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NL West Season 7 Preview

St. Louis Archers
Season 6: Division Champs, 93-69

Season six was the Archers best to date after claiming the division flag and playing in the National League Championship series, yet there are brighter seasons ahead for fans in the Gateway City. 26 year-old centerfielder Hong-Gu Hyun, brought over from Japan for a hefty 14M signing bonus, made his ML debut last season with a modest first line of .328/.429/.658, 41hr, 142rbi, 14sb, and NL Rookie of the Year, as well as the NL's CF Silver Slugger award. Partnering with Hyun in the outfield is 23 year-old speedster Melvin Martin, who, in his first two seasons, has averaged .328, 17hr, 105rbi, and 50 stolen bases. Martin was an All-Star selection last year, and he and Hyun probably form the most lethal 2/3 of an outfield in the NL, not to mention that they're both earning minimum wage for the next couple seasons.

There's more: 2B Rudy Carver is an All-Star, Gold Glove, and can do everything offensively. 23 year-old pitcher Ted Davis won 17 games and made the All-Star team in his rookie campaign, and might have won ROY if not for his teammate in CF. Closer David Wanatabe is only 26 and money in close contests, as evidenced by his nailing 74 out of 80 saves over the last two seasons. In fact, the geezer of this club is 34 year-old Willis Donovan, who proved of great value as a mid-season free agent swingman.

The Archers' one glaring concern is their starting rotation depth. After Davis, they have a host of solid, but inconsistent arms, #4-type guys. Howard Kapler and Ralph Cosby promise to bolster the rotation in the next season or two, but aren't ready yet. Nonetheless, the Archers have the sticks and energy to make a mess of many NL pitching staffs and play many important games late in the season.

Prediction: 97 wins, NL West Champs.

Anaheim Anteaters
Season 6: 90-72, NL Wildcard/NL Champs

After three division titles in five seasons in Portland, management pulled up stakes and moved to sunny Southern California for season 6, where the newly named Anteaters started out of the gate very slowly, losing 17 of their first 22 contests. But they turned things around and ended up losing the World Series to the Montreal Royales. One of the key figures in the turnaround was the steady maturation of SP Charles Jones, who went on to win 16 games with a 3.23 era in his second full season.

Anaheim's lineup is peppered with youngsters. In fact, only three players are over 28: All-World 1B Kip White is 33 and just inked a 4-year contract extension. 37 year-old back-up catcher Mariano Tatis provides veteran wisdom for the young pitchers, and newly acquired 3B Julio Iglesias is just 29, despite having played in 5 mid-season classics, and sporting three Silver Slugger trophies and one Golden Glove on his mantle.

Anaheim's rotation appears solid after Jones. Bonus baby Patrick Spencer is finally developing the consistency to become a rotation anchor. Veteran Jacob Foster is one of Capra's career leaders in SP era after putting up another line with 16 wins and a 3.73 era. Alan Dorsey hasn't reclaimed his rookie season glory of winning 19 games, but continues to be a capable #3 starter after his third season of 14 wins or more. If the bullpen and volatile Nerio Miller can hold up, they will be neck and neck with St. Louis all season long.

Prediction: 94 wins, NL Wildcard.

Boise Idaho Tater's
Season 6: 73-89, 3rd place

Two seasons ago the Taters went to the post-season as division champs, but have otherwise had a frustrating run in the NL West despite their owner's willingness to open his pocketbook year in and year out. And although All-Star slugging shortstop Geronimo Ordaz cashed in his free agent chips for 85M in Sin City, season 7 looks to be much of the same for the Spuds after having dropped a total of 80million to sign seven free agents(Alex Alomar, Pete Martin, Abraham Rogers, Vic Mateo, Tim Spoljaric, Albert Garza, Scott Stokes), plus another 5M in salary by dealing for slugging catcher Craig Phelps.

What will all this money get the Idaho fans? Well, if chicks dig the long ball then the women in Boise will be happy with all the high scoring games at Memorial Stadium because these potatoes can mash. In particular, Phelps, slugging RF Alberto Sosa, 24 year-old 1B Taylor Mayne, power-hitting 3B Alex Alomar, and all-around 2B Pete Martin promise to send many pitchers to early showers.

However, the Taters pitching staff will find themselves on the wrong side of many 9-8 losses. Albert Garza, Omar Johnson, Gary Kroeger, Jose Lira, Scott Stokes, and Harold Woolf all fit nicely in the latter end of a big league rotation, but there are no horses who can consistently put up quality innings. As a result, the bullpen will be taxed early and regularly, and when the Boise women aren't watching balls leave the yard, they will be waiting for new pitchers to come in from the bullpen.

Prediction: 72 wins, Third Place.

Vancouver Maintaineers
Season 6: 72-90, Fourth Place

The Maintaineers have been one of Capra's most consistent teams from the outset. Their team salary, player personnel, and final results are eerily similar from season to season. Not surprisingly, the season 7 incarnation of the Canucks looks much like the Season 6 and Season 5 teams, and the final standings will likely sing a familar tune.

The exciting slot in the Great White North belongs to LF and 22 year-old Stan Lee, who debuted last season by hitting .316/.380/.604, 33hr/112rbi. Lee also has blazing speed(100), but has yet to be set free on the basepaths. Last season's ROY might have been his last season if not for all-world division mate Hong-Gu Hyun. Elsewhere, Gold Glove C Felipe Rodriguez should rebound from his worst offensive campaign at the ripe age of 30. RF stud Garrett Stewart blossomed last season by hitting .327/.394/.555 and is entering his age 27 season. Alexander Henry will again rake while cleaning up the 1B area. All-Star/Gold Glove 3B Ringo Hubbard has begun the steady decline at 34, and may soon be supplanted by 22 year-old Willie Soto.

But, much like their rivals in Idaho, the pitching staff will not be able to keep pace with the offense. Japanese born James Saitou is just 26, has already pitched in 190 big league games, and has #1 starter potential, but has had trouble fully developing his abilities. Perhaps this will be the season. Veteran Jim Robertson is coming off his best season, but has never logged 200 innings and at 34 can't be expected to carry this staff. It remains to be seen if 24-year old Victor Julio can develop into a #3 starter. The pitching filler beyond those three is probably not enough to get to closer Al Howard for many opportunities.

Prediction: 72 wins, Third Place.


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