Season 15 Recap: Las Vegas won 102 to nip the defending World Champ Surenos by 5 games, but Oakland got the last laugh, topping the 69'ers in the NLCS and going on to win their second straight Champeenship. Meanwhile, Santa Cruz (then Fresno) improved by an impressive 21 wins to 81, while Vancouver (the long-time San Jose Bad News Bees II) dipped under .500 for hte 3rd straight year. The West dominated post-season awards: Oakland's Clyde Jackson won the Cy Young, Santa Cruz' Kennie Frascatore took the ROY, and Vegas' Juan Gomez nabbed the FOY.
LAS VEGAS has a rather remarkable record of 15 straight .500+ seasons - only 3 of which have been under 90 wins. And they're doing it largely with pitching - last season's #2 ranking in Team ERA was the 3rd straight season in the top 3, although the lineup supported that staff with 782 runs (5th). The 69'ers rotation is without a true ace, but is solid through #5...the idea is for the starter to go deep and then turn it over to Juan Gomez, who won his first (but not likely his last) FOY. On offense, they rely on everybody contributing rather than riding a star: the Wengert/Keeler catcher tandem led the team in OPS, while RF Hughie Bruskie led in HR's with 30.
OAKLAND didn't sit on their laurels - they shook up the roster by trading for SP's Trent Diaz and Rafael Aquino, and signing C Harry Encarnacion to a front-leaded FA deal (leading us to believe that he's trade bait). The Surenos have a power-oriented attack (with Maduro, Rivera and Burns the main sources), but rely heavily on leadoff man Wilfredo Feliz to get on ahead of the sluggers. To call their pitching staff "reliever-oriented" would be an understatement; the basic plan is t give Gary Ramsay an 80-pitch start, then fill in with spot starters until he can go again, and mix-and-match a wide assortment of effective relievers. Then rinse and repeat. The addition of Diaz may give them a solid #2 starter, although they've attempted to trade him once already.
SANTA CRUZ has one of the up-and-coming young teams in the NL, improving by 21 games last season. ROY Kennie Frascatore gives the Radicals a legit ace - they can be a winner in any series. Can they get to the playoffs? With 3 young stars (C Nomura, 1B Cooke, and LF Farr) in the lineup, the offense is probably there. But they were 11th in ERA last year, even with Frascatore winning the ROY. This may have been the year for them to go after some FA pitching help - for them to have a shot at overtaking OAK and LV, they'll have to add some more pitching at some point.
VANCOUVER has moved from the extremely pitcher-friendly San Jose Municipal Stadium to Vancouver's perfectly neutral Nat Bailey Stadium. Maybe that'll get Derek Walker jump-started; after a ROY Season 12 (.983 OPS), he's posted 3 decent, but frankly disappointing years (all .700's OPS). Troy Harris will add some needed pop to the lineup, which should produce at least adequate scoring. The question is the pitching staff, which was so-so in a great pitcher's park last year. They have some bright spots (Craig Hague, Midre Estrada, Carl Benson), some spots that should be bright (closer Deion Corbin), and a bunch of question marks. They're auditioning 14 pitchers at the moment...if they can find 6 or 7 that work they might make some noise.
1. This will be one of the best races in Belle, with Vegas, Oakland and Santa Cruz
in a year-long dogfight. Well, that may be expecting a bit much of the Radicals, but I think they'll improve. I think the Surenos have enough left to squeak by Vegas.
2. Watch for Santa Cruz starter Kennie Frascatore in the CY voting...he was great last year and the move to an even bigger ballpark can only help
3. Although he's off to a bad start, watch for OAK's Harry Encarnacion to be the ost accomplished pinch-hitter in Belle history...or be traded for some young pitching talent.