The defending champs have started strong, is there a repeat in their future?
This new owner added a few free agents (Emil Alomar) to go with an already dominant closer (Glen Hill) to currently place them 2nd (behind St Louis) in runs allowed in the NL. Will the pitching hold up? Will the bats produce enough in a tough top 3 division (Salem is abandoned).
Their string of 9 straight playoff appearances should be extended to 10 when its all said and done.
The Schnicks are in first despite some injury problems to 2-time Cy Young winner Cody Percival. Percival returns from the DL soon so expect the Schnicks to open up a bigger lead with Atlanta selling off parts.
Free Agent addition Bonk Matthews has been a nice addition to the rotation. Can he make it last over the entire season?
The Two's are looking up at 2 good teams within their own division, which normally makes the playoffs tough, but they still have Salem in the division to whip up on. With their solid staff, good defense, and balanced offense they have a legitimate shot at the playoffs even if no one else in the division falters.
Their expected win % says they are a better team then they show, so expect an improvement over the rest of the season, made easier by the return of some bodies on the DL.
As terrific as their pitching staff has been (currently given up the fewest runs in the NL), the offense has been just as bad. Only one player is having year above their norm (Carlos Azocar), so their is plenty of room for improvement from the rest of the lineup. They are only a game and a half back so if they can stick close and go out and get a big bat they could be formidable.
The return of an old owner has the team right back where they were before he left, middle of the road. Still the defense is improved and the offense is hitting homeruns. The real key is the pitching.
Another interesting note is that they are relying heavily on 5 rookies ( Ramirez, Grant, Lee, Mlicki, Rosa) and another just got called up to serve as a utility player (Coleridge). They also just made a trade to help stabilize their pen by bringing in former Cy Young winner Junior Chen who had an injury last season.
The offense is led by Albert Ponson. Paul Huang is the #1 starter but is not living up to that billing. #'s 2-4 are solid, if not spectacular, and former #5 (J.T. Bell) has been sent to long reliever duty. Thats actually a good thing due to his first few starts.
They have a powerful offense, led by Placido Benitez, but their pitching has given up the 2nd most runs in the NL. I expect the staff to improve as the season moves on.
Middle of the road team could be dangerous if they can have the whole team put it together at the same time. Their offense needs to step up more so then the pitching.
In a brutal division, they may prove to be better then the early season record shows.
They would've been higher due to their history, but with the selling off of parts they've fallen down here. Don't be fooled into thinking they'll be down long, the trades they've made will have them challenging soon enough.
Under new ownership, so time must be given to let them assemble the team their way. Keep in mind however, this franchise won the division the previous 2 years.
Hopefully someone can get in there and get this abandoned train back on track.