of Troy Harris is probably a bigger deal). They're going to feel those losses in the runs column - they were already on the short end of the leafgue average last year. The pitching also slipped a bit from recent seasons but remains capable of posting a Team ERA in the top 3 of the league. Rookie Paul Shibata looks like a nice addition to the bullpen. And speaking of the pen, 4-time FOY Geoff Sosa is showing no signs of slowing down but is in the last year of his contract. It'll be interesting to see what the Pebbles do if they're not in contention at the break and getting offers for Sosa.
1. I'm picking Nashville to knock off Jackson this year.
2. Jackson comes in a close 2nd, with Richmond a close 3rd.
3. Geoff Sosa will have a different address by season's end.