Archive for Wednesday, March 31, 2004

National League capsules

March 31, 2004

Advertisement

Capsules of National League teams, in order of finish last year:

East





Atlanta Braves

2003: 101-61, 1st place.

Manager: Bobby Cox (18th season).

He's Here: RF J.D. Drew, OF Gary Matthews Jr., INF Russell Branyan, RHP Antonio Alfonseca, LHP Armando Almanza, LHP C.J. Nitkowski, RHP Tim Drew, RHP Chuck Smith.

He's Outta Here: RHP Greg Maddux, OF Gary Sheffield, C Javy Lopez, 3B Vinny Castilla, 1B Robert Fick, RHP Darren Holmes, RHP Shane Reynolds.

Projected Lineup: SS Rafael Furcal (.292, 15 HRs, 61 RBIs, 25 SBs), 2B Marcus Giles (.316, 21, 69, 49 2Bs), LF Chipper Jones (.305, 27, 106), RF J.D. Drew (.289, 15, 42 for St. Louis), CF Andruw Jones (.277, 36, 116, 125 Ks), 3B Mark DeRosa (.263, 6, 22), C Johnny Estrada (.306, 0, 2), 1B Adam LaRoche (.295, 8, 35 in Triple-A) or Julio Franco (.294, 5, 31).

Rotation: RH Russ Ortiz (21-7, 3.81 ERA), LH Mike Hampton (14-8, 3.84), LH Horacio Ramirez (12-4, 4.00), RH John Thomson (13-14, 4.85 for Texas), RH Jaret Wright (2-5, 7.35) or RH Trey Hodges (3-3, 4.66).

Key Relievers: RH John Smoltz (0-2, 1.12, 45/49 saves), RH Antonio Alfonseca (3-1, 5.83), LH Armando Almanza (4-5, 6.08), RH Kevin Gryboski (6-4, 3.86), RH Will Cunnane (2-2, 2.70).

Hot Spot: Starting rotation took another hit with departure of Maddux, who left a year after Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood. Braves signed Thomson, coming off a career year in Texas. With RHP Paul Byrd (elbow surgery) probably out until June, Wright and Hodges are competing for No. 5 spot in rotation. Bullpen also was retooled, with Alfonseca probably assuming setup role.

Stat Sheet: Braves set franchise records with 235 home runs and 907 runs in 2003, when four players -- Sheffield, Lopez, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones -- reached 100 RBIs. Six players hit at least 20 home runs. Without Sheffield and Castilla, those numbers will be tough to duplicate. Rookie LaRoche will platoon with Franco at first, and DeRosa, who has only 14 career homers, takes over at third. Atlanta also needs Drew to stay healthy; he's played at least 135 games only twice in past five years.

Bottom Line: Can this team extend run of division titles? Braves have won a record 12 straight but will be hard pressed to do it again, with owner Time Warner cutting at least $25 million from payroll. But Atlanta still has a chance. Drew must stay healthy, and DeRosa and LaRoche must play up to their potential. Those two, along with Estrada, give Braves three first-time starters, hardly the recipe that has served Cox so well the past dozen seasons.




Florida Marlins

2003: 91-71, 2nd place (wild card, won World Series).

Manager: Jack McKeon (2nd season).

He's Here: 1B Hee Seop Choi, RHP Armando Benitez, LHP Darren Oliver, RHP Michael Neu, 1B Wil Cordero.

He's Outta Here: C Ivan Rodriguez, 1B Derrek Lee, LHP Mark Redman, RF Juan Encarnacion, RHP Ugueth Urbina, RHP Braden Looper, OF Todd Hollandsworth, RHP Rick Helling.

Projected Lineup: CF Juan Pierre (.305, 100 runs, 65 SBs), 2B Luis Castillo (.314, 99 runs), RF Miguel Cabrera (.268, 12, 62 in 87 games), 3B Mike Lowell (.276, 32, 105), LF Jeff Conine (.282, 20, 95), 1B Hee Seop Choi (.218, 8, 28 in 80 games for Cubs), C Ramon Castro (.283, 5 HRs in 53 ABs), SS Alex Gonzalez (.256, 18, 77).

Rotation: RH Josh Beckett (9-8, 3.04), RH Brad Penny (14-10, 4.13), RH Carl Pavano (12-13, 4.30), LH Dontrelle Willis (14-6, 3.30), LH Darren Oliver (13-11, 5.04 for Colorado), RH A.J. Burnett (0-2, 4.70 in four games).

Key Relievers: RH Armando Benitez (4-4, 3.33 ERA, 21/28 for three teams), RH Chad Fox (3-3, 3.12), LH Michael Tejera (3-4, 4.67), RH Nate Bump (4-0, 4.71), LH Michael Neu (0-0, 3.64 for Oakland), LH Tommy Phelps (3-2, 4.00).

Hot Spot: Choi was NL rookie of the month last April for Cubs, but was sidelined in June by a concussion and struggled when he returned. He'll try to replace Lee (31 homers, 92 RBIs).

Stat Sheet: NL Rookie of the Year Willis went 9-1 with a 2.08 ERA before All-Star break and 5-5 with a 4.60 ERA afterward, with a postseason ERA of 8.53. He could be bumped from the rotation by Burnett, expected to return from elbow surgery in May.

Bottom Line: Marlins won the World Series last year but say they lost $17 million. Owner Jeffrey Loria has made little progress in pursuit of new ballpark, and despite two championship seasons in past seven years, the franchise faces uncertain future.




Philadelphia Phillies

2003: 86-76, 3rd place.

Manager: Larry Bowa (fourth season).

He's Here: LHP Billy Wagner, LHP Eric Milton, RHP Tim Worrell, RHP Roberto Hernandez, INF-C Shawn Wooten, OF Doug Glanville.

He's Outta Here: RHP Jose Mesa, RHP Terry Adams, RHP Brandon Duckworth, RHP Carlos Silva, LHP Dan Plesac, LHP Valerio De Los Santos, RHP Mike Williams, RHP Turk Wendell, INF Nick Punto, C Kelly Stinnett.

Projected Lineup: CF Marlon Byrd (.303, 7, 45), SS Jimmy Rollins (.263, 8, 62, 20 SBs); 1B Jim Thome (.266, 47, 131, .573 SLG); LF Pat Burrell (.209, 21, 64, 142 Ks), RF Bobby Abreu (.300, 20, 101, 20 SBs), C Mike Lieberthal (.313, 13, 81), 2B Placido Polanco (.289, 14, 63), 3B David Bell (.195, 4, 37).

Rotation: RH Kevin Millwood (14-12, 4.01), LH Randy Wolf (16-10, 4.23), RH Vicente Padilla 14-12, 3.62), LH Eric Milton (1-0, 2.65, 3 starts), RH Brett Myers (14-9, 4.43).

Key Relievers: LH Billy Wagner (1-4, 1.78 (44/47 saves for Houston), RH Tim Worrell (4-4, 2.87, 38/45 for San Francisco), LH Rheal Cormier (8-0, 1.70).

Hot Spot: Bell was signed before 2003 season to provide clutch hitting and steady defense at 3B. But he's been beset by injuries, including a shoulder problem that sidelined him this spring. If he can't play, Polanco might have to move to third. Tomas Perez and Wooten also are options.

Stat Sheet: Offense must cut down on strikeouts (1,155) and increase stolen bases (72). Burrell has to rebound from a horrible season after hitting 37 homers and driving in 116 runs in 2002. Wagner and Worrell (82/92 saves) are much better than Mesa and closers used last year.

Bottom Line: After another offseason spending spree, the Phillies move into new stadium as favorites to win NL East and end Atlanta's string of division titles. Nothing less than a playoff berth will be accepted in this championship-starved city. Bowa could feel the heat if team starts slow and he loses control of players. Starting rotation is deep, revamped bullpen is better and lineup could score plenty if Burrell finds his stroke again.




Montreal Expos

2003: 83-79, 4th place.

Manager: Frank Robinson (third season).

He's Here: OF Carl Everett, 1B Nick Johnson, 3B Tony Batista, OF Juan Rivera, INF Andy Fox, C Gregg Zaun, LHP Randy Choate, RHP Pat Mahomes.

He's Outta Here: OF Vladimir Guerrero, RHP Javier Vazquez, 1B Wil Cordero, C Michael Barrett, LHP Scott Stewart, INF Todd Zeile, 3B Fernando Tatis, OF-INF Jose Macias, RHP Orlando Hernandez, RHP Hector Almonte, RHP Britt Reames.

Projected Lineup: CF Brad Wilkerson (.268, 19, 77, 155 Ks), SS Orlando Cabrera (.297, 17, 80, 47 2Bs, 24 SBs), 2B Jose Vidro (.310, 15, 65), RF Carl Everett (.287, 28, 92), 3B Tony Batista (.235, 26, 99, 102 Ks for Baltimore), 1B Nick Johnson (.284, 14, 47 for Yankees), C Brian Schneider (.230, 9, 46), LF Juan Rivera (.266, 7, 26) or Endy Chavez (.251, 5, 47, 18 SBs) or Ron Calloway (.238, 9, 52) or Termel Sledge (.324, 24, 92, in Triple-A) or Peter Bergeron (.302, 1, 32 in Triple-A).

Rotation: RH Livan Hernandez (15-10, 3.20, 8 CGs), RH Tony Armas Jr. (2-1, 2.61), RH Tomo Ohka (10-12, 4.16), RH Zach Day (9-8, 4.18), RH Claudio Vargas (6-8, 4.34).

Key Relievers: RH Rocky Biddle (5-8, 4.65, 34/41 saves), RH Luis Ayala (10-3, 2.92, 5 saves), LH Joey Eischen (2-2, 3.06, 1 save), RH Chad Cordero (1-0, 1.64, 1 save), RH T.J. Tucker (2-3, 4.73), RH Jeremy Fikac (0-1, 4.50).

Hot Spot: Despite loss of Guerrero's potent bat, Expos have potentially one of their most balanced offensive lineups ever. Even with his anemic batting average and on-base percentage, Batista is a huge upgrade at third base thanks to his power and run production. Everett, a surprising addition, was drawn to team's competitive spirit. And Johnson's patience at the plate will help temper free-swinging approach of holdovers who rose through Expos' minor league ranks.

Stat Sheet: Expos won 52 home games last year, including those shifted to San Juan; it was third-highest total in franchise's 36 seasons. They were also in playoff contention going into September, but finished 31-50 on the road for a ninth straight losing season away from Olympic Stadium.

Bottom Line: In a division laden with strong competition, Expos will have big challenge achieving third straight winning season. A fast start will be a key with another 22 "home" games to be played in Puerto Rico -- this year, all prior to All-Star break. Pitching will tell the tale. If Hernandez remains healthy, Armas regains form following shoulder surgery, and back end of rotation builds on last season's performance, the loss of Vazquez will be negligible.




New York Mets

2003: 66-95, 5th place.

Manager: Art Howe (second season).

He's Here: SS Kaz Matsui, CF Mike Cameron, RHP Braden Looper, OF Karim Garcia, OF Shane Spencer, INF Todd Zeile, RHP Scott Erickson, RHP Ricky Bottalico, RHP James Baldwin.

He's Outta Here: 1B Tony Clark, RHP Pedro Astacio, INF Jay Bell, OF Tsuyoshi Shinjo, INF Marco Scutaro, LHP Jaime Cerda.

Projected Lineup: SS Kaz Matsui (.305, 33, 84, 36 2Bs, 13 SBs, 124 Ks in Japan), 2B Jose Reyes (.307, 5, 32 13 SBs in 69 games), LF Cliff Floyd (.290, 18, 68 in 108 games), C Mike Piazza (.286, 11, 34 in 68 games), CF Mike Cameron (.253, 18, 76, 137 Ks with Seattle), 1B Jason Phillips (.298, 11, 58), 3B Ty Wigginton (.255, 11, 71, 124 Ks), RF Karim Garcia (.262, 11, 35 in 76 games with Indians and Yankees) or Shane Spencer (.251, 12, 49 with Cleveland and Texas).

Rotation: LH Tom Glavine (9-14, 4.52), LH Al Leiter (15-9, 3.99), RH Steve Trachsel (16-10, 3.78), RH Jae Weong Seo (9-12, 3.82), RH Grant Roberts (0-3, 3.79, 1 in 18 relief appearances) or RH Aaron Heilman (2-7, 6.75) or RH Scott Erickson (injured last season, 5-12, 5.55 in 2002 with Baltimore) or RH Tyler Yates (3-6, 4.28 at three minor league levels) or RH James Baldwin (0-1, 5.40 in 10 relief appearances for Minnesota).

Key Relievers: RH Braden Looper (6-4, 3.68, 28 for Florida), RH David Weathers (1-6, 3.08, 7), LH John Franco (0-3, 2.62, 2), LH Mike Stanton (2-7, 4.57, 5), RH Scott Strickland (0-2, 2.25, 19 games, elbow surgery).

Hot Spot: Plan is for Piazza to play some first base to keep his bat in lineup more. But he doesn't move well and nobody seems sure how often he'll play there. Phillips looks to build on rookie season, when he surprised everybody with his production.

Stat Sheet: New York's paltry .314 on-base percentage and 642 runs were second-worst in league. Matsui and Reyes can help improve those numbers by giving Floyd and Piazza a chance to hit with runners on base. If so, and the sluggers stay healthy, this offense could be much better.

Bottom Line: Coming off consecutive last-place finishes, Mets made effort to spend more wisely and improve defense in the offseason. Matsui, a seven-time All-Star in Japan, and Reyes should provide speed at top of the lineup and a nifty double-play combination. Team is expecting too much from an old pitching staff, and lineup lacks proven power. GM Jim Duquette has helped replenish farm system some, but club still has a long way to go.

Central





Chicago Cubs

2003: 88-74, 1st place.

Manager: Dusty Baker (second season).

He's Here: RHP Greg Maddux, 1B Derrek Lee, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, 2B Todd Walker, C Michael Barrett, LHP Kent Mercker, OF Todd Hollandsworth.

He's Outta Here: OF Kenny Lofton, 1B Eric Karros, 1B Hee Seop Choi, C Damian Miller, RHP Antonio Alfonseca, LHP Shawn Estes, LHP Mark Guthrie, RHP Dave Veres, 1B Randall Simon, OF Troy O'Leary.

Projected Lineup: 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.314, 3, 38, .366 OBP, 38 2Bs), CF Corey Patterson (.298, 13, 55 in 83 games), RF Sammy Sosa (.279, 40, 103, .553 SLG, 143 Ks), LF Moises Alou (.280, 22, 91), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.274, 27, 106, 33 Es -- but only 10 after joining Cubs on July 22), 1B Derrek Lee (.271, 31, 92, 21 SBs), SS Alex Gonzalez (.228, 20, 59, 123 Ks), C Michael Barrett (.208, 10, 30 in 70 games).

Rotation: RHP Kerry Wood (14-11, 3.20, major league-high 266 Ks, 21 HBPs), RHP Greg Maddux (16-11, 3.96, 33 BBs), RHP Mark Prior (18-6, 2.43, 245 Ks), RHP Matt Clement (14-12, 4.11), RHP Carlos Zambrano (13-11, 3.11).

Key Relievers: RHP Joe Borowski (2-2, 2.63, 33/37 saves), RHP LaTroy Hawkins (9-3, 1.86 with Minnesota), RHP Kyle Farnsworth (3-2, 3.30, 92 Ks in 76 1-3 IPs), LHP Mike Remlinger (6-5, 3.65), LHP Kent Mercker (0-2, 1.95 with Cincinnati and Atlanta).

Hot Spot: After so many years as baseball's "lovable losers," Cubs find themselves in unusual role of favorites. Handling increased expectations -- and accompanying attention -- could be a challenge, especially with so many newcomers. Cubs have one of the best rotations around and solid game-enders in Hawkins and Borowski, but someone has to pitch those middle innings. Patterson's surgically repaired left knee bears watching.

Stat Sheet: Not many teams will be able to match up against Chicago's starting rotation. All five won 13 or more games last year and pitched at least 200 innings, and only Clement had an ERA over 3.96. Wood and Prior led majors in strikeouts, and Clement and Zambrano each topped 165. Maddux may have had an "off" year last season, but he's still the master of control and precision. He issued just 33 walks in 2181/3 innings last year.

Bottom Line: Cubs made huge strides last year, winning division and coming within five outs of first World Series since 1945. OK, so they collapsed in Games 6 and 7 of NLCS. But don't forget, this was a team that won 67 games in 2002 and got not one, but two managers fired. Now Cubs have to win on a consistent basis. No small feat, considering they haven't had back-to-back winning seasons since 1972. But if their powerhouse rotation can stay healthy, Baker and the Cubs should make a run at another division title.




Houston Astros

2003: 87-75, 2nd place.

Manager: Jimy Williams (third season).

He's Here: LHP Andy Pettitte, RHP Roger Clemens, OF Orlando Palmeiro.

He's Outta Here: LHP Billy Wagner, 3B Geoff Blum, OF Orlando Merced, LHP Ron Villone.

Projected Lineup: CF Craig Biggio (.264, 15, 62, 44 2Bs, 102 runs), SS Adam Everett (.256, 8, 51), 1B Jeff Bagwell (.278, 39, 100), LF Lance Berkman (.288, 25, 93, 107 BBs), 2B Jeff Kent (.297, 22, 93), RF Richard Hidalgo (.309, 28, 88, 43 2Bs), 3B Morgan Ensberg (.291, 25, 60), C Brad Ausmus (.229, 4, 47).

Rotation: RH Roy Oswalt (10-5, 2.97), LH Andy Pettitte (21-8, 4.02 for Yankees), RH Roger Clemens (17-9, 3.91 for Yankees), RH Wade Miller (14-13, 4.13), RH Tim Redding (10-14, 3.68).

Key Relievers: RH Octavio Dotel (6-4, 2.48, 4), RH Brad Lidge (6-3, 3.60), RH Dan Miceli (1-1, 2.10).

Hot Spot: Focus will be on All-Star rotation led by emerging star Oswalt. If Pettitte and Clemens successfully adjust to NL and Miller and Redding pitch to their potential, few teams should be able to match their starting five. Dotel's numbers indicate he has the stuff to replace Wagner -- traded to Phillies in offseason -- but only time will tell.

Stat Sheet: Biggio, 38, was one of baseball's top leadoff men in his prime during the 1990s, mixing hitting acumen, speed and power to become a star. He's not at that level anymore and his on-base percentages the last two years have been lowest since 1990, his second full big league season. The slugging Astros don't really have a prototypical leadoff hitter anywhere else on roster.

Bottom Line: Pettitte and Clemens are expected to give a huge boost to a team that finished just a game behind Cubs. But Astros' position players are same as last September, except for Ensberg taking over third base job full time with Blum's trade to Tampa Bay. That lineup was fourth in NL in scoring and should put up plenty of runs again if everyone stays healthy. If not -- Biggio, Bagwell, Kent and Ausmus all are 35 or older -- there's not much help ready in Triple-A.




St. Louis Cardinals

2003: 85-77, 3rd place.

Manager: Tony La Russa (ninth season).

He's Here: OF Reggie Sanders, RHP Jeff Suppan, RHP Julian Tavarez, RHP Mike Lincoln, 2B Marlon Anderson, RHP Jason Marquis, RHP Chris Carpenter, LHP Ray King, OF Ray Lankford.

He's Outta Here: OF J.D. Drew, 1B Tino Martinez, 2B Fernando Vina, OF-C Eli Marrero, RHP Brett Tomko, LHP Sterling Hitchcock, LHP Jeff Fassero, OF Orlando Palmeiro, OF Eduardo Perez, INF-OF Miguel Cairo, RHP Mike DeJean, RHP Esteban Yan, LHP Lance Painter, RHP Russ Springer, RHP Garrett Stephenson.

Projected Lineup: LF Kerry Robinson (.250 in 208 at-bats), RF Reggie Sanders (.285, 31, 87), 1B Albert Pujols (.359, 43, 124), CF Jim Edmonds (.275, 39, 89), 3B Scott Rolen (.286, 28, 104), SS Edgar Renteria (.330, 13, 100, 34 SBs), C Mike Matheny (.252, 8, 47), 2B Bo Hart (.277, 4, 28).

Rotation: RH Matt Morris (11-8, 3.76), RH Woody Williams (18-9, 3.87), RH Chris Carpenter (0-0, coming off shoulder surgery), RH Jeff Suppan (13-11, 4.19), RH Jason Marquis (0-0, 5.53, 8 wins at Triple-A).

Key Relievers: RH Jason Isringhausen (0-1, 2.36, 22), RH Julian Tavarez (3-3, 3.66, 11), LH Steve Kline (5-5, 3.82, 3), LH Ray King (3-4, 3.51), RH Cal Eldred (7-4, 3.74, 8), RH Mike Lincoln (3-4, 5.20, 5).

Hot Spots: LF and 2B were up for grabs at start of spring training. Robinson figures to beat out a host of candidates in LF because team also lacks a leadoff hitter and he's got good speed. Hart is better defensively than Marlon Anderson, an offseason pickup; neither draws many walks.

Stat Sheet: Rotation totaled only 42 victories last year, getting zero from Marquis and Carpenter, and appears rather vanilla compared to Cubs plus Greg Maddux and Astros with Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. But there are high hopes for Carpenter, who totaled 21 victories in 2001-02 for Blue Jays before shoulder troubles and was impressive all spring. A change of scenery could be good for Marquis, who foundered with Braves and spent much of last season in minors.

Bottom Line: A healthy Isringhausen, who missed much of first half of last season, and a revamped bullpen should help. Last year, they blew 31 save chances. St. Louis has one of the best lineups in NL despite trades of Drew and Martinez, and has four Gold Glove winners. Only area where Cardinals appear lacking is the rotation.




Pittsburgh Pirates

2003: 75-87, 4th place.

Manager: Lloyd McClendon (fourth season).

He's Here: OF Raul Mondesi, OF Ruben Mateo, OF-1B Orlando Merced, 1B Randall Simon, 3B Chris Stynes, OF Daryle Ward, RHP Juan Acevedo, RHP Jose Mesa, RHP Rick Reed, INF Chris Truby.

He's Outta Here: OF Reggie Sanders, OF Matt Stairs, LHP Jeff D'Amico, RHP Pat Mahomes, RHP Julian Tavarez, 2B Pokey Reese, RHP Mike Lincoln, OF Adam Hyzdu, INF Jeff Reboulet.

Projected Lineup: CF Tike Redman (.330, 3, 19), C Jason Kendall (.325, 6, 58, 25 HBPs), LF-RF Raul Mondesi (.272, 24, 71, 22 SBs with Yankees and Diamondbacks), 1B Randall Simon (.276, 16, 72 with Pirates and Cubs), LF Jason Bay (.287, 4, 14 with Padres and Pirates) or RF Craig Wilson (.262, 18, 48), 3B Chris Stynes (.255, 11, 73, only one HR on road with Rockies), 2B Bobby Hill (.276, 0, 0 in 7 ABs with Cubs and Pirates), SS Jack Wilson (.256, 9, 62).

Rotation: RH Kip Wells (10-9, 3.28), RH Kris Benson (5-9, 4.97), RH Josh Fogg (10-9, 5.26), LH Oliver Perez (4-10, 5.51), RH Rick Reed (6-12, 5.07 with Twins) or RHP Ryan Vogelsong (2-2, 6.55).

Key Relievers: RH Jose Mesa (5-7, 6.52, 24/28 with Phillies), LH Joe Beimel (1-3, 5.05), RH Brian Boehringer (5-4, 5.49, 11 HRs allowed in 62 1-3 innings), RH Salomon Torres (7-5, 4.76), RH Juan Acevedo (1-5, 6.57, 6 with Yankees and Blue Jays), LH Mark Guthrie (2-3, 2.74 ERA with Cubs).

Hot Spot: Pirates' bullpen was erratic all season a year ago, with closer Mike Williams inconsistent until being traded to Phillies and setup man Brian Boehringer susceptible to allowing homers. Offseason additions -- Mesa, Acevedo -- add even more volatility to a relief corps that will likely be a work in progress once season starts, especially if lefty setup man Beimel struggles like last season.

Stat Sheet: Pirates were unsuccessful in dealing Kendall during offseason so he now starts making huge money ($8 million) for a singles-doubles hitter (his 535 singles since 2000 are third in majors behind only Luis Castillo and Derek Jeter). Kendall is a high-salaried anomaly on a team that has pared payroll from low $50 million range a year ago to mid $30 million range. Pirates so watched their dollars during offseason, they allowed productive OF Matt Stairs (.292, 20, 57) to sign with Kansas City for only a $100,000 raise.

Bottom Line: Pirates are working on franchise-record streak of 11 consecutive losing seasons, and nothing suggests this won't be the 12th. They achieved modest victory gains under fourth-year manager Lloyd McClendon (62 wins in 2001; 72 in '02; 75 in '03), but appear to have fallen even further behind upgraded division rivals Houston, Chicago and St. Louis. With Mondesi the only significant offseason pickup, the best Pirates probably can expect is another fourth-place finish.




Cincinnati Reds

2003: 69-93, 5th place.

Manager: Dave Miley (first full season).

He's Here: RHP Cory Lidle, LHP Brandon Claussen, RHP Aaron Harang.

He's Outta Here: RHP Ryan Dempster, 3B Russell Branyan.

Projected Lineup: 2B D'Angelo Jimenez (.290, 7, 31), SS Barry Larkin (.282, 2, 18), CF Ken Griffey Jr. (.247, 13, 26), RF Austin Kearns (.264, 15, 58), LF Adam Dunn (.215, 27, 57), 1B Sean Casey (.291, 14, 80), C Jason LaRue (.230, 16, 50), 3B Brandon Larson (.101, 1, 9).

Rotation: RH Cory Lidle (12-15, 5.75), RHP Paul Wilson (8-10, 4.64), RH Jimmy Haynes (2-12, 6.30), RH Aaron Harang (4-3, 5.28), LH Brandon Claussen (1-0, 1.42).

Key Relievers: RH Danny Graves (4-15, 5.33, 2), RH Ryan Wagner (2-0, 1.66), RH Chris Reitsma (9-5, 4.29, 12).

Hot Spot: The rotation. Reds have been trying for years to develop young starters, without success. They'll probably let some of the young starters acquired in trades last season get a chance.

Stat Sheet: Reds set franchise record by using 17 different starters last season; also set club marks for highest earned run average (5.09) and most homers allowed (209).

Bottom Line: All three starting outfielders were injured last season, robbing lineup of its punch and setting up Reds' midseason rush to slash payroll. Reds will probably try to trade Griffey if he proves he has fully recovered from ankle and shoulder operations. The rotation is once again a work in progress, dooming team to also-ran status.





Milwaukee Brewers

2003: 68-94, 6th place.

Manager: Ned Yost (second season).

He's Here: 2B Junior Spivey, SS Craig Counsell, 1B Lyle Overbay, RF Ben Grieve, C Chad Moeller, LHP Chris Capuano, RH Adrian Hernandez, OF Chris Magruder, C Gary Bennett.

He's Outta Here: 1B Richie Sexson, RHP Shane Nance, LHP Glendon Rusch, SS Royce Clayton, C Eddie Perez, OF John Vander Wal, C Keith Osik, RHP Todd Ritchie.

Projected Lineup: CF Scott Podsednik (.314, 9, 58, 100 runs, 43 SBs), 2B Junior Spivey (.255, 13, 50 for Arizona), 1B Lyle Overbay (.276, 3, 28), LF Geoff Jenkins (.296, 28, 95, 0 Es in 124 Gs), RF Ben Grieve (.230, 4, 17), 3B Wes Helms (.261, 23, 67, 131 Ks) SS Craig Counsell (.234, 3, 21 for Arizona), C Chad Moeller (.268, 7, 29).

Rotation: RH Ben Sheets (11-13, 4.45), LH Doug Davis (7-8, 4.03), RH Matt Kinney (10-13, 5.19), LH Chris Capuano (2-4, 4.64), LH Wayne Franklin (10-13, 5.50, 116 Ks).

Key Relievers: RH Dan Kolb (1-2, 1.96, 21), RH Leo Estrella (7-3, 4.36), LH Brooks Kieschnick (1-1, 5.26), RH Luis Vizcaino (4-3, 6.39).

Hot Spot: For first time in years, Brewers had competition for spots at spring training thanks to their trade of All-Star Sexson to Arizona that brought six players in return -- Overbay, Counsell, Spivey, Moeller, Capuano and pitcher Jorge De La Rosa. Spivey and Keith Ginter battled for second base job. Also, RHs Adrian Hernandez and Wes Obermueller pushed for a spot in the rotation.

Stat Sheet: Podsednik wasn't the only wildly successful reclamation project GM Doug Melvin produced from his days at Texas. He also grabbed Kolb, who salvaged his career in Milwaukee. Kolb joined the Brewers in June and became club's closer after Mike DeJean was traded to St. Louis. Kolb converted his first 19 save opportunities and had a 1.27 ERA after All-Star break.

Bottom Line: Low-budget Brewers couldn't wait for season to start, and not just so they could try to end 11-year skid without a winning record. They had a tumultuous winter with popular team president resigning over plans to cut player payroll to around $30 million, traded their best player and agreed to an outside review of finances to satisfy a public angered by broken promises to field better teams in Miller Park, which opened in 2001. They have an eye on future thanks to stocked farm system that could begin producing prospects by midseason.

West





San Francisco Giants

2003: 100-61, 1st place.

Manager: Felipe Alou (second season).

He's Here: C A.J. Pierzynski, OF Dustan Mohr, OF Michael Tucker, RHP Brett Tomko.

He's Outta Here: RHP Sidney Ponson, RHP Joe Nathan, OF Jose Cruz Jr., SS Rich Aurilia, RHP Tim Worrell, C Benito Santiago, 2B Eric Young, OF Marvin Benard.

Projected Lineup: 2B Ray Durham (.285, 8, 33), 1B J.T. Snow (.273, 8, 51), CF Marquis Grissom (.300, 20, 79), LF Barry Bonds (.341, 45, 90, 148 BBs, 61 IBBs, 111 runs, .749 SLG, .529 OBP), 3B Edgardo Alfonzo (.259, 13, 81), RF Michael Tucker (.262, 13, 55 in 104 games with Royals), C A.J. Pierzynski (.312, 11, 74 with Minnesota), SS Neifi Perez (.256, 1, 31).

Rotation: RH Jason Schmidt (17-5, NL-leading 2.34, 208 Ks), LH Kirk Rueter (10-5, 4.53), RH Jerome Williams (7-5, 3.30), RH Brett Tomko (13-9, 5.28 with St. Louis), RH Dustin Hermanson (3-3, 4.06 with St. Louis and San Francisco).

Key Relievers: RH Robb Nen (6-2, 2.20, 43/51 saves in 2002), RH Felix Rodriguez (8-2, 3.10, 2), LH Scott Eyre (2-1, 3.32, 1), RH Matt Herges (3-2, 2.62, 3).

Hot Spot: Health. Team's ace and closer are both coming back from injuries. Nen missed all of last season recovering from serious shoulder problems, but Alou is counting on him after San Francisco let last year's fill-in (Worrell) go to Philadelphia. Schmidt is coming off best year but Alou doesn't want to push him too hard after offseason elbow surgery.

Stat Sheet: Two. That's how many home runs Bonds needs to tie his godfather, Willie Mays, for third place on career list. He's 56 shy of Babe Ruth; 97 from matching Hank Aaron's record. Bonds played through grief of father's death last year. This season, he'll have to contend with more questions about possible steroid use following trainer's indictment in alleged steroid-distribution ring.

Bottom Line: Giants lost key players but still have Bonds, which should make them competitive in wide-open division race. The key will be getting runners on base in front of Bonds and making teams pay when they pitch around him. Pedro Feliz could earn starting job at first base or in outfield to provide more power. Schmidt has established himself as a legitimate ace, but Giants could use another top starter. Williams flashed signs of potential as a rookie last season and GM Brian Sabean is known for making midseason deals to bolster the team for a playoff push.




Los Angeles Dodgers

2003: 85-77, 2nd place.

Manager: Jim Tracy (fourth season).

He's Here: RHP Jeff Weaver, RHP Josa Lima, INF Olmedo Saenz, INF Jose Hernandez, OF Bubba Trammell.

He's Outta Here: RHP Kevin Brown, OF Brian Jordan, RHP Paul Quantrill, OF Jeromy Burnitz, 1B Fred McGriff, OF Daryle Ward, OF-1B Mike Kinkade, RHP Andy Ashby, INF Ron Coomer, OF Rickey Henderson, OF Chad Hermansen.

Projected Lineup: CF Dave Roberts (.250, 2, 16, 40 SBs), SS Cesar Izturis (.251, 1, 40), 3B Adrian Beltre (.240, 23, 80), RF Shawn Green (.280, 19, 85), C Paul Lo Duca (.273, 7, 52), LF Juan Encarnacion (.270, 19, 94 with Florida), 1B Robin Ventura (.242, 14, 55 with Yankees and Dodgers), 2B Jolbert Cabrera (.282, 6, 37) or 2B Alex Cora (.249, 4, 34).

Rotation: RH Hideo Nomo (16-13, 3.09), LH Odalis Perez (12-12, 4.52), RH Jeff Weaver (7-9, 5.99 with Yankees), LH Kazuhisa Ishii (9-7, 3.86), RH Edwin Jackson (2-1, 2.45 in 4 games).

Key Relievers: RH Eric Gagne (2-3, 1.20, 55/55 saves, 137 Ks), RH Guillermo Mota (6-3, 1.97), RH Paul Shuey (6-4, 3.00), LH Tom Martin (1-2, 3.53), RH Darren Dreifort (4-4, 4.03), LH Wilson Alvarez (6-2, 2.37).

Hot Spot: Dodgers couldn't get on base last season and scored a big league-low 574 runs. Little done to improve feeble offense, though Encarnacion should provide some help. Green hit 91 homers and drove in 239 runs from 2001-02, but was hampered by right shoulder that required offseason surgery. Roberts played in only 107 games because of injured right hamstring and Dodgers were without an adequate replacement at top of lineup. Both are healthy now, and that alone is cause for optimism. The inconsistent Beltre has to a lot to prove as No. 3 hitter.

Stat Sheet: Gagne is coming off two of the best years by a closer in big league history, saving 52 games in 56 chances in 2002 and converting all 55 opportunities last year, when he won Cy Young Award. He enters season with a record 63 straight saves. Mota takes over as main setup man and has stuff to be successful in that role. Rest of bullpen is solid.

Bottom Line: NL West appears a bit weaker this season, perhaps giving Dodgers a legitimate shot at making playoffs for first time since 1996. They haven't won a postseason game since 1988. For that to happen, the pitching staff probably will have to come close to equaling big league-low 3.16 ERA it had last year.




Arizona Diamondbacks

2003: 84-78, 3rd place.

Manager: Bob Brenly (fourth season).

He's Here: 1B Richie Sexson, 2B Roberto Alomar, RHP Shane Reynolds, RHP Steve Sparks, 1B Greg Colbrunn, C Brent Mayne, LHP Shane Nance, LHP Casey Fossum.

He's Outta Here: RHP Curt Schilling, RHP Miguel Batista, LHP Mike Myers, OF Raul Mondesi, 1B Mark Grace, 2B Junior Spivey, INF Craig Counsell, 1B Lyle Overbay, C Chad Moeller, C Rod Barajas, OF Quinton McCracken.

Projected Lineup: CF Steve Finley (.287, 22, 70), 2B Roberto Alomar (.258, 5, 39 with Mets and White Sox), LF Luis Gonzalez (.304, 26, 104), 1B Richie Sexson (.272, 45, 124, 151 Ks with Milwaukee), SS Alex Cintron (.317, 13, 51), 3B Shea Hillenbrand (.280, 20, 97 with Boston and Arizona), RF Danny Bautista (.275, 4, 36), C Robby Hammock (.282, 8, 28).

Rotation: LH Randy Johnson (6-8, 4.26, 125 Ks in 18 starts), RH Brandon Webb (10-9, 2.84), RH Elmer Dessens (8-8, 5.07), RH Shane Reynolds (11-9, 5.43 with Atlanta), RH Steve Sparks (0-6, 4.88 with Detroit and Oakland).

Key Relievers: RH Matt Mantei (5-4, 2.62, 29/32 saves), RH Jose Valverde (2-1, 2.15, 10/11), RH Oscar Villarreal (10-7, 2.57, 78 games, record for NL rookies), LH Stephen Randolph (8-1, 4.05), RH Mike Koplove (3-0, 2.15), LH Casey Fossum (6-5, 5.47 with Boston).

Hot Spot: Randy Johnson's right knee. At 40, Johnson is carrying rotation alone after sharing load with Curt Schilling in what was one of the toughest lefty-righty combinations ever. Johnson had four strong starts at end of last year and has been terrific in spring as he comes back from last season's knee surgery. He has no cartilage left in that knee, but got fluid injections in December. More injections might be needed, but Johnson is as fierce as ever.

Stat Sheet: Offense was awful last year. Diamondbacks were 10th in league in runs and 12th in homers, leading to trade for Sexson. Arizona also hopes for a rebound season from Alomar, who came to spring training in great shape and took a big pay cut after two bad seasons with Mets and White Sox. Sexson played every inning last season. Brenly plans a set lineup after mixing and matching throughout first three seasons.

Bottom Line: Diamondbacks think they can contend in this division. Johnson's health and Webb's ability to keep batters off-balance with nasty sinker are crucial, as is an improved year from Dessens, who worked in offseason in the Mexican League. Gonzalez is playing with a torn ligament in right elbow. Cintron goes into his first full season as an everyday player. Hillenbrand likes his No. 6 spot in lineup. Restructuring of ownership has put more cash into organization, so team should be able to afford midseason acquisitions if it's in the hunt.




Colorado Rockies

2003: 74-88, 4th place.

Manager: Clint Hurdle (third season).

He's Here: 3B Vinny Castilla, LF Jeromy Burnitz, 2B Aaron Miles, INF Luis Gonzalez, LHP Joe Kennedy, LHP Shawn Estes, RHP Allan Simpson, SS Royce Clayton, RHP Travis Driskill, LHP Jeff Fassero, RHP Tim Harikkala, RHP Vladimir Nunez, RHP Jeff Tam, RHP Brian Tollberg, RHP Turk Wendell, C Hector Ortiz, SS Benji Gil, INF Denny Hocking, INF Damian Jackson.

He's Outta Here: 2B Ronnie Belliard, C Bobby Estalella, RHP Jose Jimenez, INF Greg Norton, LHP Darren Oliver, LF Jay Payton, RHP Justin Speier, 3B Chris Stynes, SS Juan Uribe.

Projected Lineup: 2B Aaron Miles (.333, 0, 2, 12 ABs with White Sox), SS Royce Clayton (.228, 11, 39 with Milwaukee), 1B Todd Helton (.358, 33, 117, 135 runs, 49 2Bs), CF Preston Wilson (.282, 36, 141, 43 2Bs), RF Larry Walker (.284, 16, 79), 3B Vinny Castilla (.277, 22, 76 with Atlanta), LF Jeromy Burnitz (.239, 31, 77 with Mets and Dodgers), C Charles Johnson (.230, 20, 61).

Rotation: RH Jason Jennings (12-13, 5.11, 8-1 at Coors Field), RH Scott Elarton (4-4, 6.27), LH Joe Kennedy (3-12, 6.13 with Tampa Bay), LH Shawn Estes (8-11, 5.73 with Cubs), RH Denny Stark (3-3, 5.83) or LH Jeff Fassero (1-7, 5.68 with Cardinals).

Key Relievers: RH Shawn Chacon (11-8, 4.60 as a starter), LH Brian Fuentes (3-3, 2.75), LH Javier Lopez (4-1, 3.70), RH Turk Wendell (3-3, 3.38 with Phillies).

Hot Spot: Walker rededicated himself in offseason and Rockies will need him healthy and productive in revamped lineup built for power. He struggled with shoulder and knee injuries, which affected what had previously been an unshakable confidence. Walker hit the weights and dropped 20 pounds, but it won't do any good if he doesn't find a way to regain bat speed at 37.

Stat Sheet: As usual, Colorado had one of the worst ERAs in the majors last season (5.23); might not get any better this year. Colorado lost its most consistent starter when Oliver (13-11, 5.04) left for Florida, and LHP Denny Neagle isn't expected to pitch this season after Tommy John surgery. Chacon's live arm should help bullpen, where Rockies became desperate after Jimenez (2-10, 5.22) faltered last year. Colorado hopes veterans Estes, Elarton and Fassero can turn back clock and Stark can bounce back from back injury that wiped out half of last season.

Bottom Line: Organization is at a crossroads. Rockies have just one winning season in last six and haven't made playoffs since their only appearance as a wild card in 1995. Colorado set attendance records its first few seasons, but the losses combined with novelty wearing off has caused attendance to drop each of last seven seasons to a franchise-low 2.3 million last year. Rockies spent offseason loading up on "character" guys in effort to create winning atmosphere, but it won't matter how nice they are or how well they get along in clubhouse if they don't produce.




San Diego Padres

2003: 64-98, 5th place.

Manager: Bruce Bochy (10th season).

He's Here: LHP David Wells, LHP Sterling Hitchcock, RHP Ismael Valdes, C Ramon Hernandez, OF Terrence Long, OF Jay Payton, 3B Jeff Cirillo, RHP Antonio Osuna, OF Gene Kingsale, RHP Akinori Otsuka, C Tom Wilson.

He's Outta Here: OF Mark Kotsay, RHP Kevin Jarvis, C Wiki Gonzalez, INF Dave Hansen, OF Gary Matthews Jr., C Gary Bennett, LHP Mike Matthews.

Projected Lineup: 3B Sean Burroughs (.286, 7, 58), 2B Mark Loretta (.314, 13, 72), RF Brian Giles (.299, 20, 88, 105 BBs with Pirates and Padres), 3B Phil Nevin (.279, 13, 46 in 59 games), LF Ryan Klesko (.252, 21, 67), CF Jay Payton (.302, 28, 89 with Colorado), C Ramon Hernandez (.273, 21, 78 with Oakland), SS Khalil Greene (.215, 2, 6, 65 ABs).

Rotation: LH David Wells (15-7, 4.14 with Yankees), RH Brian Lawrence (10-15, 4.19), RH Jake Peavy (12-11, 4.11, 156 K), RH Adam Eaton (9-12, 4.08, 146 K), LH Sterling Hitchcock (5-1, 3.79 with St. Louis).

Key Relievers: RH Trevor Hoffman (0-0, 2.00, 0/0 saves), RH Antonio Osuna (2-5, 3.73 with Yankees), RH Akinori Otsuka (1-3, 2.09, 17 saves in Japan), RH Rod Beck (3-2, 1.78, 20/20), Jay Witasick (3-7, 4.53, 2/7).

Hot Spot: Cleanup hitter Nevin and closer Hoffman need to stay healthy. Nevin missed significant time each of last two seasons with arm and shoulder injuries, then strained left shoulder this spring. He should be ready for opening day. Hoffman didn't pitch in any save situations after returning in September from two shoulder operations. He remains fifth on career list with 352.

Stat Sheet: In addition to his $1.25 million salary, Wells can make $5.75 million in incentives if he makes 34 starts.

Bottom Line: It's time to put up or shut up for Padres, who played small-market card while waiting for Petco Park to open and responded with five straight losing seasons. The $458 million ballpark opens April 8, and the Padres are confident they'll contend after having league's worst record last year. GM Kevin Towers made 12 major acquisitions in offseason, then Nevin and Payton got hurt in spring training. Beck left team indefinitely with personal problem.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.