2020 Preview: Lake League West

ANOTHER 100-WIN YEAR FOR RAVENS

The Ravens could break 100 wins again, though they are predicted to just hit 99.

(GAME DATE — April 1, 2020) — All indications are that the Minneapolis Ravens will storm to another strong finish this year, and could once again hit 100 wins. The official prediction is for 99, but the team is largely intact from a very successful Bull Cup appearance last season, with the addition of strong performers like Takahide Higuchi (in a trade) and Jake Pruitt (in a free agent signing).

There is a good chance that with the expected weakness Lake League East division, and the deep-pocketed team locking down their big time talent for years to come, that the Ravens could actually smash through 100 wins this year and ride that wave to the Bull Cup again.

Their rotation features the always indomitable Ricky Rodriguez, who will start the year on the DL, but should be back before the end of April. Last year, Rick Rod went 17-8, with a 2.99 ERA and 204 K’s, placing 3rd in Sandy Koufax Award voting, an award he has won four times already. His 2019 WHIP of 1.09 led the Lake League, and he was notoriously hard to draw walks from, leading in that category as well with just 1.7 walks per 9 innings.

Even without him to anchor the 5-man, the team can rely on Pete Sharpe, a former Boston pitcher who went 18-6 in his first season with the Ravens last year, Higuchi, who was acquired in a trade with Calgary and has a devastating cut fastball, Aaron Miller, who also earned 18 wins in 2019, 3-time all-star Barrett Block, and fifth man Bob Finney, another heat throwing workhorse.

With the rotation solid, the bullpen will be locked down by closer Jason Myers, up and coming star Elijah Daniels, backbone middle man Ben Dorey, and others.

Then, add in the same, crushing run production that could only be eclipsed by Chicago’s, a team that is not expected to contend this year due to it’s pitching woes. With Chris Zahn (.305, 42 HR last year) at the leadoff position, and Evandro Cerigo (.301, 42 HR last year), and a fantastic infield of David Baker (.261, 20 HR), Lan-quing Siew (rookie of the year runner-up, .317 avg and 30 HR in 2019), and DH Gabel Reyes, another 20+ home run hitter, the offense is nearly unmatched.

The Ravens, even after the departure of GM Brendan Burke, are a juggernaut that could easily find themselves the next Bull Cup champions.

So, who is next in the West to compete for a wild card? Milwaukee Hops, the former Louisville Sluggers (and before that, Battle Creek Attack), a 2012 expansion team, are predicted to go 80-82.  While their rosters have not been finalized for Opening Day, expect to see an offense led by 2018 rookie of the year and 2019 MVP Les Groves, back to crush dingers and smash hits from gap to gap. The General will lead Jason Nelson, John Dyke, Elias Huerta, and Ed Langston, all capable hitters. Pitching will remain a problem for the Hops, but don’t count them out, Jim Torelli and Howell Hepburn are worthy mid-rotation arms, and the team has very solid relievers.

Ohio and Detroit will tangle for 3rd and 4th, though either team could vie for 2nd place under the right conditions. Ohio has an offense that should produce similar numbers to Minneapolis, and with some corrective measures in the pitching staff, they could be very dangerous. However, the rotation will limp into the start of 2020, with three of their starters on the mend, including Jose Castaneda, Skeeter Heater, and Steve Howard. This will put a lot of pressure on Rusty Rowe (20-7, 3.87 in 2019), Frasor Clause (15-8, 4.76) and Heath Smokem (8-7, 5.13).

Detroit has workable offense, Payton Bint, Dennis Guppy and Ger Vaartjes will be the primary run producers. The rotation pieces could be better, but they have the second best bullpen in baseball, and that could be their key if they can take leads into the late game situations.

Ah, what of Chicago? It’s possible they could surprise us and do better than their predicted 76 wins, and they certainly will deliver a lot of spectacular home runs thanks to rookie John Rambo being added to the roster just a season after being drafted. Catcher Sean Phifer will add some long balls along with Jon Guillot and young leadoff man Justin Kelly will certainly get on base and score runs. But the rotation and bullpen combine for a terrible crew of no-name miscasts and over-the-hill veterans like Rich Ojeda, leaving the Pit Bulls in a race to outscore their opponents. That will be tough as they play solid pitching teams like Boston, New York, Toronto and Minneapolis.

 

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