Over the last 2 seasons, the Blizzard and Nutcases/Fonda Yews have become very familiar with one another. In both seasons, the Blizzard edged out the Fonda Yews to win the division, but only by a mere 4 games combined. On the other hand the Bulls and Blast have struggled to win games with both teams losing 100 games last season. One season later, where do these teams stand? Can Baltimore and Durham close the gap?
Season 10: 1st Place (93-69)
Season 11 Prediction: 1st Place
Change is abundant for the Blizzard. The most notable change is their move from the cold, wintry air of Burlington to the ummm....cold, wintry air of Buffalo. Then again, Dunn Tire Park is much more hitter-friendly than Mustain Stadium ever was. However, while most of the Blizzard headed southwest to Buffalo, several players failed to make the trip and headed elsewhere including two-fifths of the starting rotation. Replacing Paul Ishii and Angel Cruz in the starting rotation are former Salem starter Walter Lewis and Willie Jacobs whom the Blizzard acquired last season when he was released by Baltimore. The bullpen also features some new, yet familiar faces as Mack Greer and Louie Reyes return to the big leagues after spending time in AAA ball waiting for Hideo Gonzales (signed by Washington) and Ronnie Brooks (signed by Trenton) to move on.
While the core of the Blizzard offense returns, they've added former Tacoma 2B Andy Battle who won the starting job over Pascual Seneca and veteran 3B/OF Edwin Simon who will split time with Jay Carmona.
If the Blizzard hope to win the division for the 7th straight season, the new starters must step up and help 2-time Cy Young winner Vitas Henley and the offense must take advantage of the friendlier confines in Buffalo.
Season 10: 2nd Place (90-72)
Season 11 Prediction: 2nd Place
Atlanta made very few moves in the offseason, however, the major league roster boasts only 1 player over the age of 28 so that's understandable! That's also pretty remarkable. The one player over the age of 28 was 36-year old free agent signing Raul Martin. Martin joins a pretty good rotation led by 15-game winner Nash Phillips and Damaso Lopez. Lopez struggled a bit last season, but he's a much better pitcher than he showed and he hopes to prove it this season. The Fonda Yews also feature one of the best, if not the best, closers in the game in Peter Pong. Pong was 40-42 in save opportunities last season and hasn't blown more than 5 saves in any of his last 3 seasons.
Atlanta's offense has a lot of young talent and if all these kids are hitting at the same time, the Fonda Yews will be tough to beat. It appears as if 22-year old Sean Mailman will finally get a full season to show he belongs, but he'll get plenty of offensive help from the likes of Tony Mendoza, Pedro Gonzales, Tom King and others. This could definitely be the season where Atlanta overtakes the Blizzard, but until they actually do, I'm sticking with Buffalo to win it again.
Season 10: T-3rd Place (62-100)
Season 11 Prediction: 3rd Place
I think both the Bulls and the Blast will win more games than they did last season, however, I still believe the Bulls have the upper hand. The Bulls made several moves, of every kind, in the offseason, but the most important thing is Lawrence Brown is still around. Brown just swatted home run number 300 and he and rookie Omar Siqueiros will probably hit close to 100 between the two of them. Throw in all-time home run king Bart Kirby and I think I'm getting whiplash just talking about them. The offense will also look to another rookie, Yorrick Benard. Benard is a great table setter and should steal a lot of bases if the other guys aren't moving him around the bases via the long ball.
The big free agent signing for Durham this offseason was getting starting pitcher Milt Leiter. While Leiter is not a top of the rotation starter, he'll pitch his innings from the middle of the rotation behind Johan McInerney and rookie sensation Humberto Aguilera. Aguilera reminds me of a young Vitas Henley. Once some of these young guys start to reach their potential, Durham will be a force to reckon with in the A.L. East.
Season 10: T-3rd Place (62-100)
Season 11 Prediction: 4th Place
Baltimore Blast owner, reps, has been very quiet and methodical over the last few seasons as he tries to build this franchise back up. The beat goes on in Baltimore as there wasn't too much activity in the offseason. Because this team hasn't had much success lately, one of the best players in Mantle World has probably gone unnoticed by most, but I'm here to get his name out there. Blast 1B Bruce Payne has quietly put up back-to-back seasons of 50+ home runs, 110+ RBI and 100+ runs scored with a slugging percentage over .600 and an OPS over 1.000 in those seasons. He also hasn't missed a game in those seasons and won his first Silver Slugger award this past season. Payne will get some help this season from a rookie I like quite a bit, outfielder Scott Hall. At just 21-years old, Hall has the potential to be a 40/40 guy for the Blast.
Baltimore has a pair of solid starting pitchers in Mike Burnett and Dave Fisher, but they might benefit from shopping Brook Grey at the trade deadline to get someone younger who may be able to step into the rotation in a season or two. Overall, I like the direction Baltimore is headed. In the past, I've noted the success Baltimore has had in getting serviceable players via the Rule 5 Draft so it's only a matter of time before Baltimore fields a team that can compete for the division.