With the sophomore season of the HRL:Twin Cities wiffleball league just around the corner I felt it was time to give a little preview of what we might see out on the wiffle rink. To do this I'll split the league into three groups: The Rookies, The Veterans, and Truck.
What will they go through? Will they just be fodder, falling prey to the vets? Or will they prove they have what it takes to play with the big boys?
There will be a steady progression of the talent with the newcomers. A couple teams may get off to an impressive start, but for the most part they will find themselves fighting the frustrations of inconsistent play for the first half of the season. By the second half of the season most of the teams and players will have found themselves, figuring out what works for them in certain situations, thus resulting in better, more consistent play.
Teams that might surprise: Dodgers and Cardinals.
Even though these teams are rookies to the league they have plenty of wiffleball experience between them, especially the two Steves from the Cardinals. Expect them to look sharp at the beginning of the season. From what I have seen, the Dodgers played in a form of "working man's league" prior to joining in on the HRL action. They even borrowed some of the HRL bases near the end of their past season. The two Steves (Steve1 and Steve2) most likely have been facing each other all winter long in grueling winter matches in preparation for the upcoming season.
Who's numbers will fall? Who will prove last year was not a fluke? And who will have a break through year? Out of the eight veteran teams from last year only the Braves, A's and Yankees finished with a record above .500. And of those teams only the Braves remain after the deconstruction of the 2004 Yankees and A's. The Yankees' name has since been passed onto a rookie team, and questions have come up about the Braves offense after the loss of slugger Tom Polseno. Look for the veteran teams to raise their win totals early against the rookie teams while the new players are still getting their feet wet.
Falling Stars or This aint no fluke? - Cota and Chops
Josh "Dick" Cota – Cota's big strength is far and away his pitching. He has one of the most devastating fastballs in the game and his grunts are the things legends are made of. What will be interesting to see in the upcoming season is if Cota can accept the position of number two pitcher and live up to expectations. He batting average is a bit low to count on him in a pressure situation, but the pop in his bat apparently makes up for it. Look for him to do well against the opposition as long as he doesn't get too drunk and pick a fight with his own team mates.
Matt "Chops" Travaille – The only reason the reigning MVP gets on this list is because of the terrific season he had last year. He led the league in most offensive stats and almost won the triple crown. He also pitched a few times and proved to be decent at that too going 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA and 1 save. In all likelihood Matt's 2005 season will be as good as last year's, but if he can improve his numbers in any way look for him to take home the MVP honors again.
Keeping it real - The Twins and Old Man Dave
The Twins – the whole team is just too laid back to not do more of the same this coming season. They drink, they smoke, and they play a mean game of wiffleball. If things start getting out of hand for them they'll probably just drink some more, forget what they were doing wrong, and start doing something right. Edgar is small, quick, and hits for average and power. Nelson's only got seven fingers but we've all seen that that is enough to hold a beer and a cigarette so he's set. In the playoffs Jon finally found out what it feels like to hit a homer. K-Mart refuses to acknowledge that his pitches were getting a little fast in the last few games of the World Series, but fast or slow, if he can find the strike zone they'll be doing just fine. Word on the street is that the Twins are also adding a fifth member to the drinking, er.. I mean wiffleball team. Will the rookie be a help or hindrance?
"Old Man Dave" Effenberger -- The guy is old alright, but he is like Truck in that he is hard to strike out and doesn't walk much. Consistently putting the ball in play will help the Royals next season if they can get people on base in a more consistent manner. Not much else is known about Effenberger except that when scouting the Royals many times he is forgotten one. He uses this to his advantage as pitchers rarely remember how to pitch to him.
On the Rise - Rocket, Christian, and Costa
Sean "Rocket" Pabon – Rocket is probably the nicest guy out on the wiffleball fields, but don't let that fool you into thinking that he'll go easy on you once the game starts. His defense last season got him some recognition last season in the Sticky Paw voting, but his real strength is his ability to come up big in the clutch situations, whether it be coming up with a big catch, striking out the side, or hitting that all important home run, Rocket can do it all. Rocket is determined to show that the Braves were not just a one season wonder. If the fall combines were any example as to how Rocket will play in 2005 look for him to turn his determination into a .280-.300 batting average with a possibility of 12-15 homers next season.
Christian Brandt – Christian added a much needed spark of energy to the faltering Expos last season as he came on to solidify the pitching staff and add power to their lineup. Like the rest of the Expos he is quick and crafty which will lead to more base hits on normally routine groundballs. Look for Christian to take advantage of a full season of at bats to put up some sick offensive numbers.
Ted "Costa" Spilseth – Ted only played in 19 games including the playoffs for the Brewers in 2004 due to a trip to Costa Rica, but he made his presence felt for those games as he proved he is a gamer. He is an all around athlete who with a full season could be the reason the Brewers make the playoffs this year. His quite manner keeps the Brewer spotlight on Hendi and Joe, but walking softly and carrying a big stick is a reality Ted can keep to next season.
Teams to look out for: Braves and Expos
The Braves ended the regular season by winning thirteen games in a row, but faltered early in the playoffs. Even with the loss of Polseno, the core of the team returns in 2005 in the form of Sanchez, Rocket, and Chops. Rocket and Sanchez might not see the offensive support they got last year, but look for them to find a way to win the close games.
The Expos got off to a rough 0-8 start in 2004, but after a roster shake-up they rebounded nicely to prove that they were not to be scoffed at or counted on for an easy win. They've got speed, they've got power, and they hit for average. With the steady rotation of Christian and J-Ski on the mound, the X's record will improve.
Question Marks: Royals and Padres
The Royals were a busy team this offseason. First it looked like they had disbanded so Truck could form the Red Sox, then they were back, and then they were in question again after Mike P unknowingly moved away. Finally Truck signed Willie, Cota, and Angela "Doll Face" Granneman to keep the franchise together. With the addition of Cota, the Royals now have arguably the best one-two pitching combo in the league, but their offense is still suspect at best. They will score runs, but they will most likely come in streaks off the long ball. Willie and Cota both have the home run swing, but at what cost? Last season they combined for 24 homers, but struck out 133 times in 327 at bats.
The Padres made the first moves of the offseason when they changed their name from the Phillies and then signed Jim West away from the Brewers. Many speculated that the name change was solely for the purpose of getting a more retro looking uniform, but there are also rumors that they are trying to run from last year's 10-17 record. For whatever reason, the Padres felt that there was a crucial piece missing from their team so they acquired West who will probably bat near the top of the order and serve as the team's closer. The Padres have one of the best arms in the league in Shirls, but a lot of their success will depend on how they use him. All of the Padres pitch and that will limit the number of starts that Shirls will get. With only eight of the sixteen teams making the playoffs this year we might see the Padres switch midseason to a two man rotation of Shirls and Peeks, Nine, or Pace. They may try a three man rotation where Shirls would get every other start, or there has even been some speculation that they'll use Shirls out of the bullpen to try to get him involved in as many games possible. With a team putting such reliance on one arm it will be difficult for Padres to make the playoffs in 2005.
He could easily be considered the only true veteran among us. After playing numerous years on the East coast the big question will be if he'll be able to improve his offensive numbers while trying to keep up his dominating pitching. His offensive numbers from last season were nothing to be ashamed of as he was in the top six in the league in batting average and he only struck out ten times. Truck's biggest problem could come from a lack of patience at the plate as he only walked eight times last season.
Prediction for Truck:
His ERA, Strikeouts, WHIP, and Walk ratio will continue to impress the entire league, but the offensive woes of the Royals may keep his win total below expectations. As far as offense is concerned, what we can expect to see from Truck is more of the same. Expect him to finish in the top ten in batting average and RBI's, while keeping his strikeouts and walks to a minimum.
And just for fun here is my very early prediction for how the divisions will pan out.
Expos – Playoff bound
Cardinals – Playoff bound
Royals – Playoff bound
Indians – Playoff bound
Braves – Playoff bound
Brewers – Playoff bound
Dodgers – Playoff bound
Twins – Playoff bound
AL West 3
AL West 4