Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Forecast hazy for National League

National League West

1. San Francisco Giants (last year: 95-66, 2nd place)

These Giants look a lot different than the team that almost won the World Series last season. There are four new faces in the starting lineup, including third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo and second baseman Ray Durham, representing a new emphasis on contact and speed over power. San Francisco will obviously miss the 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in that former second baseman Jeff Kent contributed the past six years, but their new offensive philosophy will play better at Pacific Bell Park, where only left fielder Barry Bonds, the most intimidating offensive player in the game, hits for power consistently. The Giants have only played 11 games since 1997 that had no postseason implications, and don’t look for them to add to that total this year.


2. Arizona Diamondbacks (last year: 98-64, 1st place)

The one-two punch of dominating pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling at the top of the rotation should keep the Diamondbacks in contention for a playoff spot, but the team is a little thin after that. Arizona led the National League in runs scored last year, but it’s difficult to see that happening again. Left fielder Luis Gonzalez and center fielder Steve Finley aren’t getting any younger, and neither is second baseman Junior Spivey nor third baseman Craig Counsell likely to match last season’s performances. If side-winding pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim can translate his success as a reliever the past few years to his new role as a starter, the D-Backs will be tough to beat. But that’s a big if.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (last year: 92-70, 3rd place)

The Dodgers’ playoff hopes hinge on the health of pitcher Kevin Brown. While right fielder Shawn Green, left fielder Brian Jordan and newly acquired first baseman Fred McGriff all put up solid numbers, none of them is the kind of clutch player who can will his team to victory. Brown is. With Brown heading a rotation that includes Hideo Nomo, Odalis Perez, Kaz Ishii and Darren Dreifort (back from Tommy John surgery), the Dodgers have one of the deepest groups of starters in the league, as well as a swagger that could spill over and energize one of the NL’s more anemic offenses. This team will definitely make things interesting in the West, but that might not be enough to get it into the playoffs.

4. Colorado Rockies (last year: 73-89, 4th place)

The trade sending pitcher Mike Hampton and center fielder Juan Pierre to the Marlins (Hampton was later shipped to the Braves) in exchange for center fielder Preston Wilson and catcher Charles Johnson essentially signaled the end of the Rockies’ failed attempt to emphasize speed and pitching in the thin air of Coors Field. Colorado is going back to the only strategy that’s ever generated any success in Denver; namely, trying to overpower the opposition. With the additions of Wilson and third baseman Jose Hernandez to an offense already including first baseman Todd Helton and right fielder Larry Walker, the Rockies should put up a lot of runs, but probably not enough to be a serious factor in this division.

5. San Diego Padres (last year: 66-96, 5th place)

Under manager Bruce Bochy, the Padres will always be a tough team to face, but this group is probably a couple years away from a serious playoff run. This season didn’t promise to be much more than another year in the rebuilding process for San Diego before it lost left fielder Phil Nevin for the season and closer Trevor Hoffman until after the All-Star Break. Now the outlook is positively bleak. The silver lining for the Padres is that they have a number of young players, including third baseman Sean Burroughs, outfielder Xavier Nady, first baseman Tag Bozied and pitchers Oliver Perez, Jake Peavy and Dennis Tankersley, who will have a chance to pick up some valuable major league experience. Keep an eye on this team, but don’t expect much until 2005.

National League Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals (last year: 97-65, 1st place)

The Cardinals boast the NL’s most impressive lineup from top to bottom. Sparkplug second baseman Fernando Vina gets things rolling from the leadoff spot, while the middle of St. Louis’ order, featuring center fielder Jim Edmonds, left fielder Albert Pujols and third baseman Scott Rolen, is one of the more imposing groups in the league. And then there’s J.D. Drew, who will start the season on the disabled list, but has too much talent not to break out one of these years. The pitching depth is a little thin, particularly in the starting rotation, but the Cards have a legitimate ace in Matt Morris, while Woody Williams and Garrett Stephenson remain underrated. St. Louis won’t run away with the Central, but look for the Cardinals to finish on top.

2. Houston Astros (last year: 84-78, 2nd place)

First baseman Jeff Bagwell and center fielder Craig Biggio (who is moving to the outfield from second base to make room for offseason acquisition Jeff Kent) have been the face of the Astros for the last 10 years, but the cozy dimensions of Minute Maid Park help to hide the fact that Houston’s aging, unbalanced offense is really more of a liability than a strength. In truth, the team’s hopes for contention rest with its pitching. Both Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller have No. 1 starter-type stuff, and Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner are among the top relievers in the league. If the unproven back end of the rotation holds up, the Astros could make a run at either the division crown or the Wild Card.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates (last year: 72-89, 4th place)

The Pirates haven’t sniffed the playoffs since Barry Bonds signed with the Giants prior to the 1993 season, but they could be a surprise contender this year. Left fielder Brian Giles continues to put up big numbers in relative anonymity, and Aramis Ramirez, finally healthy after a disastrous 2002 campaign, could match his 2001 stats (.300, 34 HRs, 112 RBIs). In addition, free agent right fielder Reggie Sanders and center fielder Kenny Lofton, both part of the Giants’ pennant run last season, bring some veteran leadership and winning experience to the club. The starting pitching isn’t flashy, but former top overall pick Kris Benson, in his second year back from major arm surgery, could be ready to become the staff ace. Kip Wells, Jeff Suppan and the rest of the rotation will keep the Pirates in enough games for the Pirates to finish ahead of some of the more heralded names in this division.

4. Chicago Cubs (last year: 67-95, 5th place)

With former Giants manager Dusty Baker at the reins, the Cubs think they can make a 30-game improvement in the standings and challenge for first place in the division. It’s certainly possible. Starters Kerry Wood, Mark Prior (who many project as a Cy Young candidate down the road) and Mike Clement all have electric stuff (each averaged better than a strikeout per inning last season), and Sammy Sosa continues to hit home runs at an astounding pace. Still, there isn’t a whole lot of depth in the order (rookie first baseman Hee Seop Choi hits behind Sosa). The bullpen, while fortified with the addition of Mike Remlinger, still doesn’t have a consistent closer. Baker, meanwhile, has never won anything with a team that didn’t have Barry Bonds on it, so he has to prove himself all over.

5. Cincinnati Reds (last year: 78-84, 3rd place)

The Reds are possibly the most difficult team to project in the National League. On paper, they have one of the league’s best offenses. In reality, however, the Reds’ bats are woefully inconsistent. Left fielder Adam Dunn and second baseman Aaron Boone are talented but slump-prone, and center fielder Ken Griffey Jr., has failed to live up to expectations since coming over in a trade from Seattle prior to the 2000 season. This wouldn’t be such a problem, of course, if the Reds didn’t have the worst collection of starting pitching in the league. It doesn’t say much for your rotation when your opening day starter is Jimmy Haynes. Not only do the Reds lack an ace, they don’t even have anyone good enough to be a No. 2 starter on a contending team. Unless the offense gets hot and stays hot, Cincinnati’s playoff hopes will be lukewarm at best.

6. Milwaukee Brewers (last year: 56-106, 6th place)

The best thing you can say about the Brewers is that they probably won’t lose 100 games again this season. The starting pitching is decent, with Glendon Rusch and off-season acquisition Todd Ritchie following young Ben Sheets in the rotation, while Richie Sexson is one of the better first basemen in the league. Still, the lineup lacks other run-producers and the bullpen is a mess, so any hope of challenging for the NL Central title this year is just a pipe dream. The only relevant races in Milwaukee in 2003 will likely involve sausages.

National League East

1. Atlanta Braves (last year: 101-59, 1st place)

The Braves seem more vulnerable this season than any in recent memory. Despite an excellent outfield consisting of left fielder Chipper Jones, center fielder Andruw Jones and right fielder Gary Sheffield, the offense still managed to produce 70 fewer runs in 2002 than the next closest playoff team. In addition, financial considerations necessitated the almost complete overhaul of a pitching staff that led the major leagues in both starters’ and relievers’ ERA last season on the way to carrying the team to the NL East title. Whether or not Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Paul Byrd, Ray King and Roberto Hernandez can adequately replace Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood, Damian Moss, Mike Remlinger and Chris Hammond will go a long way in determining the Braves’ fortunes. Manager Bobby Cox always gets the most out of his players, however, and in the absence of any other real threat, the Braves are still the team to beat in the East until someone knocks them off.

2. Philadelphia Phillies (last year: 80-81, 3rd place)

If the Braves falter, the Phillies are the team most likely to benefit. Philadelphia augmented its attack and added some veteran experience to its clubhouse with the offseason signings of first baseman Jim Thome and third baseman David Bell. Left fielder Pat Burrell, a former top overall pick, is on the verge of superstardom, while right fielder Bobby Abreu has 30-30 potential. In short, the offense looks good. The pitching, however, is another story entirely. None of the starters, not even Kevin Millwood, who came over in a trade from the Braves, has demonstrated the consistency to be a top guy, and the bullpen doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The Phillies could give the Braves a run for their money this season, but they’re a better bet for 2004.

3. Montreal Expos (last year: 83-79, 2nd place)

There’s no doubt that the Expos have the talent to make things interesting in this division, as their second-place finish last season attests. Right fielder Vladimir Guerrero is easily one of the five best position players in the game, and second baseman Jose Vidro and shortstop Orlando Cabrera should provide significant contributions this season. All five members of the starting rotation, including Javier Vazquez, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Tomo Ohka, change speeds effectively and keep hitters off-balance. Ultimately, however, there’s just too much weirdness surrounding this team, which is currently owned by Major League Baseball until a buyer surfaces and which will play part of its home schedule in Puerto Rico, for it to legitimately contend.

4. New York Mets (last year: 76-85, 5th place)

For a team with a payroll that stands at over $100 million, the Mets have a surprisingly half-baked roster. Catcher Mike Piazza and left fielder Cliff Floyd are dangerous offensive players, and both first baseman Mo Vaughn and second baseman Roberto Alomar should improve on their numbers from last season, but Ty Wigginton and Rey Sanchez, at third base and shortstop, respectively, make up the left side of the infield. Similarly, while Tom Glavine and Al Leiter headline the rotation, David Cone is the team’s fifth starter. This is an odd collection of players, and there isn’t really any reason to believe that the chemistry will be any better than it was last year. The Mets are the third-oldest team in the league, so it’s basically now or never for them. Never seems more likely at this point.

5. Florida Marlins (last year: 79-83, 4th place)

The Marlins have a ton of talent, most notably a young rotation featuring the live arms of Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Brad Penny. Unfortunately, the inept ownership group that took over at the beginning of last season is letting it go to waste. Nothing the front office has done since assuming control of the team has made any sense. Last year, the Marlins traded their only All-Star, outfielder Cliff Floyd, supposedly because they couldn’t afford him, but they’ll be paying a significant portion of pitcher Mike Hampton’s $15 million salary the next two years even though he never has and never will throw a pitch for them. Then the team signed catcher Pudge Rodriguez to a one-year, $10 million contract in the offseason, despite the fact that a catcher with a dubious history of handling pitchers might not be the best fit for a developing staff. Now, to save money, the Marlins are shopping third baseman Mike Lowell, a solid offensive player and a good guy in the clubhouse. All in all, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Devil Rays had the best record of any team from Florida this year.

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