#1 Rochester Rolling Rocks- 107-55, 1st place NL North
Strengths: It's more like a case of what isn't a strength for the Rolling Rocks. On paper this team should own every other squad in the NL. And it shows in the awards as well, with Rochester having three MVP candidates, two Cy Young candidates, and the Fireman of the Year runner-up.
Weaknesses: If there is a weakness it might be the closer spot, where despite having an excellent season Bucky Rodgers isn't the most intimidating closer in the league.
Keys to Success: The key for the Rolling Rocks is to avoid the playoff letdown that has plagued this team the past few seasons. They have the talent to win, even against the best of the AL, but have been flat in the playoffs and have yet to live up to their potential.
Team MVP's: RF Bill Everhart & SP Vasco Serra (although there are worthy replacements for both)
Outlook: The rest of the NL was nowhere close to Rochester in the regular season, and the Rolling Rocks are seriously overdue for some playoff success, so Gord thinks that this is the year they finally break through.
#2 Dover Diamond Dogs - 95-67, 1st place NL East
Strengths: The Diamond Dogs lineup may not have the most power or speed, but they are extremely disciplined at the plate and were second in the NL in OBP to Rochester. Rondell Burks leads a balanced and deep lineup that features many very dangerous hitters. The starting pitching is pretty good as well, and was a top 5 performer in the NL.
Weaknesses: The main weakness for Dover is probably their lack of a true #1 starter, although Bernie Melo is having a career year to put himself in Cy Young contention. In the playoffs it really helps to have a stopper, although Dover has done a very good job of getting around that, seeing as how they made the World Series last year and had another successful regular season this year.
Keys to Success: Bernie Melo or some other starter will need to step up and throw a few big games, and the lineup will have to keep it's mojo going into the playoffs against some of the tougher rotations in the NL.
Team MVP's: RF Rondell Burks and SP Bernie Melo
Outlook: This team has historically gotten it done, having represented the NL in the World Series three times in seven seasons, and they have the potential to do it again this season if they can get some good matchups. If Rochester gets upset Dover definitely has the inside track.
#3 Sacramento Fighting Cornish Hens - 89-73, 1st place NL West
Strengths: Sacto's bullpen helped overcome an atypically weak year by the rotation, led by Cy Young candidate Sammy Felix, who was named player of the week twice. The lineup overcame a very slow start as well to become a pretty decent group at getting on base, finishing 2nd out of 32 teams in walks. The rotation has a few good pitchers too, notably Gerald Heathcott and Brandon Choinard.
Weaknesses: Once the lineup got on base they had trouble finishing the job, as the Sacto offense was pretty meagre. The rotation had bad years from the normally solid Greg Maduro and Ray Fitzgerald.
Keys to Success: Keep riding the hot streak that saw them win 10 straight at the end of the season to come from behind and win the NL West, and get some solid games thrown by Heathcott, Maduro, and Choinard.
Team MVP's: RF Ricky Swann & SP Gerald Heathcott
Outlook: The Cornish Hens are the hottest team heading into the playoffs, having won 10 straight at the end of the season to come from behind and win the NL West. In truth, they have been one of the best teams in both leagues for the latter half of the season, and if they keep that form up could make a deep run. But if they play like they did at the beginning of the year they will be a quick out in the playoffs. Gord thinks it could go either way.
#4 Jackson Rockets - 79-83, 1st place NL South
Strengths: The Rockets have a great starting pitcher in Shawn Creek, and this is a veteran team that has continually experienced playoff success.
Weaknesses: The Rockets are either old, inconsistent, or injured at many key positions, thus their regular season losing record. Top run producer and key player William Katou is injured and out for the playoffs.
Keys to Success: Todd Nichols needs to rediscover his old MVP calibur self for one last run, and Shawn Creek needs some support in the rotation from the likes of Jason Reames or Willy Murray.
Team MVP's: 1B Todd Nicholson & SP Shawn Creek
Outlook: The outlook isn't very good for the Rockets, Gord is sorry to say. They just don't have the depth or lineup to make it happen in the playoffs against top tier competition. They might pull an upset in the 1st round if Creek gets two victories and one of the other pitchers throws the lights out, but anything further than that is a stretch.
#5 Honolulu Haoles - 87-75, 2nd place NL West
Strengths: Honolulu has the best starting pitching in the NL, and possibly all of Cobbfather. Justin Powell was just incredible this season, and Joseph Hyun and Alberto Beltre also impressed.
Weaknesses: As good as the rotation was for Honolulu, the lineup was anemic. Chuck Donovan came out of nowhere to put up a career year, but pretty much everyone else in the Haoles lineup under produced.
Keys to success: If pitching is key to success in the playoffs, the Haoles are in good shape as Powell was nearly unhittable this year. If the lineup can offer the rotation any kind of support at all the Haoles could make a run.
Team MVP's: 1B Chuck Donovan & SP Justin Powell
Outlook: The Haoles might be reeling after blowing a 3 game lead with 10 games remaining to lose there shot at their first division title. But they still made the playoffs and got a favorable matchup with Jackson as a result. Gord thinks the quality of their pitching should be enough to get them into the next round vs. Rochester, where there it is probably lights out.
#6 Cincinnati Red Stockings - 85-77, 3rd place NL East
Strengths: Marvin Mays is far and away the main strength of this team, and once again lived up to his preseason MVP hype. Del Campos won the Fireman of the Year award over some very good competition this year, and the rest of the bullpen is also very good.
Weaknesses: The starting rotation is not a group that will strike fear into the hearts of opposing lineups, and if Cincy loses they will probably be the reason why.
Keys to Success: Keep getting pitchers like Gus Shibata and P.T. Chantres to outperform their expectations, or at least have the rotation keep the team in the game long enough to reach the very good bullpen and let Marvin Mays and Talmadge Malone do the rest.
Team MVP's: 3B Marvin Mays& RP Del Campos
Outlook: Cincinnati faded a little bit at the end of the year and cost themselves a chance to face Jackson in the 1st round, and instead got on paper the tougher wildcard draw vs. Sacramento, a team they went 4-6 against in the regular season. But this is a team that has outplayed expectations before, as their season 6 World Series title shows, so count them out at your peril.