Tuesday, March 26, 2013

NL North Season 23 Preview

The NL North is the home to Pine Tar's Season 22 World Series champions. Iowa City put together a great post season run and took home the title for the first time in team history. They are a franchise that went through some tough times to get to this point. Through the first 17 seasons of the league, they had just one winning season and zero playoff appearances. Things turned around for them in season 18 when they started a run of what is now 5 straight 90+ win seasons and 3 division titles in that time. With them winning the championship last season, that gives this division 4 titles and 9 World Series appearances. Leading the way for the division is Fargo with 5 appearances in the Series and 2 championships. Also worth mentioning is that every team in this division has won the NL title at least once. Now on to the team previews. I'm going to be doing some of these a bit different this season. They may run a little long, but Spring Training is boring anyway and these should make for good reading.

Iowa City Hawkeyes
Average.24216Fielding %.9882ERA3.132
Home Runs18410Double Plays34410Opp. Avg..2302
Ops..69315+ Plays776Strike Outs11761
Runs65714- Plays193Saves4310

Season 20 Record: 95-67(NL North Champ; NL Champ; World Champ)
Last 5 Seasons: 473-337

Key Off Season Moves
Traded for SP Dan Siebert

Offense- This is not where Iowa City is strong. They didn't hit for average and didn't score very well. They lacked good speed to aid the lack of power as well. The do play in a pitchers park, but the offense doesn't look like they would fair much better in a hitters park. They lack good contact numbers and their overall batting eye numbers could use improvement as well. Octavio Armas is a good young hitter and Hank Roling has underperformed his abilities, but they don't have much outside of those 2.

Defense- Last season they finished 2nd in fielding percentage and were among the best in the league in plus/minus plays. Bert Biggio is a great shortstop that should have a gold glove by now, but somehow lacks one. They have Joaquin Estrada and Fausto Espinoza that were great fielding replacements last season and are great with the glove. The defense is an area that this team is particularly strong and should be again this season.

Pitching- This team was built around pitching. It is a true strength that many teams lack. The addition of Dan Siebert is only going to make them better. Add him in with Sticky Farquhar, Patsy Ainsworth, and Luis Perez, and this team has the makings of a dominant rotation. The bullpen is just as strong as the rotation, if not stronger. Brendan Taylor, Dennis Coleman and Rondell Kirwan are a three headed beast late in games. This team likely has the best pitching staff in the NL if not all of Pine Tar.

Iowa City should be the team to beat in the NL North again this season. What they lack offensively, they more than make up for with pitching and defense. Ownership has already tried to upgrade the offense, and I wouldn't be surprised if they are able to improve that part of their game soon. If they get this team into the post season again, they'll be tough to knock off with the pitching that they feature.

Owner interview-
ME-OK, so last season your team didn't have the greatest regular season, but they went on a run in the post season that was pretty awesome. What do you attribute that run to? 
Did you expect it? Were you worried when you didn't get a bye? Who was your post season MVP? Do you expect a repeat this season? What is the building blocks of a winner in your opinion? Any advice about Pine Tar for the new owners?

tk21775-Iowa City’s regular season was pretty frustrating this season. We had won 100 games the season before and with the addition of Jose Silva, along with our younger pitchers’ ratings improved; we thought we’d be better. The blog update at the All-Star Break “The first half of the season is nearly over and so far nobody wants to put their stamp on the division. Iowa should destroy everyone but the players seem to lack the killer instinct.” That seemed to tell how the season started out for Iowa City. Fortunately for us the team used it for bulletin board material and came on strong in the 2nd half, something this team has done for the last few seasons, and ended up with my 3rd best record since taking over with 95 wins. I think building teams for the regular season is different than the post-season. The regular season you need pitching, depth and quality, but you also need offense. My team lacks a dominant offense but its set up to be strong in defense which also helps my pitching out. In the post season, I don’t think offense is quite as important as having two quality starting pitchers and a strong bullpen. I’m fortunate to have a strong starting pitcher in Sticky Farquhar and Brendan Taylor and Dennis Coleman for the later innings. I don’t think anyone would argue that Luis Perez, Patsy Ainsworth and Hawk Marquis are dominant pitchers, but with a strong defense behind them, all had sub 3.7 era’s last season as well. If my team had the lead once Taylor or Coleman came into the game I was pretty confident that they were going to hold the lead for us.

As far as expecting it, I’ve learned to take the advice of another owner that believes that the regular season is about putting together a good team and that winning your division is tough but that the playoffs are a crap shoot. I wouldn’t say I was expecting to win everything, but I also knew that with my pitching staff I should have a chance in each series, especially with the first two being shorter.

I doubt most owners will agree with me on the bye, but I don’t really care for it. Now if I get one I’m not going to complain, but with my past history it seems that if I get a bye then I’m only playing one series. I’m fairly sure in the forums they’ve said there is nothing in the programming code about resting but I’ve had better luck with my teams continuing to play then resting for a series and starting out slow once it’s time to play.

Post season MVP for pitching would have to be between Dennis Coleman and Brendan Taylor. Like I said before, once I saw one of these guys enter the game and we had the lead it was pretty much game over. Taylor pitched 17.1 innings, going 3-1 and 4 for 4 in saves with a 2.08 era while Coleman pitched 20 innings and went 1-0 and 4 out of 5 in saves with a 0.90 era. Offense I’d probably go with Hiram Franco who’s a FA this season. He came off the bench but hit .286 with 6 rbi’s, which proved to be a few game winning runs driven in for us. 

Building blocks of a winner are the fun part of this game because it’s different for each guy and in each world. This team was fun as when I took over the previous owner hadn’t signed a draft pick or int’l in 3+seasons so the only player of talent was Hank Roling who just won his first world series. I took a look at the FA class for the first 3 seasons and saw that if I could add some young prospects in my first two seasons through the draft and international, the third season there was a very deep free agency. That 3rd season we won 97 games and I had 3 seasons worth of high draft picks and international players to help build a team around. This world also lacked some quality young pitching, so that is what I wanted to focus on obtaining. I used my 1st draft pick with Sticky, the 2nd season I ended up choosing Taylor over Vinny Napoli which people questioned but Taylor ended up winning the Cy Young award two seasons ago. His stamina/durability combo to go along with his splits was just too much for me to overlook. Also I’m very particular with defense. I will hardly ever play a player that does not at least make the min. defensive ratings, regardless of the bat. If the bat is that good I will put him in the field where his defense says he should play. With groundball pitchers who have good control, my strong defense makes my pitching staff better than their ratings suggest.

As far as advice about Pine Tar for new owners I’d just have to say welcome. They’ve found a great world, the blog is probably the best around (owners don’t realize the amount of work and time that goes into this blog) and the owners are a good group of guys. It’s pretty important to find a good solid world as building “relationships” for lack of better term with other owners makes the game more enjoyable. I’ve moved on from most of my worlds I use to play in just because I didn’t know the other owners so it was just looking at scores. The worlds I play in now I trade chat other guys about football, sports picks, and HBD as well. I’d also point out the owner Hall of Fame, not something I’ve ever seen in any other world I’ve been a part of which is pretty neat.

For the last question about do I expect to repeat? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to but the main goal it to win the division again. I’ve got a nice young group of players put together, although next year they’ll start demanding big contracts, so I would say the Hawkeyes will be in the playoffs for the next few seasons and we’ll just have to see what happens.

Fargo Wood Chippers
Average.24811Fielding %.98212ERA4.2310
Home Runs2122Double Plays3509Opp. Avg..2619
Ops..7189+ Plays658Strike Outs108912
Runs68711- Plays266Saves495

Season 20 Record: 72-90
Last 5 Seasons: 329-481

Key Off Season Moves
Traded for 1B Houston Graves
Traded SS Julian Prieto
Traded RP Mike Franklin

Offense- Fargo was just below average offensively last season, but they had plenty of power. They ranked second in homers, which is really good considering they finished 11th in average. The addition of Graves will help bring the team average up for sure. He could bat leadoff or second in this lineup. Olemdo Johnson has proven to be a good leadoff hitter type and will likely take that role. Zip Sullivan is an up and coming MVP caliber player and will hit near the top of the order as well to give this team and dynamite top of the order. This offense should be much improved and should rank near the top of the NL this season.

Defense- This team was an average team defensively last season. The addition of waiver wire claim Jumbo Aquino will help the shortstop situation. Olmedo Johnson is a pretty good thirdbaseman and Zip Sullivan has a great glove for secondbase. They could really use a centerfielder with some good range and a good glove though. This holds back their defense quite a bit. Even with that I still think they would rank as a slightly above average defense, but right now I'll put them at average.

Pitching- The pitching last season was average and in a division with a team like Iowa City, this is important. I just don't feel like it's going to be much different this season. The rotation is weak as Aurelio Ozuna is the best starter they have right now and he's better suited in the 3 or 4 slot. He's young and should develop into at least a 2 starter.  The bullpen is better than the rotation, but not by enough to make up for the weakness. Rickie Metcalfe should be a good closer for Fargo and he's young as well and should continue to develop into a better pitcher.  I think this is an area that needs some work and I'm grading them as below average to start the season.

Fargo is a team that is improving and only getting better. They have some weaknesses, but those are things they'll fix as the team continues to grow. I don't think this is the season that they take the division, but I wouldn't be surprised if they contend for the wild card. Their offense is too good to be ignored and will win them some games to make that possible.

Owner Interview-
ME-It's been a while now since the dominant days in Fargo. It's been a slow and steady rebuild that is a good way to build a winner. What is the plan this season? Is it still rebuild time or are the Wood Chippers ready to compete? What area of this team do you feel still needs work and what area is your strength? Is there anything about this rebuild that has surprised you? Anything that you've really enjoyed or focused on? What season can we expect to see Fargo back in the World Series?

Starbuckdc- First of all I would never predict a world series appearance. WIS and baseball or too fickle for those lofty thoughts. I thought I might have been a playoff team last season, but my pitching wasn't ready. I still think wild card is not out of the question. The surpriseing thing about rebuilding is the lack of stud pitching in this world. Its way more staved for good starting pitching. I have been left with loads of money for a stud international pitcher and the gods refuse to give it up. Looking for a strong left handed bat to help my lineup. My biggest hindrance to my recent lack of success are my four kids. Just dont have time to devote to the Wood chippers. Its a happy problem. It has been the busiest off season for the chippers in a long time.

Madison Masterblastas
Offense 1 Defense 1 Pitching
Category Stat Rank Category Stat Rank Category Stat Rank
Average .258 9 Fielding % .977 14 ERA 4.70 16
Home Runs 141 15 Double Plays 395 3 Opp. Avg. .266 13
Ops. .704 11 + Plays 28 15 Stike Outs 1026 16
Runs 686 12 - Plays 63 15 Saves 32 16
Steals 233 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Slugging .382 14 1 1 1 1 1 1

Season 20 Record: 70-92
Last 5 Seasons: 465-345

Key Off Season Moves
Promoted LF Joakim Valbuena
Promoted SS Eugenio Frieri
Re Signed RP Aaron Moorhouse
Signed RP Alex Ordonez

Offense- The Masterblastas were below average offensively last season. I can't see that happening again this season though. The promotion of Valbuena will help them quite a bit this season. Frieri is another promotion that will help the offense, but not quite on the scale of Valbuena. Add those to in with Raymond Petrov, Benito Rodriguez, and Nick Cooper and this should be a pretty solid lineup. At worst this is a slightly above average offense, but I think they could be even better than that.

Defense- This is something that the team really struggled with last season. Raymond Petrov has been a solid shortstop, but his arm accuracy is probably the cause for many of his errors and I'm not quite sure he's a good option at the position. Joseph Yoon played most of his games in centerfield last season, but I think he's the teams best option at short. Frieri has a solid glove, but he lacks the range and arm accuracy for shortstop, but he'd be a really good option at just about any other position. This team is hard to judge defensively. If they stick with anyone other than Yoon at shortstop then the defense ranks just below average. If Yoon takes over as the every day shortstop then this team could have a really good defense.

Pitching- The team ranked dead last in pitching last season. Partially because the previous owner left the team in shambles during the season. The rotation is not very strong this season. Rudy Parker is the ace of the staff and he's not suited for the role. He's better suited in the middle of the rotation. The bullpen doesn't look much better. Geronimo Osuna is pretty solid in relief and Aaron Moorhouse is good, but it's a drop off in talent from there. I do like Virgil Montana, but his stamina doesn't allow him to get much work in. This pitching staff needs a lot of work and could be in for a long season.

Madison is not a bad team, but they aren't a good team either. They are average. The offense is above average and the defense could be good, but the pitching staff hurts this team. I don't really see them contending for the division title and they likely won't be in the mix for the wild card this season either. The bright side for this team is that they have some really young talent and a lower payroll going forward to work with.

Owner Interview-
ME-You're taking over a team that has been pretty good for nearly the past 10 seasons. The long time owner left early last season and the team was in shambles. A replacement was found and righted the ship somewhat. Now you come in. What is your plan for this team? Do you feel like they are a team that will be competitive or will you need to rebuild them from the bottom up? Do you have some pieces of this team you are really excited about or that will help you with your vision of the team? Is there a part of the team you are going to try to upgrade? When can we expect to see Madison in the World Series?

dbreez-I like what Madison has to offer for years to come. I believe they are a year or two away from being contenders. With some more pitching, I think this team can be a threat. Its a young team that needs a year or two to progress and we'll be dangerous

Montreal Leaf Blowers
Average.25610Fielding %.98211ERA4.6915
Home Runs1919Double Plays3696Opp. Avg..27616
Ops..7368+ Plays6310Strike Outs11127
Runs7366- Plays288Saves4212

Season 20 Record: 68-94
Last 5 Seasons: 313-497

Key Off Season Moves
Signed SP Clay Jeter
Promoted P Adrian Voyles
Promoted OF Garland Easley

Offense- Montreal was pretty average offensively last season. They weren't really good at anything, but they weren't bad at anything either. The promotion of Garland Easley will help them out some this season. The offense features Rickey Masterson, who can flat out hit for average, power, he get's on base and he can swipe a bag. He can pretty much do it all. Darren Urich is a great hitting catcher as evidence by his .311 batting average last season. Mid season pickup Alex Suzuki was a big addition after being traded from Fargo last season. He's a young power hitter that will steal a few bags and hit for a decent average. This offense has the pieces to be good, but not the depth. The top of the lineup is their strength, but the bottom could use some work. Overall, I think this is still an average offense.

Defense- Defensively, Montreal was just below average last season. They didn't really address this in the off season and will likely finish pretty much the same this season. Maicer Lopez is a pretty good fielder at shortstop, but he's not in the upper echelon at the position any more. Brian Lennon has the range for centerfield, but his glove could use some work. They aren't a bad defensive team, they just aren't good.

Pitching- This is where the team struggled last season. They had to fix this in the off season if they wanted to get better. The promotion of Adrian Voyles is solid, but he won't be a difference maker. The addition of Jeter is a step up for the team though. The rotation is where this team struggles. They still need some help with it. The bullpen though is pretty solid. Tom Leonard is a great closer. JJ Brinkley should be a good setup man as well as Mike Clinton. They aren't great, but the bullpen could help out a weak rotation.

Projection- Montreal continues to improve. It may be a slow process, but they are a better team than what optistrat took over. I don't think they are ready to contend yet though. The pitching still needs plenty of fixes before they can move into the upper half of this division. For now I think Montreal will continue on the path of getting better and building this team up.

Owner Interview-
ME- This is your fourth season now and the past couple this team has looked like they are making improvements towards being ready to compete. The team was in rebuild mode before you took over and then you came in and started to form the team how you wanted it. What is the plan this season in Montreal, rebuild/compete? Is the team coming along like you wanted it and planned for it? What strengths and weaknesses does the team have that need worked on? Tell us your ideal offense(speed, power, contact). What season do you expect to be competing for the championship?

optistrat- I was actually disappointed this team took a step backwards this past season. I called up prospects early because I started to panic. I considered the first couple season "rebuild" time, because I had no choice, but I've been fighting for wins - and I expect to improve each season. I'm hoping some of my young talent makes an impact soon... very soon.

I really don't think anyone will overtake Iowa City in this division. The pitching and defense for them are better than any other teams strengths in this division. As a matter of fact, I think Iowa City will make a run at defending their championship this season and could be really tough to beat in the post season again. Fargo is moving forward and looking better every season. They still have some pitching woes, but should at least challenge for a wild card spot. Madison is under new ownership and it's hard to make a prediction for them. I think they'll finish at the bottom of this division even though they have some really good pieces in place. Montreal continues on the path of building this team up. I think they take a step forward, but not a big enough step that they are battling for a wild card yet.

1. Iowa City Hawkeyes
2. Fargo Wood Chippers
3. Montreal Leaf Blowers
4. Madison Masterblastas

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