Friday, October 21, 2011

NL North Preview - Part II

Montreal Catcher Eduardo Ayala proves that Youth is Served

If the World Series Trophy is for sale, the Expos are smiling because they just bought it for the paltry sum of $650,000.

That’s the average current annual salary of a member of the team. Surprisingly, the team in the playoffs with the next lowest average annual salary turned out to be…their World Series opponent, the Oakland Athletics. The A’s by comparison spent a fortune: $1.3 million per player, or exactly twice as much. One only has to wonder what the general managers of the Texas Rangers ($4.5 million per player), the Milwaukee Brewers ($3.8 million per player) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($3.2 million per player) had to be feeling watching those two payrolls play for the coveted trophy.

Most of the current Expos are still years from being able to grow a proper playoff beard, let alone hitting free agency, so the team on the field this year will resemble last year’s champions.

Record: 90-72, second in the NL North.

Key Additions: None.

Key Departures: None.

Last season the team strategy was “outscore your opponent.” Offensively, the Expos are well-equipped to do just that. Led by Eduardo Ayala, the division’s other All-Star catcher who batted .321 last year, the Expos finished 7th in the Majors in AVG, 7th in OBP with a mark of .343 and tied for 6th in SLG with a mark of .448. Ayala was also one of four players on the team who drove in more than 100 runs last season. Third baseman Hal Purcell, left fielder Cy Oliver and center fielder Manny Martin swung the lumber at the plate. All that production lead to three members of the team being selected to the All-Star classic: Ayala and Martin were joined by right fielder Julio Guillen.

On the mound, the starting rotation was hardly dominant. Rookie call-up Sawyer Cross managed to find a way to start 33 games last season and finished with a record of 15-10 while posting a 1.29 WHIP. The only other starter with a winning record on the staff was Al Flores, who went an undistinguished 11-7 in 30 starts with an average WHIP of 1.48. Consider that reliever Steve Hines finished second on the club with 12 wins in 148 innings pitched despite not starting a single game. Collectively the staff allowed 819 runs to trot across the plate, so the Expos finished with a run differential of a modest +46. The pitching should show some small improvement this year, as one would expect the Expos to tap their talent-laden minors by turning to AAA-standout Brandon Stargell at some point this season.

“Outscore your opponent” was the mantra on defense as well. The Expos finished tied for 30th by committing 110 errors this season, lead by the left side of the infield. Shortstop Sammy Cruz made 28 errors to lead the club, followed closely by third baseman Hal Purcell’s 19. It is likely Purcell may be replaced by aspiring shortstop Ronnie Robinson sometime into the season, so look for the fielding at least at the hot corner to improve. The team collectively made 44 positive plays while posting 45 negative ones.

dwb’s take: Montreal fields a team that won 90 games last season. With a minor tweak to the pitching staff and the hot corner, look for them to win between 84 and 90 games again this season barring injury to an offensive threat. The team is still a few starting pitchers short of competing for the division crown and has some holes defensively, but the Expos have what it takes offensively to get to the playoffs again where they’ve proven once there, anything can happen.

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