Toledo Addicts Return
Like I mentioned, this team finally won their division and had the first winning record in franchise history. This team went 84-78 last season which gave fans in Toledo a reason to be happy that they returned. This is an owner that has not been afraid to make trades and they are always trying to make this team better for the season at hand. Last season they finished 11th in hitting(273), 11th in obp(337), 12th in hr(202), and 12th in runs(827). They were 13th in fielding(980), 14th in plus plays(23), 7th in minus plays(41). They were 5th in ERA(4.66), 8th in opponent average(277) and 3rd in saves converting 51 of 71 opportunities. The teams offense did not stack up nor did the fielding, but the pitching was pretty good. The offense has C Teddy Johnson, 1B Jose Martin, LF Alberto Machado, and CF Darrin Newfield, returning from last season. They traded for OF Juan Torres to give them a boost on offense. The offense doesn't appear to be a whole lot better and they didn't really improve the defense either in the off season. The pitching staff returns last seasons top starter Farmer Davis, and SP Orber Torres. Closer Scooter Boskie is a pretty good guy to have closing out games. They also have a good setup man in Danny Koch. They did trade away Osvaldo Tatis, and Pedro Balboa, a couple good pitchers. They also lost SP Anthony Simon, SP Howard Fischer, and RP Louie Mangual, a few pitchers that were key players on the team last season. They traded for SP Brad Porter, and RP Bernard Hoffman, a couple pitchers that should be of help for the staff. I think the pitching staff will still be their strength. I don't think this team stacks up with the top teams in the AL, but they are in a weak division overall and should be able to compete in the division. The team should be a little better but I'm not sure they can even reach the win total they accomplished last season. They could always make trades as they do to make the team better but they are still a ways off from being a top team.
Atlanta Red Tide
In their second season under owner radkison the team improved 8 games over the previous season and 17 over the last two seasons. At 80-82 they had their most victories since season 7. Six seasons without a playoff appearance and this team is ready to get back. They have 2 World Series titles and have been there 3 times, so this franchise has really fallen on hard times recently from what they once were. A brutal schedule down the stretch last season and losing their closer during that time stopped this team from getting back last season. Management thinks Toledo winning the division was a fluke and are ready to take the division this season. Last season they finished 14th in hitting(267), 14th in obp(329), 10th in hr(209), and 13th in runs(764). The were 7th in fielding(983), 2nd in plus plays(77), and 3rd in minus plays(21). They were 8th in ERA(4.72), 5th in opponents average(267) and converted 40 of 52 saves. Defensively this team was good, they were an average pitching team, but offensively they struggled. They have LF Darren Cox, CF Robin Risley, SS Miguel Manzanillo, C Guy Robinson, RF Nate Evert, 1B Peter Mullin, 3B Daryl Bonham, and 2B Reagan Mcgowan, are all returning and are key offensive and defensive players for this team. They signed OF Roberto Flores back to the team after trading him last season. Their starting rotation includes youngsters Orlando Gutierrez(24), and Victor Rijo(22). They traded for SP Bret O'Leary in the off season to bolster the staff and he should be a good addition. On the way from the minors is a very good starter in Jorge Figureoa. They have RP Joel Norris, RP Zeus Parnell, and closer Rudy Jameson coming out of the pen. That's a very formidable bullpen. Overall, this is a fairly good team that should challenge the division champion Toledo team this season, but I don't see them being an upper echelon team just yet. The defense and bullpen are good, but the hitting and starting pitching could still use some help.
Chicago Wind Tunnel
This is a team that is just a couple seasons removed from dominating this division. They won the division 7 out of 8 seasons, but only had one World Series appearance in that time. Last season was just the second losing season in franchise history and lowest win total ever for them. They finished 69-933 and in third place. As management said for this season, "The wind tunnel continues to blow." I'm not sure what that means, but we'll try to find out. They finished in last place in hitting(255), 15th in obp(323), 15th in hr(185), and last in runs scored(697). They were 4th in fielding(985), they were 13th in plus plays(32), and 8th in minus plays(43). They were 10th in ERA(4.94), 10th in opponents average(281) and converted 43 of 54 saves. The offense this season will be led by C Benji Villafuerte, OF Julio Tavarez, 2B Jay Fiore, LF/1B Jackson Davidson, free agent signee 1B Miguel Pichardo, and a guy they traded for 1B Trent Lange. They also signed a speedster with plenty of range to roam centerfield in Apollo Willis. It looks like the offense is still a little bit on the weaker side but the signing of Willis will help defensively. The only real losses are 1B Reggie Bowman, and 3B Jaime Hall. The rotation will be led by Terrell Tunkel and Albert Castillo. This isn't a rotation that will strike fear into their opponents. Rule 5 SP Paxton Weiland should add a little depth to the rotation. The bullpen appears to be this teams strength. They signed RP Junior Brogna, who should be a good setup man for them. They acquired RP Pedro Balboa in a trade. RP Cam Hogan should pick up right where he left off last season. Another player that they traded for that should help is closer Carlton Harding. This is a team that clearly isn't built to win this season. It will probably be another long season in Chicago.
Here is a team that has only seen the post season two times in their history. Last season the went backwards in wins for the second season in a row and missed the playoffs again. At 66-96 they matched their franchise worst record. Offensively this team finished 13th in average(271), 12th in obp(336), 1st in hr(274), and 8th in runs(855). I'm not sure if that is a successful offense, but they did have power and scored runs. This team finished 3rd in fielding(987), 7th in plus plays(54), and 9th in minus plays(45). They had a pretty successful defense. They were last in ERA(5.54), and last in opponents average(292). The pitching staff was very poor last season. Offensively this team has 1B Javier Gabriel, DH Vic Newman, SS Angel Faulk, U Alex Berger, 1B Fernando Pelaez, C Chuck Daniels, and LF Damaso Rivera leading them. Paleaz and Faulk were promoted from the minors this season and should help them out. The pitching rotation is led by SP Gregory Watson, SP Tony Ramirez, and SP Julian Castro. They signed free agents SP Phil Shaw, and SP Julius Sowders to help out the pitching staff. They promoted RP Tom Murphy to help out as well. Closer Miguel Gonzales returns in that role and is a good closer for them. They have a decent pitching staff, but not good enough to move into the top half of the league. They do have some young players in the minors that should help out in the near future. I don't think this team is ready to compete this season but they do have some young players coming up that should help them out in the next few seasons.
This isn't a great division and could see any type of combination of finishes. The difference between the top and bottom isn't that great, but the teams that finished 1 and 2 should still be able to hold those spots. Durham is a team that looks like they could get to the top of the division in the next couple seasons but I don't think that will happen this season.