Well, it's that time of year again, the time when the weather warms up, robins return and the grass starts to green, which means the Boys of Summer start training in Florida and Arizona. And that means I examine each team, their respective rosters and preview each team's chance of going to the Fall Classic. We'll start off, as usual, with the Inferior Circuit and save the Superior League for later in the week.
Out on the Left Coast, the SF Midgets are still old, with all but one position player over 30. The only player of any note signed was CF Aaron Rowland, who could move to left. The staff, led by Barron von Zito, younsters Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, could keep them in games, but the relief corps is shaky. Hard throwing youngster, Brian Wilson (not the Beach Boy) is slated for the closer spot. The Midgets swung skinny sticks last year hitting .254 and only scoring 683 runs, and don't look to improve that much with the departure of you-know-who.
Moving south to the team formerly from Brooklyn, the staff is pretty well set with Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda, top young gun Chad Billingsley and retread Estoban Loaiza filling out the rotation, and former ace Jason Schmidt waiting in the wings coming off injury. The pen is deep, with Takashai Sato and Jonathan Broxton both capable of shutting down the ninth and vets Rudy Saenz and Scott Proctor on staff. The Boys in Blue made one significant pickup, CF Andruw Jones, in the off season, who should provide both power and dazzling defense. LF (moved from CF for Jones) Juan Pierre and SS Raffy Furcal can both burn up the base paths, and old school 2B Jeff Kent provides some pop. Both 3B Nomar Garciaparra and Adam Larouche start the season injured, leaving young utility man Tony Abreu to man the spot until Nomah returns.
Moving even further south, the SD Priests enjoyed a very successful season last year, but failed in their one game playoff against the Stones for the wildcard. The Spiritual Ones will once again be led in the rotation by staff Pope Jake Peavy, lanky punchout artist Chris Young, the ever youthful Dalai Lama of control, Greg Maddux, and newcomer Randy Wolf, and some kid named Prior if he ever gets healthy. The ageless wonder with the terrific changeup (and career saves leader) Trevor Hoffman closes, and protogee Heath Bell sets up. Uber studs 1B Adrian Gonzalez and SS Khalil Green lead with the sticks, and 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff is developing nicely. Highlight reel CF Jim Edmonds arrives wiht his glove from St. Louis as well, and hopes to bounce back with the wood as well. No burners on the squad, RF Brian Giles is figured to leadoff.
While the Snakes won the West last year, the Stones made the Series out of the Wild Card. Hence, the team made a major move, landing AL All-Star game starter Dan Haren from Oakland. The staff should be solid, with former Cy winners Brandon Webb, the Unit, Haren, Doug Davis and young Mich Owings providing the innings and now healthy Brandon Lyon doing the closing. While the Snakes lack power, the are heavy with contact hitters, and CF Chris Young and LF Eric Byrnes can both fly and a savvy about swiping bags. 1B Connor Jackson and 3B Mark Reynolds provide some pop, and both 2B Orlando Hudson and up and coming SS Stephen Drew can both deal the wood and flash the glove. C Chris Snyder calls a good game and flashes some timely wood as well.
The Stones made a historic march to the Series only to fall very abruptly down a cliff and hit all the sharp pointy rocks in facing the Evil Oysters. The rotation set a franchise record with a 4.23 ERA last year and this year is even DEEPER - led by 17 game winner (a franchise record) Jeff Francis. Homegrown talents Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales fill out the rotation, along with former Tigger Mark Redman, and Kip Wells waiting in the wings and Jason Hirsch coming off injury. Manny Corpas returns to close, with former closer Brian Fuentes setting up and picking up an occaisonal ninth inning appearance. The boys can deal the lumber as well, with MVP LF matt Halliday, SS Troy Tulowitski, RF Brian Hawpe, 3B Garret Atkins and 1B Todd Helton all swinging good sticks and lead off man CF Willy Taveras can burn.
I see the division coming down to the Snakes and the Stones but expect the Priests and Team Brooklyn to have an extensive say about how things shake out. The Midgets have a nice shiny new ballpark and some good arms but can't compete. This is one of baseball's best and most competitive divisions, and could wind up being decided in the waning days of the season, and by who can stay healthy all year long. The Stones want to show they belong and that last year wasn't a fluke. The Snakes are probably the team to beat, however, particularly if Unit stays functional all season. the wildcard is pretty likely to come out of this division again.