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2006 SOUTHERN DIVISION PREVIEW

Here's what I am seeing as of today:  (ed. note: 11/27/05)

Mt Vernon Haymakers   Not quite the firepower of last year's team but the pitching...!  Try a team 3.28 era, .245 BAA and a WHIP of 1.19.  The Hays will have Jason Bay (.306, 32 HRs) for every game allowing me to use Adam Dunn (40 HRs, .540 SA). ROTY Ryan Howard 22 HRs in 322 ABs) will be joined by the solid Sean Casey (.312).  Add tradee Ron Belliard (36 2B, 17 HRs at 2B and Mike (Thanks , again, Bob!) Young (..331, 40-5-24) at SS and this team will get runs.  Willie Taveras will provide the only speed.  Peavy (2.88, .217 BAA, 1.04 WHIP) and Pettitte (2.39, .230 BAA, 1.03 WHIP) anchor the starters  and a solid and deep pen makes the Hays the favorite to repeat.  

Rye Crackers   As it was last year, so shall it be this one.  The Crackers are a solid team which is just a tad short in power and pitching to catch the Hays.  Four regulars (Helton .320; Wright .306; Matsui .305 and Castillo .301) are over .300.  Add Francouer (.300, .549 SA in half a season) and you can see they will hit.  Unfortunately, several other starters like Burnitz (.258, .322, .435) and Kotsay (.280, .325, .421) had decidedly lesser years as did Helton.  The starters are where the Crackers fall way short with Burnett (3.44, .237 BAA), Webb (3.54) and newcomer Washburn (3.20) the best of a mediocre lot.  The bullpen is much improved since Zach Duke will pitch out of there to maximize his use.  Timlin, Linebrink, Betancourt and "Kegs" Wickman are tough.   

Fleetwood Macks   This team can hit!  The active roster projects to .284, .350, .460 .  Travis Hafner (.305, .408, .595) will be the DH with vet Mike Sweeney (.300 39-0-21) at 1B, the wonderful Marcus Giles (.291, 45-4-15 16 SBs) at 2B, and Felipe Lopez, finally in a breakout year (.291, 34-5-23) at SS give the Macks a solid IF.  What hurts them is that several key players such as Chipper (.296 .412 .556), Sanders (.271 .340 .548) and Walker (.289, .384 .502) were all out for significant periods and their replacements are nowhere as talented or powerful.  Unfortunately, the team which was last in pitching last year projects to the same this year.  Only Dontrelle Willis (2.63 .243 BAA, 1.13 WHIP) is going to give anyone a problem.  The rest of the starters are medicore including Mark Mulder (3.64, .273 BAA and 1.38 WHIP)  The pen, as last year, is solid with KRod (.184 BAA) , Duchscherer (2.21 .215 BAA and 1.00 WHIP) and Izzy (2.14 .202 BAA and 1.19 WHIP) will be lights out.  Problem is will the game be over before they come in?  

Mt Vernon Thunder   Far down the food scale are the Thunder and Pipers with a slight edge to MVT.  The Thunder will be hurt by down years from Aubrey Huff (.261 .321 .428) Bobby Abreu (.286 .405 .474) and Koskie (.249 .337 .398) plus the time lost by Moises Alou ( a solid .321 .400 .518) but only in 127 games).   Utley (.291 39-6-28) and Rollins (.291 38-11-12 and 41/47 in SBs) are big plusses.  The SP is undistinguished from RJ's lackluster 3.79 to the inclusion of fellow Yankees Shawn Chacon and Chien-Ming Wang.  Remeber how we all thought the Yankees SP sucked?  Well...!  The pen will be helped by Aaron Heilman (3.17, .223 BAA, 1.15 WHIP) but it also is relatively a mishmash of good and ordinary.  Team speed is a major plus.  In fact, it is, by far, my fastest team (Yeah, like the tallest building in Topeka comparison, I hear you chuckling).  

Pelham Pipers   The worst team SA at .438 and the worst ERA at 3.65 dooms the Pipers yet again.  This will start to change dramatically when what may be the best Minors in the ESL starts to kick in in the next two years.  Guys like Murton, Quentin, Kendrick, Callaspo, Aybar, Valido, Sanders and Gordon will give them a shot of youth, speed and talent.  Down/Shortened years by Overbay (.276 34-1-19), Berkman (.293 5-1-24), Chavez (.269 40-1-27) and Craig Wilson (.264 .387 .421) hurt a team that finished last with them all better last year. The platoon of Lofton and Michaels in CF as well as the addition of David Eckstein (.294 with a ..383 OB) help as does the fine season by Grudzielanek (.294 .334 .407).  Perennial John Smoltz (3.06, .243 BAA and 1.15 WHIP) anchors the staff which has three young arms in Haren, Myers and Maroth and the still solid Tim Hudson.   The pen is so-so except for closer Derrick Turnbow (1.74, .199 BAA and 1.08 WHIP).  Wait'll next year!

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