In season 24 the Fargo Wood Chippers ended an 8 season playoff drought by winning the division for the 15th time. They advanced to the LCS and lost to Houston 4 games to 2. With 94 wins they finished with the second best record in the NL and appear to be the team to beat in this division once again. Iowa City took another step back last season to make it 3 straight seasons that their win totals have gone south. It was also the teams first time being left out of the post season since season 19. With 86 victories they don't appear to be a team that is too far from still being a contender. Montreal took some steps forward last season as they improved their win total for a second consecutive season. They finished third but they were only 2 games behind Iowa City with 84 wins. Madison continued to rebuild and they'll head into their third season under the current ownership with a budget set up to add some young building blocks.
Fargo Wood Chippers
Owner- Starbuckdc(Pine Tar Hall of Fame)
Season 24 record- 94-68(NL North Champ)
Last 5 seasons- 386-424
Fargo has one of the youngest rosters in Pine Tar heading into the season. With 21 players under the age of 30, they are set up to contend for quite some time. In the off season they locked up a couple of those star youngster with contract extensions, Zip Sullivan, and Tony Caballero.
In season 24 as a team the hit .265 with a .330 obp. They had 254 homers with 143 steals and scored 797 runs. They had a really good mix of power and speed. This team is loaded with power though. The key players in this offense are Sullivan, Caballero, Houston Graves and J.A. Stanley. This is going to be a tough offense to stop. They should have a top 5 offense in the league.
Defensively this team was pretty solid last season. They had 65 + plays and 21 - plays. That is a pretty good ratio. The .985 fielding % wasn't bad, but I expect it to be higher this season. They feature some good gloves at each of the key defensive positions. Chun-Lim Li is a good shortstop and I think he can improve upon last season. Sullivan has a great glove for second base. Raymond Franco is a pretty good centerfielder as well. This is a pretty good defense.
The team finished with a 3.94 ERA and 1.28 WHIP with 1062 strike outs last season. Those are solid numbers, but if this team has a weakness, it's the pitching. Aurelio Ozuna, is a pretty good starter, but the talent falls off after him. The closer is Rickie Metcalfe and I do think he's a really good reliever to have as evidenced by his 44 saves in 48 tries last season. Davie Diaz is the teams best reliever though. He finished last season with a 2.93 ERA in 73.2 innings. This pitching staff has a few nice pieces, but they look like an average staff at best.
Iowa City Hawkeyes
Season 24 record- 86-76
Last 5 seasons- 465-345
Iowa City is a team that I feel like under performed last season. This team has some really good players, and are built around a great pitching staff. I just think this team is too talented to miss out on the post season and ownership will be trying to make sure that doesn't happen again.
Offensively this team will always struggle to be among the best. They play in a tough offensive park and the franchise has put much more emphasis on pitching. They hit .246 with a .307 obp last season and hit 186 homers. Disappointing is that they stole just 97 bases and were caught 60 times. That isn't a very good ratio and cost the team some runs. The offensive star is Joakim Valbuena, who hit 33 homers and drove home 110 runs last season. Jose Alfonzo put up good power numbers (27 homers, 99 rbi), but he doesn't get on base enough. Octavio Armas is the only player on the team that can really get on base with his .377 obp. For a team that plays in a pitchers park, they should really have more players that can draw a walk, but they don't and they suffer for it on offense. I put them near the bottom of the league offensively.
The defense is good though. They made a smart move by paying Bert Biggio and bringing him back in the off season. He is a great shortstop and I'm shocked that he has not won a gold glove. He really makes this defense go, because they only have average players at all of the other spots. The key for them is that they don't have any real weakness at the other spots either. This is an average defense overall though.
The pitching is the strength and they are among the better teams in Pine Tar. Sticky Farquhar had an off season last season, but he's still one of the best. Patsy Ainsworth, was an all star last season and he finished with a 17-7 record and 2.86 ERA. Dan Siebert is getting older, but he still has something left in the tank and he showed it last season with a 3.17 ERA in 20 starts. The relievers are the real strength for them though. Leading the way is Brendan Taylor, who pitched 139.1 innings and had a 1.09 WHIP and 2.52 ERA. He also had a 15-10 record with 20 saves in 28 tries. Dennis Coleman is pretty good as well and he had 114.2 inning pitched with a .97 WHIP and 3.06 ERA. Rondell Kirwan and Victor Waner are pretty good extra pieces for them and those guys would be top relievers on some other teams. This is a really good staff that is led by the bullpen.
Montreal Leaf Blowers
Season 24 record- 84-78
Last 5 seasons- 362-448
Montreal is another young team in this division that looks to be on their way up the ranks. This is a team that set up their budget to make some moves in free agency, but weren't able to get anything done. With plenty of cap space and a solid system, this team could make some moves to improve themselves during the season.
This is an offense built around power and some guys that can hit for a decent average. With 235 homers and a .262 average and .315 obp, the team could use a bit of improvement. They have some speed, but with 106 steals and 68 caught stealing, I wouldn't call it a strength. This offense is centered around a rising young star in Alex Suzuki. He hit 51 homers and batted a .285 with 124 RBI and 112 runs last season. Ian Langston had a pretty nice season as well with 39 homers and 109 RBI to go with a .270 average. Those are 2 rising young stars that mix well with veterans Rickey Masterson and Nate Carter. This is a pretty good offense overall and should finish in the upper half of the league.
Montreal had a pretty good defense last season with a .986 fielding % and 72 + plays and only 18 - plays. Jim Marte is the shorstop and he has really good range and a great arm, but his glove just isn't up to par. Nate Carter played a great thirdbase last season and he's one of the best when put their. Alex Suzuki is a really good thirdbaseman or right fielder and can do either one seamlessly. Overall this defense is solid, but I just don't think they rank among the best.
The pitching staff is led by an aging but still reliable Bret O'Leary. He went 12-5 with a 3.30 ERA last season and reached 200 career victories. Benny Villano is a youngster that should improve upon his 12-11 record and 3.48 ERA this season. The bullpen features Tom Leonard and he had 25 saves in 27 tries last season to go with a 1.67 ERA. Mike Clinton is a pretty good setup man as he pitched 91.2 innings and had a 3.93 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. The pitching staff is solid and they have some really good key players. I think this should be an above average staff.
Season 24 record- 72-90
Last 5 seasons- 381-429
Madison is a team in rebuild mode, but they did finish with a record that showed improvement last season. Heading into a third season with this owner will hopefully give them some stability and allow them to continue to move back toward the top of the division. I do think they made 3 promotions in the off season that should have an immediate impact for the club. F.P. Gentry, Eugene Harvey, and Marty Pall will all make debuts this season and should all be players that could make a difference.
Offensively this team still has a dynamic player in Raymond Petrov. He hits for power(34 homers) and steals bases(38 SB). His .299 average and .377 obp to go with 123 runs scored make him a dangerous player. Benito Rodriguez should bounce back from a tough season, but he's another really good weapon for this team. Add the 3 rookies to these guys and this offense is going to be tough. Madison has a really good offense and should rank in the upper half of the league this season.
The fielding was solid last season. They had 60 + plays and just 26 - plays to go with a .983 fielding %. Petrov was the shortstop and he didn't help those numbers. He's better suited for third, right field or second. That is pretty much this whole team though. I just don't think this is a very good fielding team.
Pitching is the weakness that will hold this team back. The rotation is really weak and I think it will hold them back. They added Bill Crabtree, but he's a back of the rotation type guy. The bullpen is pretty solid though. I like Mitch Mota, who finished with a 2.31 ERA in 46.2 innings last season. I think Marco Russell should be better than what he has. Ricardo Johnson is a really good setup man and finished with a 1.09 WHIP and 3.49 ERA last season. If this team had a better rotation then this bullpen could put the staff into the upper half of the league, but the rotation really will drag them down.
It's easy to pick Fargo, the team on top last season. They have the best offense in the division, a solid defense and enough pitching to get them back to the top again. They may not be good enough to win the NL title this season, but they should be able to make a run at it. Iowa City's offense is just not very good. I think it holds them back too much and I attribute them missing the post season to this. The defense is only average, but this team has a pitching staff that could carry them. This season will come down to how far that staff can take them. They could easily finish below 500 or near the top of the division. Montreal is a team on the rise and the others better not sleep on them. They have the offensive weapons to make some noise in the division. The have some solid pitching also and could really make a run. This team is on the cusp of ending a 10 season playoff drought. Madison is a team that is rebuilding, but they aren't a team that will go quietly. They have some real talent offensively. That could help them sneak above .500 this season. The fielding and starting pitching will likely keep them from that though.
1. Fargo Wood Chippers
2. Montreal Leaf Blowers
3. Iowa City Hawkeyes
4. Madison Melons