Thursday, December 18, 2008

A.L. West Division Predictions

Quite frankly, the A.L. West is loaded with offensive talent and the pitching looks pretty good this season as well. So when I look back at some of the records from Season 10, I'm a little surprised to see that only Portland won more than 83 games. This season, it looks like a couple of the teams are ready to step up to the bar that was set by the Poltergeists last season.

Portland Poltergeists (AL)
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Season 10: 1st Place (94-68)
Season 11 Prediction: 1st Place

The Skinny:
I think Portland will have more competition in winning the division than they had last season, but I still see Portland at the head of the class. In fact, I'm picking Portland to represent the A.L. in the World Series. This offense will be too much for most teams to handle. It all starts with 5-time MVP, Kevin Mullins. Mullins is only 28 years old which means he's probably due for 3-4 more MVP awards before he's done. His top competition for the award could potentially come from his teammates. Lawrence Rhodes, Damaso Rojas, Felix Ellis and Charles Costello are all capable of driving in 120-130 runs a season. With guys like Greg Wolf and James Ritchie setting the table, there will be plenty of opportunities for all of players noted above to drive in runs.
The pitching staff isn't the strongest I've reviewed, but they'll only need 3 good starters come playoff time. Season 9 Cy Young winner, Domingo Pizzaro, hopes to return to form after a disappointing 13-9 season last year. Pizzaro won 43 games the previous 2 seasons so 13 wins was well below his own expectations. Unlike Pizzaro, Anthony Martin was pretty happy with last season's record as he went 12-4. Martin has a nasty sinker and if he can control it, he's difficult to hit. The biggest change to the Poltergeists pitching staff is at the closer position. With Nick Smith signing with Texas, Portland turns to Richie Carter to get the big outs at the end of the game. Carter's been a great setup guy for the Geists and he'll now get an opportunity to be THE MAN.

Season 10: 2nd Place (83-79)
Season 11 Prediction: 2nd Place

The Skinny:
Salem's not off to a great start, but I believe they'll turn it around once they get a couple more home games under their belt and once they develop better chemistry. The Oles made a blockbuster deal with Tacoma in the offseason acquiring 3-time Cy Young winner Harry Mateo and Mike Florie, a steady presence at the hot corner. One of the players they traded in that deal, Harry Hudson, has since been traded back to Salem from Tacoma in a deal that sent Sammy Montanez and Carlos Vargas to Tacoma. Hopefully Hudson hadn't sold his house yet! The Oles also managed to retain Quentin Keller this offseason by signing him to a new 1-year/$3 million deal. While his rookie campaign was solid, the Oles are expecting much more from 22-year old Mitch Ledee this season. Ledee was hitting .425 in AAA ball last year before being called up to the bigs where he batted .264 with 19 home runs in 109 games. Sal Stark and Harry Martinez are two other names worth mentioning as they both had huge numbers for Salem last season.
The acquisition of Harry Mateo gives Salem a big lift in the #1 starter slot. This allows pitchers Malcolm Reese and Jack Fleming to slide down in the rotation and gives them a better opportunity to win games. The bullpen has several good arms should the starters get pulled early. 37-year old Jorge Diaz and Dennis Marte will vie for the closer's role.

Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs Mile High Marines (AL)
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Season 10: 3rd Place (75-87)
Season 11 Prediction: 3rd Place

The Skinny:
I'm not quite sure what went wrong in Colorado Springs last season because it looks like they have a pretty good team. Maybe the best talent is simply on the Oregon teams. The MH Marines spent most of the offseason extending the contracts of their own talent including shortstop John Blake, closer Midre Bonilla right fielder Kane Banks and Alfredo Valentin to name a few. The 23-year old Valentin saw a significant dip in his batting average last year although his production wasn't too far off his previous seasons. If he can get his average back up and Howie Curtis and Marc Holmes can continue to drive in runs, I don't see any reason why this team can win 83-85 games.
Okay, maybe I see one reason: pitching. Seriously though, the pitching staff isn't too bad, but it's not quite at the level of the Oregon teams. Paulie Kolb was another one of those players who received a contract extension at the beginning of the season and it's about time he stepped up his game. Kolb's been a .500 pitcher year in and year out, but his ratings tell me he should be better. The other starters are very similar to Kolb. That's too much Kolb. I do really like the guys in the bullpen and they'll probably see there fair share of work. Tony Sojo is a future fireman of the year candidate and Ruben Ortega and Midre Bonilla (discussed above) are also very good.

Season 10: 4th Place (61-101)
Season 11 Prediction: 4th Place

The Skinny:
The Ligers continue to be a work in progress. Like some of the other teams I've discussed (the Old Style and the Commuters come to mind), they've been rebuilding a team that's struggled through changes in ownership. ericsomsel's in his 3rd year running the franchise and after back-to-back seasons of 60 and 61 wins, we have to believe there's some talent being accumulated in the minor leagues.
There are some nice pieces in the majors such as Harry Cairo and J.C. Sager, but I wouldn't be surprised to see these guys get traded for even younger talent. The Ligers did bring in a couple players, signing Stew Frazier away from Scranton and J.D. Acosta away from Kansas City. They should help garner a few wins for Colorado, but the writing is on the wall for these veterans. You're here for the beer!

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