2014 STORIES...

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Editor Jim Lockwood

ICQ # 1850917
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Monday, April 7, 2014
Story by Ralph Kraskiewicz

RIO DE JANERIO (AP) - Last season's key additions of pitchers Smokey Joe Wood, Nolan Ryan, Allen Watson and Andy Pettitte were not quite enough to propel the Rio de Janerio Capybaras to a Roehm title. The Rio squad finished four games behind division winners Long Beach, and fans were left hoping the season would go on for two more weeks. It was not to be.

The off-season brought some uncertainty. With several players in the latter stages of their careers, fans and management were concerned with who would retire and what the starting rotation would look like opening day, 2014.

Fast forward to April. The Capybaras survived the off-season without having lost any of the key components of their roster. It seems the veterans are hungry for one more run. Boasting the oldest active roster in recent history, the Capys hope that experience translates into wins, and ultimately, a shot at their fifth Weaver Crown.

Here's a position by position breakdown of how they plan on doing it:

Pitchers: With Wood, Leonard, Ryan, Watson and Pettitte being your top 5 starters, can you really go wrong? With the exception of Nolan Ryan, all have won 20+ games at some point in their careers. Not too shabby indeed. The bullpen will be anchored by closer Alex Panchio, with Aaron Sele and Bill Perry sharing middle relief roles. Perhaps a weakness, the long relief role will be shared by Willard Alexander and Vern Martinez, but with the aforementioned starting 5, just how many innings are they going to see?

Catcher: The trio of Jason Kendall, Mike Lieberthal and free agent signing Sandy Martinez are expected to share catching duties. All are stellar defensively, and it seems the starter on any given night may be determined by who is holding the hottest bat. Kendall, who won Rookie of the Year honours way back in 1997 as a member of the Capys, brings a rare attribute to the catcher position - he can steal a few bases.

1st Base: This slot remains a question mark. With the loss of Isaac Wyndorff to free agency, the Capybaras find themselves without a natural 1st baseman. Aging Ryan Klesko has been asked to be the full-time DH and it seems manager "Big Cheese" is hoping recently acquired 3B Sadahura Oh can make the switch and play the other side of the infield. Oh has the rare combination of power and speed. The knock against him is that he is a bit of a free swinger. However, given Rio's potent lineup, it is hopefull pitchers will not be able to pitch around him. Mel Ott has played 1st before and another new acquisition, Butch Huskey may be asked to fill the role as well.

2nd Base: This slot is Carney Stillwell's to lose. Rio has hoped he would become their next leadoff hitter. Entering his 3rd year in the league, he has not lived up to expections. Solid defensively and with good speed, he needs to bring his strikeouts down and on-base percentage up to truly realize his potential.

3rd Base: With Alfredo Hernandez expected to handle the lion's share of work at the hot corner, Rio is very solid here. Hernandez had a great season last year and more of the same is expected this year. Sadahura Oh is more than a capable backup should Hernandez go down due to injury.

Shortstop: Cary Chien is one of the slickest fielding shortstops in the league, not only that, his bat has seen consistent improvement every season. A natural, entering his sixth season in the league at the age of 26, the Capys expect big things from their young shortstop.

Outfield: Perennial All-Star Gabby Brumley anchors a solid outfield. His range is exceptional, his bat deadly, his baserunning superb - he is the complete package. Rounding out the outfield will be Ruben Rivera and Pedro Valdes in left field, while Mel Ott is expected to patrol right field. Yamil Benitez is the 5th outfielder on this team, and brings a great glove and good speed to the basepaths.

So there you have it, your 2014 Rio de Janerio Capybaras. Fans in Rio are chanting "Let's Play Ball!" in anticipation. Will it be enough to win what is arguably the toughest division in the league? Do these guys have enough gas left in their tanks? Will Nolan Ryan get the elusive 20 wins? How will bitter rivals Havana and Long Beach fare? How about Vancouver, an up and comer that looks to have a solid team as well? Stick around baseball fans, looks like another wild ride in the Roehm!

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