Sunday, May 14, 2017

Season 38 Preview: NL South

Season 37 Recap
St. Louis came out on top after a hard-fought season, but fell to the Reds in the Division Round. Atlanta won 93 games but for the second year running found itself out of the playoffs.  After a magnificent 14-year run, Houston finally got old and dropped to 80 wins.  And Florida continued building up its farm system with the additions of Jose Infante (IFA, $12MM) and Clayton Craig (#14 in last year's draft).

Season 38 Preview

The Cardinals win with pitching.  Yes, they have their stars - Esteban Mateo (18-11, 2.60) is the ace and Henderson Cross (7 wins, 1 save, 2.32) is the all-purpose reliever.  But they're also very good at not having anyone blow up - 11 pitchers who threw more than 40 innings last year came in with ERA's under 4. That lets them win 98 with a league-average offense, where Julio Nunez (.290/30/99) is certainly earning his Season 36 free-agent deal.  

Stinging from missing the playoffs in 92 and 93-win seasons, the Braves made a huge splash in the offseason.  They won the Espinosa sweepstakes, of course, but also traded disappointing OF J.B Hunter for promising young 3B Arismendy Johnson (Season 35 IFA, $28.7MM), and then replaced Hunter with Orlando Figueroa for a 4A outfielder and a non-prospect pitcher.  I'd certainly expect at least 95 wins from this team.

With 13 trades, 6 free-agent signings, a couple of waiver claims and 1 Rule 5 pickup, the Astros have morphed from an aging, high-payroll squad to a defense-first, moderate-payroll team in one off-season.  I'm sure they'd like to have much more speed (see Twins, Diamondbacks), but they do have 1 track star (and an immediate favorite for a Gold Glove) in 2B Ken Saunders.  As with all defense-oriented efforts, the big question will be whether they can put up enough runs...RF Alex Field is the only proven run-producer.

Florida has patiently stuck to a youth movement for the entire 5 seasons of the cyben era, and it's close to paying off big.  The current ML squad (with a payroll of only $38MM by the way) will probably get above .500, and the best talent is still in the minors (Sea 35 #4 Donzell Roberts, Sea 36 #46 Rene Bierbrodt, Infante, Sea 36 #2 Tanner Rogers, and Craig.  In another season or 2, there's going to be a new power in the NL.

I like the Braves to regain supremacy in the South. The Cards will be close, and I expect them to be locked all season in a wild-card tussle with 2 NL East teams.  I think it comes down to the last day of the season, with the Nats topping St. Louis for the 2nd Wild Card.

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