ARIZONA LOOKING FOR REPEAT TITLE
(GAME DATE – April 1, 2020) — The Arizona Cowboys are predicted to repeat their 2019 miracle run with a first-place finish with a 94-win season to top the Metro League West division, a shocking revelation that has surprised many watching the stronger of the two Metro League divisions.
The Cowboys set a team record last season with 92 wins, placing 2nd behind the Seattle Salts (93-69). It was the first time in club history they made a playoff, entering as the first wild card, along with the Nevada Speeders (91-71) in a tight three-way race for the division title.
After tasting victory, and even advancing to the Metro League Championship Series to play against eventual Bull Cup champions, the St. Petersburg Admirals, Arizona looks to lock down their playoff credibility just 7 years after joining the league as a 2012 expansion team.
A big part of any potential pennant run will be the big-swinging RF Tak-yeung Yang, who goes into his third year in the league after having been signed as an international free agent prior to 2018 out of Taiwan. Last season he tussled with Nevada’s Jim Lahey for the home run title, just four behind the title winner at 60 dingers.
Yang wasn’t the only Arizona batter on the leader boards in 2019, either. Joe Kueppers, the shortstop, compiled a 6.1 WAR, ranking 4th, along with swatting 48 long balls of his own, and driving in 136 runs, ranking 5th and 4th in those categories respectively.
The Cowboys starting staff remains quite weak, with Robby McWeeney the only recognizable talent, a mid-rotation starter who is miscast as the Arizona #1. Though he has a snapping curve ball and plus-plus change up, the right-hander has not achieved stellar success on the bump, going 28-30 over four seasons with a career 4.96 ERA.
The bullpen offers several 30+ year olds who are of questionable reliability. The team did pick up Connor Pearce from free agency, but he will not play this year having been out since last August with a torn rotator cuff earned while playing for California.
A team that can match Arizona’s offense, and surpass their pitching, is the Nevada Speeders, who are projecting 93 wins for the season, suggesting a close back-and-forth race with the Cowboys through the year. Headed by the steady hand of GM Scott Dummler, the Speeders have reformed themselves from a struggling middle of the pack club in this division, to a perennial contender for the pennant. Their last two seasons were two of their best since 2010, when they were in the latter third of a 6-year streak of playoff runs.
Heavyweights like Al Mota (19-8, 3.20 ERA in 2019) and reliever Nate Kremer (10-5, 26 saves, 3.51 ERA) will hold off runs, backed by a solid defense. Power bats Jim Lahey and Chitoji Yamada will be supplemented by big-swinging 3B Jose Torres and RF Raul Abarca. A new face, Cain Morris, signed out of Australia last November as an international free agent, is predicted to be one of the best relievers in the Metro League.
The Seattle Salts and the California Tidals are in the next echelon of the division, with the 2019 pennant winners, the Salts, looking at a paltry 79 wins mainly due to several key pitching injuries, as well as the hardest loss of talent during the off-season. Closer Jon Courteau went to Boston, and granddaddy Jesse Nelson, the 42-year-old second baseman who hit 28 home runs last year, he left for Washington. Bullpen arm Yardbrook Rooks joined Courteau in Beantown, and a few other players left as well, resulting in a loss of 8.0 WAR overall from the roster.
Third baseman Hoshi Mizuguchi left as well, a .289 hitter with 37 homers and 117 RBIs, but he re-signed out of free-agency for $39.2 million to play 2 more years, with a 3rd year option if he can manage an unlikely 550 plate appearances.
California showed signs of improvement after coming under the control of GM Ben Wozniak, and the infield of Hiroki Omiya and Peyton May, along with Roberto Lozano and catcher Dao-zi Ling are certainly going to ramp up some runs for the Tidals. But the team’s pitching staff is thin on talent, boasting only 2-time Bull Cup champ Fernando Latorre, and all-star closer Andy Myers. The Tidals will have to work hard and make some moves by July to have a fighting chance at dislodging Nevada or Arizona from their perches.
Luckily for all four of those teams, the Calgary Inferno are anticipated to have yet another epic bad year, a mere 3 seasons after their Bull Cup win in 2017, a victory that closed out a six-year playoff run. Virtually every big name talent player from that roster is now gone, and only half-hearted efforts to regenerate and retool have taken place, with a decent addition of Chris Zerkle in a trade with the Admirals as their singularly notable effort.
The Inferno will soon have some viable prospects in the mix, but they won’t be ready for prime time for at least 2 or 3 more seasons, and thus their 2020 role will be to rebuilding doormat of the West division.