Season 1: 97-65, 1st in division, Lost in League Championship Series
Season 2: 95-67, 1st in division, World Series Champion
After falling in the NLCS to Philadelphia in Season 1, the Reds swept those same Phillies in the NLCS last season, and went on to sweep their way to a World Series Championship, finishing off the most impressive playoff run in World Kinsella’s short history. A return to the playoffs is almost assured.
The Cincinnati offense remains essentially the same from last season’s championship team. No need to mess with a good thing. Obviously, expect much of the same from this group. Harry Tejada is going to hit homeruns and drive in runs. So will Max Ortiz. So will Carter Jeffries. Tejada also brings his 2-time Gold Glove to the park with him. Edmonds and Reese provide their experience up the middle at short and center. And behind the plate, Hodges and Mullins will continue their platoon.
One addition however, is the promotion to the bigs of one of last year’s AAA stars, William Ryan. Ryan hit .307, with 31 HRs and 138 RBIs for Cinci’s AAA club last year, and figures to take over the duties at third base. The Reds like him so much, that All-Star and Gold Glove third baseman Matthew Barry looks to move to second. Achieving such numbers in the bigs will be a stretch for Ryan, but everyone expects him to at least get his money’s worth out of every at bat.
Pitching wins championships, and these are the champions. Logic dictates the pitching was probably good in Cinci last year. It was, and it still is, especially the starters. Scot “don’t call him Mary” Pickford anchors the rotation again. He is an All-Star and figures to continue his winning ways. The former Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Edgardo Santos, one of the best bargains in the bigs, sits at #2 in the rotation. Pencil him in for 15 wins. Probably more. Abdul Lennon had a break-out year in season 2. He could be key this year for Cinci. Free agent signee Willie Wayne saw relief duty last year in LA, but figures to be a 3 or 4 starter. Mark Butler is a solid #5.
With the Cinci offense, winning close games might not be a concern. At least that is the hope, because the bullpen could be a concern. There are no lights out performers, just a group of solid contributors. Andres Alcantara figures to handle the closer role. He was claimed off waivers by Cinci in season 2, and performed well. Veterans Albie Johnson and Diego Owens will set up. Veteran Jason Sirotka and rookie Jack Duffy will handle the long relief duties.
A division title is expected and should happen. Back to back World Series titles might be too much to ask for. Cinci will score runs and the starting pitching will be solid, but the bullpen will hurt them in the playoffs.
96-66, Division Winner
Season 1: 85-77, 2nd in division, did not make playoffs
Season 2: 76-86, 2nd in division, did not make playoffs
The Cubs showing in the NL North Division in seasons 1 and 2 does not sit well with Cubs fans. The whole 2nd place thing really isn’t the issue, because these are the Cubs, and they don’t expect to win. But they would like to compete. It appears from their respective records that the gap between the Reds and the Cubs is widening. Will the Cubs close that gap this year? Well, it all depends on pitching.
This is a young offense that relies on veteran third baseman and All-Star Rafael Nieves. His leadership is essential. Youngsters Julio Martin and Tony Masao are future stars but still need to mature. Kelly Fisher is a hitter, pure and simple, even though he looks more like a member of the Blackhawks. He can play first and catch, and is very well suited to DH during interleague play. Hector Lopez might not give you much at the plate, but he is fantastic behind the plate. The pitchers love him. Rick Griffin returns for his sophomore season at second base, and more is expected of him. The Cubs will hit, they have some speed on the bases, and this is a team that will be scary offensively in a year or two, but they’re not there yet.
The story of the Season 2 Chicago Cubs can be summed up as such: young starting pitchers, with tons of talent, underperformed. Oh, and Carter Kennedy missed half the season with a torn hamstring. The Cubs starters are all younger than 27 and all have tons of talent. They should all improve on their season 2 performances this year. Simply, this staff has the potential to be one of the best in baseball. They are the key to the season. Torey James, “Don’t look at my” Heinie Figueroa, Kennedy, Gus Tamura (yes he is from Japan and named “Gus”) and Guy Kirk need to pitch to expectations. Catcher Hector Lopez’s handling of the staff will be key, as this staff has the potential to carry this team and threaten Cincinnati for the division.
The veteran presence in the pen is Galahad Nelson, who was fantastic in the closer role last year. Expect the same this season. Gary Blue is the other veteran reliever, and he will be the primary long relief option. Victor Torres looks to be in the bigs to stay and could be a major factor sooner rather than later.
Overtaking the Reds is unlikely, but the talent is there to make it interesting. The starting pitching should improve, but the question is how much. A slight improvement will not do it. My money is on a significant improvement.
89-73, possible Wild Card.
Season 1: 77-85, 3rd in division, did not make playoffs
Season 2: 73-89, 3rd in division, did not make playoffs
*Author Note: I was pretty sure the Quebecois ran baseball out of the Province a few years back, but the team is listed here, and my editor assures me they exist and actually play baseball, and I have a bunch of information here about them, so I suppose I will humor my editor and write this preview.
Montreal are the Cubs, Canadian version (as I write this, the one Canadian in the office berates me for not saying “French Canadian version”). They’re a bit older, but they have young potential on offense, and talented starting pitching that underperformed last year.
Catcher Bernard Springer is probably the best hitter in the division. He kills righties, but he won’t help much behind the plate. Justin Sweeney will help behind the plate, and he can hit a bit as well. Kevin Marte, who spent most of last year in AAA, looks to take over at first. He is a prototypical #3 hitter. Getting all three of these guys on the field at once would help, but without a DH, it could prove difficult to accomplish. Trenidad Woodward provides good defense in centerfield and has some pop in his bat. Waiver wire pick up Julio Eusebio is solid defensively, has a decent bat, and will likely see time at numerous positions.
Young starting pitchers with great potential who underachieved last year seems to be a common theme. Perhaps because they all have to pitch against Cinci? Montreal needs Andres Cedeno to come back strong from elbow injury. Rico Herrera simply needs to pitch better. Opponents hit .294 against him in Season 2. Ouch. J.P. Taveras, who spent most of last season in AAA, could be huge.
Long relief should be solid but not great. Jack Piersoll and Jared Perisho, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay, will share that duty. Gary King is the closer. He held opponents to a .229 batting average last year, yet still had an ERA of 4.36. He needs to improve on that number. While not the closer, Jonathan Perry appears to be the stud of pen.
As previously indicated, Montreal is the French Canadian version of the Cubs. However, as usual, the French version will not be as good as the English version. Montreal will hit, but not as much as Chicago. But if their starters pitch like they can, they could challenge Chicago for second in the division and possibly make the Wild Card.
84-78, possible Wild Card.
Season 1: 71-91, 4th in division, did not make playoffs
Season 2: 69-93, 4th in division, did not make playoffs
A new General Manager has taken over in Milwaukee, and that lucky guy is bison8, who has a lot of work to do. The Major League squad has some solid bats, but the pitching is thin. There is some talent in the minors, but the minor league pitching is years away. Some position players could be ready soon, but this is a rebuilding project if there ever was one.
Andy Rowe is the star of the offense. The veteran first baseman can still hit, and he will definitely produce. He will need to. Rowe is in the last year of his contract and there is the definite possibility he will be traded by the trade deadline as Milwaukee concentrates on its rebuilding. The now and future star of the offense is Aaron Holliday. Holliday showed last season what he can do, and it should just be the beginning. Another bright spot is centerfielder Robert Jefferson, an all star and gold glover in Season 1. Another solid bat is catcher Henry Shuey, but unfortunately Shuey is well below average behind the plate. This offense will score some runs, but may struggle against front-line starters.
Here is what you do not want to see from your pitchers: BB, BB, BB, BB, BB, BB, BB, BB…… Unfortunately, that is exactly what many of the Brewers pitchers are going to give you. Gerald Dunn has good stuff, but he has shown he will walk the ballpark. Joel Parrott has less good stuff, and also has control issues. Bernie Canseco appears to be a potential bright spot in the rotation. He improved from Season 1 to Season 2. That improvement needs to continue, as Milwaukee needs some sort of stabilizing factor in the rotation.
One potential future starter is Davey Hernandez. He is currently slated to be in long relief, but a move to the rotation is likely this season or next. He may have some growing pains, but he appears to have star potential.
Edgar Lira, the closer, is the star of the short relievers. His statistics were not stellar last season, but he has good stuff and provides needed veteran leadership. Based on the current situation in Milwaukee, Lira, like Rowe, is a prime candidate to be traded by the trade deadline.
The control problems of the Milwaukee starters will prevent any movement from the NL North cellar this season. Further, the relief corps is below average. The Milwaukee offense is adequate, but it is not of a level to make up for the team’s pitching deficiencies. Rebuilding is a priority. New General Manager bison8 has some work to do, but at least the owners know he will be earning his money. If anything, he should have some fun with it.