Friday, February 12, 2016

Season 33 NL South Preview

The Astros retool...Braves make a bold move...Cardinals re-sign their own...Marlins look for a fast rebuild

Houston Astros
Season 32:  106-56
GM:  steelforge

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses: Unbelievably, the team that came within 2 games in last year's WS of winning 5 titles in 6 years has its 3rd owner in as many seasons.  Excellent, (793 runs, 2nd) power-hitting (229 HR's - 2nd) offense and dominant staff led by future HOF'er Tony Moya.  OF the 13 pitchers who threw significant #'s of innings, only 1 had an ERA over 3.86.  Defensively, they topped the NL with a .990 fielding percentage and had 76 "+" plays to 24 "-" plays. Really had no weaknesses last year.

Addressed In Offseason:  The Astros probably had more free agents - or the most significant free agents - to contend with than any team.  The ultimately lost RF Eddie Hamels and SP Midre Espinosa but re-signed SP Garret Ward and RP's Tony Blanco and David Garces.  They did a lot of bullpen retooling in FA, the biggest move being the signing of rubber-armed Miguel Valdez.  Stefan Palmeiro moves from 1B to CF (and becomes an instant Silver Slugger candidate), FA Nathan Huff takes over 1B, and Pascual Lecuona inherits RF.  For all the scrambling to keep and replace free agents, I can't see them falling off much if any,

Atlanta Braves
Season 32: 87-75
GM: majnun

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses:  Allowed a paltry 551 runs thanks to excellent team D (.986 fielding %, 84/18 +/-) and a deep (nobody had 200 IP - reliever Wayne Counsell led with 181), talented (nobody an an ERA over 4.18) pitching staff.  Despite some excellent individual seasons (C Leach, 1B Hogan, 2B James, LF Hunter), they only scored 631 runs (11th).  Need more production from 3B and RF.

Addressed In Offseason:  from GM majnun: The Braves led the NL in pitching last year with a combination of talent, devil magic, and a masterful use of the bullpen. I worried about our ability to replicate this, so the defense has been upgraded, a trio of frontloaded platoonable vets was added to help the defense, and of course big money was splurged on Lanning for offense. It might take some time for me to get my bullpen and low stamina staff running smoothly, but I have high hopes for the season. The goal is a World Series victory and nothing less.

St. Louis Cardinals
Season 32:  81-81
GM:  jclarkbaker

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses:  580 runs allowed was 3rd-best in the NL.  They have mostly their pitching to thank - good seasons all around (worst ERA on the team was 3.94), but RP Tony Tabaka (7-2, 2.06), SP Dick Pederson (14-4, 2.59), SP Daniel Jeffries (13-11, 2.76) and Fireman of the Year Sadie Stephenson (50 saves) stood out.  A better-than-average defense helped - .984 fielding % and 58/28 +/-.  The offense sputtered all year, ending with 549 runs (15th) and a league-worst .290 OBP.  They got an excellent .265/47/112 season from LF Jack Hodges, but little else.

Addressed In Offseason:  from GM jclarkbaker:  So, my offense sucked last year, but I still almost made the playoffs, 'cause i had pretty solid pitching. My pitching staff is essentially the same. I'm trying to get a handle on my team since picking them up, particularly salary. I didn't really see any offensive guys I wanted to fight for, so instead of fighting and spending $ on FAs, I used $ for bonuses in resigning Stephenson, Pedersen and Jefferies. I brought up Sims (Sea 27 #30) to play 3B and Marquez (Sea 28 #23) to play CF - moving Nova to SS. I think my offense underperformed last year - not saying it should have been leaps and bounds better, but should have been a bit better. I'm hoping my pitching stays the same and my offense performs a bit better and I can sneak into the WC.  And used some $ to sign ML pitching + hitting coach (missed out on the fielding coach).

Florida Marlins
Season 32:  68-94
GM: cyben5150

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses:  It wasn't that long ago that this franchise reeled off 4 straight 100-win seasons, but it was a far cry talent-wise from last season's edition.  That squad showed neither power (158 HR's - 15th) nor speed (53 SB, 42 CS), although they did work a 6th-best 502 walks.  The offense is not without building blocks - C Yorvit Beltre hit .288 with 27 HR's and 3B Magglio Espinosa banged out 185 hits, but otherwise the offense needs an overhaul.  The pitching fared a bit better was was far from contending status.  Anibal Olmeda (8-8, 3.53) and Ed Reed (9-15, 3.85) kept some games close but did a lot of bullpen-cursing.  On the plus side, their payroll is low and they have managed to land some decent prospects via the draft and International free agency the last 2 seasons.

Addressed In Offseason: from GM cyben5150:  this was a bad old team last season and it is a bad old team this season. Sadly, this team appears to have had a lack of direction in building a farm system. I am all for drafting BPA, but in 13 1st round and comp picks over the past 5 drafts the Marlins have selected 10 pitchers, 2 catchers, and 1 DH. This has left a farm system flush with relievers and guys without a position on an NL team and no real future core around which to build. Combine this with an ML club that could use upgrades to every position other than 3B and C and we're going to be in for a long few seasons. Season 1 goal is 69 wins. My personal worst season (not counting midseason takeovers) was 69 wins and I do not want to set a new personal record. Looking forward my goal is to improve upon the previous season's win total leading up to an eventual playoff performance. Good luck projecting this team; I run it and I still have 2-3 spots on my 25 man completely up for grabs. As always in this situation my roster will be very fluid and I'll be looking for value in the Rule V and on the waiver wire. Bottom line....I think I stepped into a situation much more dire than I had anticipated.

Division Outlook:

This could be one of our better races and will certainly be one of our better divisions...the South could easily produce 2 playoff teams and has a fair shot at 3.  The Braves, Cards and Astros were 1-2-3 in NL ERA last year and will no doubt be top staffs again.  Houston has been so dominant here for so long (7 straight Division Crowns), it's hard to think about someone challenging them.  But the Braves have perked up their offense enough to do it. Ultimately, I see the Astros holding on and topping the Braves in a close race.  Atlanta looks like a wild card lock and with their pitching, the Cards could well contend.  We'll trust cyben's prediciton of 69 wins in the first year of Florida's grand plan.

Awards Watch

Houston's Alex Field has 3 MVP's and hasn't lost a step, so he's an automatic contender. Tony Moya has 4 CY's and has 4, maybe 5 more years to pick up more.  Atlanta's Philip O'Toole could win a CY...and Wayne Counsel has probably the best arm in the NL.  If he were used more in middle relief and threw 180 innings again, he might pick up 25 wins and...???  Lanning has had pieces of an MVP season in many of his 8 years: .375 OBP in Sea 30, 42 doubles in Sea 28, 10+ triples 3 times, 50+ SB's 5 times, 121 RBI last year.  But he's never put it all into one season.  Let's say he hits .310 with 40 HR's, 40 doubles, 10 triples, 125 RBI and 60 SB's...could anyone top that?  The Cardinals' best shot at a major award probably comes in the CY with Dick Pederson or Daniel Jeffries, although I wouldn't count 3B Ronald Sims out of the ROY.

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