by Michael Morrison
They're similar to the Minnesota Twins in that they have a fantastic righty/lefty combo (Maddux and Glavine) at the top of their rotation. They're dissimilar to the Twins in every other way imaginable. Will the Braves ever be bad again? Not with those starters.
New York Mets
In 2000, it was the addition of pitching ace Mike Hampton that finally made them the National League's best team. And in 2001, it's the loss of Hampton that will keep them out of the World Series. Great lineup, great bullpen, and a fine rotation—just not the best this year.
Seemingly for the first time since H. Wayne Huizenga left, Marlins management has decided it's OK to spend a little cash. They spent $35 million to re-acquire catcher Charles Johnson and dropped another $32 million on star centerfielder Preston Wilson. This team was just under .500 in 2000 and is obviously heading in the right direction.
From top to bottom, the Phillies' pitching staff just isn't good enough to make them contenders. Bobby Abreu, Scott Rolen and Pat Burrell will all hit over 30 bombs but it won't matter.
When the Expos traded away Pedro Martinez in 1997, in return they received pitchers Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. Along with Javier Vazquez, those two are now the anchors of what should be a great starting staff in 2001. How soon till they're traded away? It's got to be frustrating for manager Felipe Alou.
St. Louis Cardinals
If Mark McGwire can give the Cardinals at least 100 games in the regular season and make sure he's healthy for the postseason, this is the odds-on favorite to be the National League's entry in the World Series. Obviously the team would love to see Rick Ankiel's problems with wildness go away, but they should be fine even without him.
The Astros' first season at Enron Field wasn't a total disaster, just a partial one. They did swat 249 homers to break the National League season-record. And they did see the emergence of staff ace Scott Elarton, who went 17-7, but they still finished 23 games behind St. Louis. Craig Biggio and Billy Wagner should return healthy this year, Jose Lima should return to form, and Houston should win 85 games.
Only Ken Griffey Jr. can hit 40 home runs and drive in 118 and still have a "bad" year. He's happier and, barring injury, will be even more productive in 2001 but the Reds are woefully short in starting pitching.
The Pirates have two all-stars in Brian Giles and Jason Kendall and the starting pitching to finally get them over the .500 hump. Unfortunately the talent of their starters is matched by their propensity for being hurt. Without a healthy Kris Benson and Jason Schmidt, this team won't do much.
The middle of their lineup—Geoff Jenkins, Richie Sexson, and Jeromy Burnitz—can bang the ball with anyone, but like many clubs, they fall short in starting pitching. Olympic hero Ben Sheets could provide immediate help in that department.
Los Angeles Dodgers
They are consistently picked to win the division and consistently they underachieve. But THIS is the year. No really, it is. The pitching is just too good to overlook. Last year Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort truly turned the corner to take some pressure off ace Kevin Brown. This year, newly added Andy Ashby will make them even stronger.
San Francisco Giants
Who would have thought the 2000 N.L. MVP would be a Giant and it wouldn't be Barry Bonds? Second basemen Jeff Kent was the deserving winner, blasting 33 homers, playing solid defense and propelling his club to the best record in baseball. They'll challenge again but losing the leadership of veteran Ellis Burks will hurt.
"I'll get this team's ERA under 5.00 if it kills me!" must have been what GM Dan O'Dowd was thinking when he signed Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle this offseason. It may not kill him but it will cost him over $170 million—and the Rockies will be much improved.
The Diamondbacks can be summed up in just three letters: O-L-D. The average age of their projected starting lineup is 34 and not one of them is in his 20s. Similarly, the pitching staff is led by 37-year-old Randy Johnson and 34-year-old Curt Schilling. Leadership won't be a problem and Johnson is just as scary as ever, but this team is clearly set up for trouble.
San Diego Padres
Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko have both become excellent run producers but teams need more than just two to succeed in this league. Trevor Hoffman is one of the best closers of the game but still might only get 30 saves on this team.