Monday, November 14, 2016

Season 36 NL South Preview

Houston Astros
Season 35:  98-64, won Division, advanced to NLCS, lost WS in 7 to Boston
GM:  steelforge

Offseason:  lost RF Dennis Smith (.282/18/74) and 3B Walker Cather (.260/19/57) in FA - significant but manageable.

Trades:  the big one was SP Alex Martin (9-10. 4.53 ERA in 143 IP) and SS Francisco Lopez (.237/7/32) to Seattle for slugging IF Jason Bravo (.252/44/95) and OF Gerald Crane (.280/33/101)...A+ for the Astros and Martin will be much better in Seattle. Also moved C Jake Treanor (.215/6/12) to St. Louis for closer Troy Griffith (4-4, 3.63 in 72 IP); 1B/OF Vin Almonte (.221/12/31) and rubber-armed RP Mitch Mirabelli (11-4, 2.50 ERA in 176 IP) to Montreal for yet another power bat in Danny Barr (.267/23/55); and a couple of minor-leaguers to Toronto for CF Bruce Smith (.240/15/60).

To top off the overhaul they signed FA 2B Bill Matthews (.273/2/30),  SP Jim Colin (11-9, 3.44 in 211 IP),  and RP's Jamie Aldridge (3-5, 4.40 in 61 IP) and Len Connelly (3-5, 3.23 in 47 IP).

 Houston was below the league average in both runs (632 - 8th) and homers (169 - 9th)...the additions of Bravo, Barr and Crane should remedy that.  The league leading (3.06 ERA) pitching staff will only be better with the addition of Colin, Aldridge, Griffin and Connelly.  It looks like they're going with a 4-man rotation, but they'll have plenty of innings available: they have no less than 5 relievers with 30_ stamina.

This is going to be a very tough team to score on and their great pitching will get better run support.

Atlanta Braves
Season 35: 95-67, Wild Card, lost in 1st Round to Colorado
GM: majnun

Offseason:   Lost FA's SP Paxton Buhner(17-12, 3.54 in 224 IP) and RP Ray Ferrell (18 saves, 3.04 in 56 IP).  Signed OF Yuniesky Nunez (.227/5/23) and SP Deleanor Morehead (9-11, 4.80 in 168 IP).

Trades:  Moved SP John Hubbard (11-10, 4.59 in 153 IP) to Seattle for a pair of minor-leaguers; sent power-hitting IF Richard Mohr (.224/31/64) to KC for OF Vin Alexander (.248/7/46); and gave up on trying to fit DH's into an NL Lineup (Rudy House and Kendry Fernandez to Cleveland).

Outlook:  The Braves' offseason moves had a distinct "addition by subtraction" feel: Mohr has been a great player for them but he's at the stage where his power, range and arm strength are about to nose dive.  Likewise the dump of the 2 DH's - with scoring as low as it is in this world it's hard to risk having DH's boot away runs on an NL roster.  

Atlanta returns one of the NL's top offenses - it's a long ball-belting lineup (263 HR's, tops in NL) led by 1B Nick Hogan (.298/45/106), C Brad Leach (.265/40/105) and still-electrifying RF Freddie Lanning (.269/30/111, 38 SB).  Glenn Hewson comes in from CF to replace Mohr - even though he's not a power guy he OPS'd .759 to Mohr's .763 and will be a defensive upgrade.  Addition by subtraction.

The staff was 3rd in the league with a 3.33 ERA last year and features perhaps the league's best big-innings middle reliever in Wayne Counsel.  He threw 165 innings and posted 4 wins, 18 saves  and a 2.02 while setting a new career best with a 0.93 WHIP. The big question is whether they can replace Buhner and Hubbard - imho, Buhner had over-achieved and Hubbard was disappointing.  So I'm on board with the subtraction plan.  Season 30 IFA Donaldo Uribe looks risky but gets a crack at one of the open starter spots.  Morehead probably gets the first shot at the other and he will test the pitches vs. splits debate.

The Braves made some gutsy moves, especially in the face of Houston's big remake...we'll see if subtraction wins. 

St. Louis Cardinals
Season 35:  78-84
GM:  jclarkbaker

Offseason:  Lost FA OF Yuuta Abe (.243/11/53).  Released C Chris Richardson (.211/8/28), OF Tori Rose (.245/0/13), and RP Bronson Mouton (1-1, 4.56 ERA in 47 IP).

Signed this year's top (or at least most expensive) free agent, Julio Nunez.

Outlook:  The Cards were 4th in ERA last year and 15th in runs, so the signing of Nunez was a big deal. He'll be a big boost to their 14th-ranked OBP (.299), and his power stroke is likely to recover to the 25-35 HR range.

Regardless of Nunez' output, this team will live or die on its pitching.  Season 30 #14 Esteban Mateo has established himself as a legit ace with 29 wins in his first 2 seasons, and vets like Dick Pederson (13-6, 3.66) are still going strong.

Here's more from GM jclarkbaker:

"Last year our pitching was great, our offense stunk. So I signed Julio Nunez (RF) and traded for Jake Treanor (C) .  Will be bringing up Maicer Cedeno (2B) , Larry Clark (RF) , Ross Cook (P) , and Alen Johnson (P). I’m thinking our pitching stays the same or even improves, and we score more runs. Simple, right?

Florida Marlins
Season 35:  66-96
GM: cyben5150

Outlook:  For this one we got an extensive preview from the owner, so take it away, cyben:

"My starting line up for my first six ST games is my initial take on the regular-season starting line up minus platoons. I will probably have some form of three man platoon at CF/2B between Priddy, Bazardo, and Felipe Padilla (SS) and at least one platoon for 1B/COF.

'For pitchers, Sammy OlivoGil Oberg, and Harry Kramer are my current candidates to round out my rotation. Those three plus the four implied promotions of positional players and possible call up of Butch Evans puts me at 28; will figure out the cuts when my hand is forced. 

'This offseason was about attempting to get better while getting younger. Pitching wise, I sent 80% of my rotation packing (not how I would like expiring contracts and arb years to align, but that's life). In essence I am banking on the production of Amaro (36 years old), Olmeda (36), Reed (31), and Cashman (30), being roughly equaled by Kramer (22), Oberg (21), Olivo (21), and FA pick-up Urbina (33) or some other as yet undetermined permutation. 

'The three young guys will struggle some I'm sure but offer much better long term potential and it isn't inconceivable that they outperform them this season. 

'On the offensive side of the ball, my relevant losses were Clark, Abreu, and Pederson. I will admit, I was somewhat banking on someone sleeping in player protection for Rule V and getting a solid ML bat that way, but we did a good job as a league this year. In hindsight, I think letting Abreu go may have been a mistake, but with three guys vying for time at 2B/CF already someone was going to be the odd man out; should have held him another year and reassessed next season. 

'In hindsight, I also underestimated Clark; I had been viewing his performance in the broader context of my HBD experience rather than within this world's specific offensive trends. Regardless, I've got about six guys vying for time at 1B and COF spots with Mullen the only guy I'm sold on so far (possible platoon for at least one of the other spots). 

'There is some potential here though; the starting line up has five guys with eye ratings over 80 and the lowest of the starting eight is 63; we should be able to work counts, wear down pitchers, and draw walks. There are two guys with 90+ power and two more with 80+ power. If I can get better than 100 HR combined from these guys and draw walks at a decent clip I should be able to score some runs, though our strikeouts and batting average will be pretty bad. 

'Regardless, "draw walks, hit homers" is a step towards an offensive identity which is more than this team has had over the past few years. Check back at the end of the year though; with a projected 40% or so of my 25 man being made up of rookies either this will be a team that outperforms expectations and has a young core upon which I can build or this may top my earlier response of failed HBD strategies: Youth Gone Wrong."

Division Outlook:

I love Houston's off-season moves and it's hard to see anyone knocking them off.  Atlanta will be an interesting team to watch...they have to be favored to take a wild card but nothing is assured in the tough NL.  The Cardinals will no doubt improve but by how much.  And it's just a matter of time before Florida starts contending.  One of our more fun divisions.

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