S3 AL North Preview
AL North was a tough division last year as they managed to get 3 teams into the playoffs with the Trenton Scarlet Knights taking the #1 seed and the New York Red Storm and Cincinnati Bearcats grabbing the two wildcard spots. It was a tight race for the #1 seed and for the last wildcard spot down the stretch last season, will they all be able to repeat in season 3?
Trenton Scarlet Knights
S2: 97-65 (#1 AL seed, Won AL North by 7 games)
Trenton went with the "why mess up a good thing" approach this offseason, making a few moves but keeping the majority of their roster intact. When you finish 4th in team era and tied for 2nd in fielding percentage, you really don't have to make many changes. Brandon Maroth got the call up to help provide a spark in the offensive next to Ron Fitzgerald and Reese Waterson. Fitzgerald will be trying to make it three seasons in a row of hitting 30+ homeruns and 100+ RBI's. Shane Prince was brought into the club through free agency where he'll join the starting rotation that also includes Ken Nix and Yuniesky Tatis, a very strong 1-2 combo.
While Maroth should add some power into the lineup, the offense didn't get much help in the offseason to improve much, especially in the AL. However with the pitching that the Scarlet Knights can put on the mound, along with the solid defense, this is still a powerful club that made it to the ALCS last year getting beat by the current World Series Champs. Look for the Knights to be back in the playoffs again this season.
New York Red Storm
S2: 90-72 (#2 in the AL North, 1st Wildcard Spot)
Building from within seems to be the New York Red Storm's plan for the major league ball club as the team decided not to renew the contracts of Santo Pizzaro, Quinn Klesko, and Gorkys Pineda and let them go to free agency. Instead of negotiating any contracts to replace the players, the team looked from within and called up Tony Lima, Pedro Pujols and Enerio Navarro to help fill in the gaps. Scott Franklin will be looking for his 3rd straight season of 100+ rbis, along with Chun-Lim Yang headline the offense but it's the pitching that the team relies upon, finishing with the 3rd best team era last season. Pitchers Cesar Carrara and Ezdra Valdes are a big reason why, although both are struggling a little this season.
With nearly $28M unspent yet, the Storm have some nice flexibility as they look to let the young guys continue bringing them to the playoffs, while still having the chance to be a player in the international market to continue bringing youth into their club.
S2: 86-76 (3rd in AL North, 2nd Wildcard Spot)
The Bearcats liked what they had last season enough that when seven of their players decided to test the free agency market, they managed to get three of them back into Bearcat uniforms for the start of season 3. They also inked Harry Romero and Ryan Gordon to Cincinnati contracts to help improve their pitching staff as they watched the two teams ahead of them last year finish in the top 5 for team era. That should help them strengthen up their bullpen as they have two very good young starting pitchers to put on the mound in Patrick Nicholson and Stubby Grabow. They'll rely heavily on their pitching as their offense lacks power but if that's the plan it seems to be working as they currently have the 5th best team era so far in this short season.
Chicago Blue Demons
S2: 66-96 (4th in AL North)
The Chicago Blue Demons were the odd team out last season as they were the only team in the AL North to be sitting on the couch watching the post-season instead of on the field. Ten players decided to test the free agency market and owner madden0001 managed to talk five of them to resigning with the club. Out of the other 5, 1 decided to retire when no other team showed interest and the other 4 are still sitting on their couches by the phone waiting for that call. Quinn Klesko was brought in to help in the starting rotation as the team finished 29th in team era and Archie Turner was plucked off the waiver wire to help with the offense. Courtney D'Amico is the bright spot on offense for the Demons and is locked in for a few more seasons. They do have some help in the minors so we'll watch to see how their season goes. If they keep in close we might have some call-ups that will strengthen the team.
I think this division will be a tight race in season 3 as Trenton still looks strong and I think New York and Cincinnati both improved their teams. Tough division to call so I'll do the cop out and say they finish in the same order as last year. I really like Cincinnati's two starting pitchers but with New York and Trenton both finishing top 5 in team era last season it's hard to compete without adding some big offense. We'll just have to wait and see how many teams they can try and get back into the playoffs this year.