Friday, December 19, 2008

N.L. West Division Predictions

The Oakland Polish Hammers cruised to a division title last season as they went from 4th place in Season 9 straight to 1st place (as predicted by yours truly in last season's division predictions). Tacoma took notice and got busy improving their team in the offseason. Was it enough to overtake the Polish Hammers?

Oakland Polish Hammers (NL)
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Season 10: 1st Place (90-72)
Season 11 Prediction: 1st Place

The Skinny:
While Tacoma is vastly improved, the Polish Hammers still have the best team in the N.L. West (although not showing it currently). Repeating as division champs may depend on whether they decide to keep or trade their veteran players. goodtymes31 has mentioned that his team is getting old and he's looking to get younger. Currently, several of Oakland's veteran players are sitting on the trade block wondering if they'll be wearing a different uniform in the coming weeks. Assuming the majority of the team stays together, I think Oakland wins the division again. If the team is dismantled, they'll be overtaken by Tacoma.
The offense is led by 3B Steve Burks, 2B Norm Henry and 1B/DH Keith Grahe. All three players hit 25+ home runs and drove in at least 105 runs. Burks and Grahe are both over 30 and on the trade block so, as I noted, losing these players would have a major effect on where this team finishes. The rotation also has a its horses on the trade block. 3 starters (Lefty Murphy, Marshall Wagner and Rex Frederick) and closer George Van Hekken are all fit to be dealt if the right offer comes along. With the unimpressive start (3-11) to the season, these players may be getting closer to relocating.

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

The Skinny:
The Baymen really put in a solid effort to get this thing turned around in a hurry and they didn't have to trade the farm to do it so it was a productive and successful offseason in my opinion. I've discussed these deals previously, so here's a quick recap. Tacoma was involved in 2 big trades this offseason - both with the Salem Oles. The initial trade brought in pitcher Derek Fiore, super slugger Carlos Barcelo and veteran DH Harry Hudson. As I noted, Hudson was then traded back to the Oles in a deal that brought shortstop Sammy Montanez and catcher Carlos Vargas to Tacoma. These players will certainly add some offensive punch to a sluggish lineup. Haywood Karl and Lou Combs were the RBI leaders in Season 10, but neither player hits for a high average. The new additions will certainly help the team batting average.
Normally, trading away a 3-time Cy Young winner (Harry Mateo) might sting a bit, but the Baymen received a solid starter in return (Derek Fiore) in addition to the offensive talent. With Fiore, Harry Holzemer and Bey Roberts taking the hill every 5 days, the rotation is pretty good. Combine that with the new-look lineup and I see a lot of wins for the Baymen.

Vancouver Fighting Skeletons (NL)
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Season 10: t-3rd Place (78-84)
Season 11 Prediction: 3rd Place

The Skinny:
With new ownership in place, the former San Diego Padres moved so far north they left the country. Now situated in Vancouver and with a new nickname (the Fighting Skeletons), the team looks to build upon last season's disappointment. Maybe it was time for new ownership to step in as this franchise slipped from 95 wins to 84 to just 78 last season.
While every season brings new promise, I just don't see Vancouver finishing any better than last season. Ownership seems aware of the situation and appears content to look toward the future. Several players have been called up from AAA to fill roles and the remaining veterans simply don't have what it takes to contend. Stewart Buckley and Jeffrey Sellers will lead the offense, however, neither player will make a franchise.
The rotation still has a couple excellent pieces in 14-game winner Geraldo Feliz and 3-time all-star Al Ramirez. Hamish Kinney is also great out of the bullpen. Teams in need of a pitcher down the stretch may want to hit up Vancouver if they slip out of contention early as I suspect they might.

Honolulu Hula Dancers (NL)
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Season 10: t-3rd Place (78-84)
Season 11 Prediction: 4th Place

The Skinny:
Here's another team relocating, possibly in an effort to escape from their past. While the team had one owner previous to the new ownership (powerman), the franchise moved just about every 3 seasons as if they were on the run from the law.
This season, they have a new home in beautiful, sunny Honolulu. While the team may enjoy the weather and fresh locale, there may not be much enjoyment on the field. Last season's best pitchers came out of the bullpen to win 11 games (Macbeth Smith) and 9 games (Blaine Hunter) respectively. When your best pitchers are getting 20 wins combined out of the bullpen, you may be in for another long season. I realize Yamid Guerrero also won 11 games as a starter, finishing 11-12, but he simply doesn't have the stuff to win more than 10-11 games a season. My point is, at least Hunter and Smith had winning records.
The offense has a couple solid veterans in Miguel Vazquez and David Santayana, but there's really a lack of punch in the lineup. It comes as no surprise to me that Santayana was the only player to drive in more than 80 runs last season. Hopefully, powerman can build up the Hula Dancers farm system and return this team to respectability.

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