Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Season 4 NL South Preview

By akgsports

Are we all just living in Dee Dee Hutton’s world? sparrow31 would have us all believe that, and we’ll all soon find out.

Offensively, the Braves’ lineup will change very little, expect of course for one major addition, Dee Dee Hutton. Much is expected of Hutton, and he will need a great season just to improve on departed 1B Ralph Owens’ numbers from last year. sparrow31 is banking that his potential alone will be enough to turn around last season’s 9th highest scoring NL team. The rest of the lineup remains largely intact, so any other offensive improvement will need to come from improvement of the existing cast. A turnaround season from LF Dan Guerrero could boost production. He led the Braves with 44 HRs and 116 RBIs, but his .244 average was 30 points off previous seasons. Slugging RF Eric Roosevelt hit 35 HRs and a .885 OPS in his first full season but is 24 years young, and his numbers may improve.

Even if Dee Dee lives up to hype, he can’t repair the pitching staff. Thankfully of all the NL South combatants, the Braves were the most aggressive and busy this offseason, in hopes of improving the NL’s 3rd worst pitching staff last season. To start, management replaced 3/5 of the starting rotation. Gone are Daniel Burns, whose 4.45 pedestrian ERA led the starting staff, Lonny Saenz, and Louie Wayne. Welcome Tris Breen, Rafael Cortes, and superstar Ramiro Diaz. In addition, Victor Silva and Alejandro Vazquez will be expected to improve on last season’s solid seasons.

Even with Hutton’s addition, the offensive will likely remain average. Hutton could boost Atlanta into the top 6 in NL offense, but it is hard to imagine that he could by himself bridge the nearly 100 run gap that existed last season between Atlanta and the NL’s top 5 offenses. With then a likely average offense, the key to improvement will lie with the pitching staff. Much then is expected of the three import starters. Their additions should propel the Braves to at least an average NL ERA.

PREDICTION 83-79, 1st place

Last season’s surprising championship run was keyed by the NL’s 2nd best pitching staff. However under new manangement, three of last season’s starters are gone. This may be a season in transition.

The Marlins boasted a solid .741 team OPS, yet only managed a paltry 721 runs. As the lineup returns intact, improvement here must also be internal. Thankfully Florida boasts two up-and-comers in Doug Stewart and Nerio Arnold who combined for only 660 ABs last season. Presumably larger roles this seasons should improve the offense. Twenty year old Doug Stewart is especially intriguing as scouts has rated him potentially a 97 overall on a 100 point scale.

Gone are Homer Flanagan, Alex Kubinski, and Eugene Hardy, replaced by Jackson Parker, Louis Donahue, Furio Ferrell, and Ignacio Pena. It is difficult to imagine these four new additions matching their predecessors, so much is expected of returning starters Frank Montgomery and Kevin Yamaguchi. Montgomery was outstanding with a 3.56 ERA last season. Super prospect Yamaguchi however struggled in his debut and finished his season 1-10. Much is expected from him, if the Marlins are to stay competitive. At least the bullpen appears to be strong where long reliever Victor Lima and closer Carlos Solano return.

While new management was conservative and did not add to the offense, offense improvement is expected. The pitching will certainly worsen, the question is by how much. It is hard to imagine that the Marlins can easily replace departing starters who last seasons combined for 660 IPs with an approximate 3.50 ERA. If the 3 new starters combine for a 5.00 ERA, the team’s ERA would expect to balloon to close to 4.90, placing the Marlins in the bottom 5 of the NL.

FORECAST 70-92, 4th place

Last season Houston’s pitching staff put up a 5.00 ERA, so there is much room for improvement. However after some key offseason defections, it is likely the Astros will still be looking to out hit opponents.

The Astros played small ball last season and finished with the NL’s 6th best offense. Houston hit only 166 team HRs, but instead they stole 160 bases and walks over 600 times. This season Houston replaces speedsters Geraldo Siqueros, Cal Melusky, and David Tartabull with power from Robinson Turner and prospect Gil Lowe. Only 3 players hit 25 or more HRs last season so the Astros are desperate for additional muscle.

The Astros posted the NL’s 2nd worst ERA last season, and improvement will be difficult with the loss of 3 of the team’s top 4 ERA leaders last season. Gone are Jorge Guapo, Michael Perez, and Cliff Kaline. Much then is expected from returning Del Peron and Benji Vazquez. Vazquez surprised last season with a team leading 3.28 ERA after coming from the A’s where he had lost 22 games the season previous. A repeat season from Vazquez will be critical if Houston is to move up the standings. Additions Roland Carey and Daniel Burns will also be counted on heavily.

The losses of Guapo and Perez will definitely hurt. And if Vazquez fails to match his previous season’s numbers, the Astros’ ERA may fall still. Daniel Burns and Roland Carey are talented, so their arrivals are much needed. But they are being counted on producing sub-4.00 ERAs. The offense will be better, but it looks like more of the same, at least for this season, in Houston.

PREDICTION 72-90, 3rd place

The Cardinals last season combined below average hitting with below average pitching to finish 10 games under .500, but they did hit 220 HRs to suggest a potentially potent offense.

1B Dee Bolling and RF Chad Seabol are the backbone of the offense, having combined for 291 HRs in the last 3 seasons. Prospect Santiago Molina matches them with powerpotential but struggles against RHP have prevented him from quite reaching their level. Still he has the potential to deliver 40+ HRs, which would be a boost to the Cardinals offense. The rest of lineup largely returns so improvement will have to come from within the organization.

The Cardinals staff is not lacking for stars as Pedro Cabrera converted 45 of 48 save opportunities last season and Miguel Padilla appears to be blossoming into one of the NL top young pitchers. The entire starting staff returns, and with Jordan Barrett and Lou Pearce posting the highest ERAs of the starters at respectable 4.91 and 5.04, respectively, the SPs appear to be solid. Middle relief appears to the staff’s Achilles heal as only Enrique DeJesus posted an ERA of better than 4.35.

Despite boasting two of the league’s top young power hitters, the Cardinals haven’t won more than 76 games in the last three seasons. With no additions to the ML roster, the last season’s Cardinals must play better this season to contend. With questions surrounding the Marlins, an improvement of only a few games could land the Cardinals in the postseason. But there is no reason to think that with no significant additions, that the Cardinals will be anything different than the 71-76 win team they’ve been the last 3 years.

PREDICTION 76-86, 2nd place

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