Apr 29, 2008

S7 Recap -- NL West

Los Angeles Mojo
What Went Right: The franchise improved its offense in its brief sojourn to Los Angeles, keyed by young stars like C Chuck Simmons and 2B Kevin Park. Staff ace Sandy Conway turned in a sparkling performance, posting a career-best 1.13 WHIP in 240.1 innings and making his first All-Star team, and veteran SP Mitch Gant won 17 games.

What Went Wrong: The Mojo's lack of a HR threat cost them in the playoffs, where Fargo outpowered them to advance to the NLCS.

S8 Outlook: New ownership will take over a team that stands at a crossroads. A solid young core of position players like Simmons, Park and 3B Kordell Russell remains in place, but some big decisions loom in FA. Longtime closer Rickey Young and CF Wiki Mota both seek lucrative extensions, and the Great Stars might not be able to afford both.

Anaheim Jack A$$es
What Went Right: New owner hurdle52 eked out only the second winning season in franchise history thanks to a blistering start by veteran RF Ron Barber. The 35-year-old punched in a 1.087 OPS through 40 games, but the hits stopped coming as NL pitchers adjusted to him, and the Jack A$$es fell back to earth. Chad Matthews earned his second consecutive All-Star berth and finished with an impressive .325/.376/.589 line, and veteran ace Dwight Watkins posted a 7-3 record and 1.11 WHIP after coming over from Syracuse in a midseason trade.

What Went Wrong: Barber cooled off to finish with a merely mortal .258/.316/.521 OPS, and the pitching staff lacked the horses to finish the race.

S8 Outlook: Matthew is the brightest star in a dazzling infield constellation, including SS Vince Andrews and 3B John Podsednik. With Barber turning 36 and entering FA, the outfield consists of Esteban Rodriguez and not much else. The bullpen could use a reliable closer, as well. Anaheim will need an aggressive offseason to build on a refreshing turnaround.

Honolulu Beach Bums (Seattle Sensation)
What Went Right: One of Griffey's original franchises slid back to .500 and a third-place finish, two seasons after earning its only postseason berth with a S5 division title. The club greatly improved its S6 pitching, when the Beach Bums gave up 854 runs, by holding opponents to just 770 runs. Veteran right-hander Ivan Jones turned in another solid season, posting a 1.20 WHIP and 3.30 ERA, and lefty Max Ibanez allowed only 1.27 baserunners per inning and 3.95 earned runs per nine.

What Went Wrong: By scoring a paltry 710 runs, the Beach Bums tagged Jones with an unimpressive 6-10 record, although Ibanez finished with 12 wins for the second straight season. The offense was hampered by leadoff man LF Rico Melendez, whose OBP plunged from .386 to .311, leaving only table scraps for 1B Vic Marquez (37 HR, 76 RBI).

S8 Outlook: A move to spacious Safeco Field bodes even more trouble for an offense that struggles to put men on base and runs on the board, but spells relief for a pitching staff that could see a number of FA defections. C Buzz Lewis remains one of the league's best, and he leads a cast of upstarts that includes 3B Nolan Cashman and SS Matty McGee. With little payroll committed to this season, Seattle could opt to make a big FA splash or plow the funds into scouting and player development.

Oakland Dragons
What Went Right: Not much went right for the Dragons in their first season in Oaktown. The team underperformed by nearly six wins off its expected rate, as the pitching staff allowed the league's third-most runs. SS Ernie Person continued to post terrific numbers, and undervalued CF Augie McMillan won his first Gold Glove. A great season by lefty reliever Luis De La Vega was marred by a stress fracture in his elbow.

What Went Wrong: No starter distinguished himself, and both Person and McMillan suffered from the move to spacious Network Associates Coliseum. The offense lacked a big bopper who can reach the fences at home and cap rallies on the road.

S8 Outlook: The team's best players should be back for another season, but so will the rest of a mostly underwhelming roster. Most scouts believe ace-in-waiting Robert Wainhouse could already be a Cy Young candidate, but Dragons management has him assigned to Triple-A after repeating (and dominating) the previous level as a 22-year-old. But even if he starts the Opening Day game, Oakland has to find at least two or three more quality starters to fill out the rotation and a cleanup hitter to drive the offense. Unless an aggressive approach is taken, Oakland fans could be forced to wait another season to see a contender.

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