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April 16, 1999
Projected 1999 National League Standings
We guesstimate the season's winners and losers
Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' predictions for 1999. We'll go division by division and each of our staff members will tell you what they think about the races. Remember, there's a reason we don't print this stuff in the book; there is no good way we know of to predict what a team will do before the season begins. Consider these teamwide WFGs, take them with a grain of salt, and enjoy.
The Braves' three aces are still enough to have the NL East well in hand, although the Mets will claim the wild card. The Expos and Marlins are still learning to play the game, while the Phillies exchange their ace for some unknowns from the deck. In Atlanta, the Jones boys--Chipper and Andruw--are more than enough to cover for offensive holes at shortstop, second base and left field. Bobby Cox will torch a few games in April trying to prop up Mark Wohlers before making John Rocker the closer. The Mets off-season dollar-o-rama won't pay off as handsomely as they had hoped, as Bobby Bonilla proves to be a waste of a roster spot and teams learn that Rickey Henderson can no longer hit pitches in the strike zone. A solid top-to-bottom pitching staff enables the Mets to make the playoffs. In Montreal, Felipe Alou will somehow coax eighty wins out his peach-fuzzed pitching staff and Vladimir Guerrero. Marlins' Manager John Boles has dropped five bucks on a device that was never seen in the dugout during the Leyland regime-a pitch counter. The Marlins will improve nearly as much as les Expos, enabling them to avoid another one hundred loss season. Lustful booing will be served daily at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, especially when the front office finally realizes that Curt Schilling is more valuable to the organization wearing another team's uniform.
Atlanta, 94-68: Best wishes to Andres Galarraga, and I'm happy to report I've just finished eating all of that delicious crow. But unless something goes horribly wrong during Greg Maddux's laser eye surgery, they still have three of the 10 best pitchers in baseball, and more pitching in the minor leagues than any other organization. As long as Bruce Chen is down there, anyway. Their bullpen woes are overrated, and Bobby Cox is a lot smarter than anyone gives him credit for. Throw in Chipper, Andruw, Javy Lopez, and contributions from Boone, Klesko, and Brian Jordan, and they should win the division handily. Again.
New York, 86-76, wild card: Why does everyone think their starting pitching is overrated? If I thought Al Leiter had a fluke year, maybe I'd agree, but I really don't. Wild lefties that suddenly improve their control usually keep it (see Randy Johnson, 1993). I'm not saying he'll have a 2.47 ERA again, but 2.97? That's reasonable. Toss in Rick Reed, the most underrated pitcher in baseball, and league-average performance from Bobby Jones, and don't forget that Octavio Dotel is just waiting for one of Hershiser or Yoshii to slip. This is the perfect park for Armando Benitez, with the tough hitting background; he could approach 14 K's per 9 innings, with an ERA around 2.50. The offense has it's problems with age (Henderson, Bonilla) and stiffness (Ordonez), but don't ever underestimate the impact of Mike Piazza.
Montreal, 79-83: I really want to make them the wild card favorites, if only to see what happens to MLB when pennant fever hits that "bad baseball town" up north amidst reports the team is moving. If Bergeron gets the call early, that might just be the best outfield in the league (okay, second behind the Cardinals). Felipe Alou should do his usual magic with the rotation, which could be very, very good this year: Hermanson, Pavano, and Vazquez all have all-star potential, and Jeremy Powell and Ted Lilly could arrive very fast. But they need a fluke, like Wilton Guerrero hitting .320 or something, or the infield is just going to bring the rest of the team down under .500.
Philadelphia, 77-85: I admire their persistence in holding onto Schilling, but what are they expecting? That he'll still be good (and under contract) when the team is ready to contend again? Keeping in mind how huge an injury risk he is, I'd trade him to the Indians in a heartbeat. There are some intriguing youngsters here, like Marlon Anderson (can he draw walks?) and Bobby Estalella (can he hit .250?) to watch, if Rolen and Abreu don't give you enough reason. And Carlton Loewer, Randy Wolf, and Cliff Politte aren't a bad way to rebuild the rotation. But it's going to take a few years.
Florida, 69-93: It's becoming increasingly clear that the Super-Rebuilding Process isn't going all that well, both because of managerial stupidity (goodbye, Livan, and you might be taking Jesus Sanchez and Rafael Medina with you) and some slip-ups from Dombrowski (Yarnall, Noel, and Mark Johnson for a player the Yankees had no use for?). I do think Kotsay can improve his game a little in every way and become a borderline All-Star this year. The cupboard is far from bare, but the oven looks pretty empty right now.
A romp for the Braves, again; they'll miss Galarraga in the playoffs more than they will at any point in the season. The Mets have spent a fortune on a bevy of moves, some strong, most questionable, and their entire pitching staff could collapse like dominoes, especially if Bobby Valentine leans heavily on his bullpen in support of Orel Hersheiser. The race for third place in the East will be more interesting than the race for first. The Expos are the preseason favorites on the basis of an improving pitching staff and a more settled lineup, although they are longshots for a .500 mark. Promoting and playing the system's top two hitting prospects (Michael Barrett and Peter Bergeron) would go a long way. The Phillies' fate depends on the health and effectiveness of its pitching staff, which is never a good sign. The Marlins are probably a year away from 85 wins, and will spend the year suffering more growing pains as they work more youngsters into the lineup and rotation.
Neither the Braves nor the Mets will be as good as some expect, but just the same, Atlanta should win the division and the Mets are the top candidate for the wildcard. The Marlins will finish over .500, but people will still think of them as the team that threw it all away. Montreal will wish they'd kept Pedro.
Despite their status as media darlings, it will take various acts of the deity of your choice to make the Mets division champions. Their offense has very little upside, and their pitching staff could be anything from dominant to below-average. Look for them to scuffle to 86 wins and once again come up short in the wild-card race.
No, this should be another 162-game warmup for the Braves. Even with its growing collection of average-to-below right-handed hitters, the Jones-led lineup will score the 825 runs needed to support the best rotation in the league. And watch that bullpen: for all the breast-beating over its inexperience and lack of a "proven closer", it has enough live arms--McGlinchy, Rocker, Seanez, eventually Chen or Perez--to be the best one in the league.
The other three teams can really be thrown in a hat. The Expos have some players in place, but will waste a lot of playing time on non-contributors like Wilton Guerrero, Jose Vidro and Brad Fullmer. I expect them to have a top five team ERA, however.
The Marlins are improved, with an upgraded pitching staff and the core of the offense a year older. .500 is about as much as you can expect. The Phillies are merely marking time until the Burrell Era; a Schilling trade would mean 100 losses.
1. Braves - Will win even if Bobby Cox goes out and plays left field everyday himself.
2. Mets - The acquisitions of Ventura, Henderson, Benitez and Cedeno help fill the holes that needed filling.
3. Expos - With the roof back on, Vlad will roll, and the young starting staff will develop under Alou.
4. Phillies - If only Rolen could play every position and Schilling could start every game.
5. Marlins - Huzienga's gone, but his legacy remains. The organization is crawling with prospects, but few look ready to emerge this year.
Atlanta - They lost their star first baseman and their closer for the season, and one of the league's top starters in a trade. Yet hardly anybody would think about picking the Braves second.
New York - They had a really good offseason, and that'll help offset the return to earth of some of 98's overachievers.
Philadelphia - The core of Rolen, Abreu, and Relaford is enough to build a team around. If their pitching comes through, they could challenge the Mets for second. I'm betting it won't, and they won't.
Montreal - I expect improvement over last year, especially in their pitching. That's not saying much -- they've pretty much got nowhere to go but up.
Florida - If you can't say anything nice...
Atlanta wins the NL East, ho hum. Galarraga will be worshipped as the team's inspiration, much as Strawberry was for the Yankees in the WS. The real interest will be in the rest of the division. The Mets are playing veteran-ball instead of prospect-ball, but I think they'll produce well enough collectively to contend for the wild-card. Felipe Alou will continue to work magic with the Expos pitching staff, while a Vladimir powered offense improves.
It must be nice to be an Astros' fan and know that despite losing Randy Johnson and Moises Alou that your team will still coast to a division title. The Wrangler--Larry Dierker--will seamlessly integrate talents like Mitch Meluskey, Richard Hidalgo and Scott Elarton and the beat goes on. I'm picking the Reds to finish second for two reasons. First, I wasn't here last year when they were the consensus pick to finish second by the authorship group, and I want my turn to feast on that crow. Second, Jim Bowden is everything that I dream to be--young, a smart GM with a bad haircut and a fetish. His obsession is with outfielders and first basemen. Mine? Uh...let's move on. Owners in St. Louis and Chicago should be hoping for "McGwire vs. Sosa II: The Race to Renegotiate," because there will be no pennant race to attract fans along I-55. After losing their aces, both clubs' pitching staffs are as reliable as the Dalkon Shield. The Cardinals will score more runs with the addition of J.D. Drew, so pencil them in for third place. The Pirates get the nod for fifth because it shouldn't take long for them to realize that they have a better everyday lineup in Nashville than in the Steel City. If, by the All-Star break, Warren Morris isn't playing every day and Chad Hermansen, Fred Garcia and Aramis Ramirez are all still in the minors, I want a mulligan. Rafael Roque is the Opening Day starter, Ron Belliard is at AAA--the only improvement that the Brewers have made is that they aren't going to waste 350 plate appearances on Mike Matheny. They should give the "New Stadium = Good Team" theory quite a test next year.
Houston, 92-70: Even without Alou (or Randy Johnson), they're still the team to beat. Larry Dierker is smart enough to get Scott Elarton into the rotation by mid-year, making a strong foursome with Reynolds, Hampton, and Jose Lima, who wasn't a fluke. The lineup is still easily the best in the division; if Everett struggles, Hidalgo can move back to center and Lance Berkman's awesome bat can be added to the lineup. If Dierker does the right thing and makes Mitch Meluskey the first-string catcher, it will give the Astros even more breathing room.
St. Louis, 81-81: In second place, but like the Tigers, it's by default. The lineup could be outstanding; the outfield may be the best in the game, given health from Lankford and Davis and fulfilled potential from Drew, McGwire is Really Good and Renteria, Tatis, and Marrero would sure look good in Royals uniforms, let me tell you. If they get Vina from the Brewers, they could challenge Houston for the best offense in the division, if not the league. But any team that calls Darren Oliver a #2 starter is just sad. They get the nod over Cincinnati, because I can easily see Rick Ankiel getting called up in July, and while it won't be good for his future, he could easily go 8-3 down the stretch and be hailed as the Next Big Thing.
Cincinnati, 80-82: Larkin is still great. I don't see Sean Casey as the 1999 NL Batting Champion, like a lot of people are saying, but he'll be Hal Morris at his peak, which was a pretty fine player. Vaughn should settle in around 35 shots, which is fine. The key to the offense is Mike Cameron; if he hits, it will be an asset. I see one of Neagle, Tomko, and Harnisch either injured or pitching poorly, but the other two, along with a surprisingly deep bullpen, give Cincy one of the better staffs in the league. Can I ask a question? How long are we supposed to take Jack McKeon seriously as the Reds' manager?
Pittsburgh, 77-85: Only ranking this high because at some point the kids have to play, probably when Sprague is hitting .210 at the All-Star Break and Aramis Ramirez is the early candidate for PCL MVP. The bullpen suddenly doesn't look nearly as deep with the loss of Rincon, and the addition of Brant Brown and Brian Giles may only help to keep the Pirates from being historically bad. Cordova, Schmidt, and Silva should keep them out of last, and I suspect Kris Benson will have a fine rookie year, although his won-loss record won't reflect it.
Chicago, 76-86: Headed down the charts even before Wood got hurt. Which of their position players is likely to improve from last year? Maybe Blauser, simply because he can't be any worse. Who's likely to drop off? Get in line...Morandini, Hernandez, Gaetti, Henry Rodriguez, even Sosa (albeit to a still-excellent level). The rotation is full of average starters, which only works if you're the Texas Rangers and the other parts of your team are in high gear. And the bullpen, if Rod Beck implodes, could be positively gory.
Milwaukee, 75-87: The most boring team in baseball. The Royals also play in a small, easily-forgotten market, but at least they have some young talent. The Brewers have Geoff Jenkins. They also have Ronnie Belliard, but GM Sal Bando has somehow passed up about a dozen opportunities to trade Fernando Vina for some pitching, which by the way, they really need. No one besides Steve Woodard is a solid bet to be above replacement-level in the rotation. The most interesting part of the team could be seeing how Dave Nilsson handles a return to full-time catching duties.
Houston should run away with this division, Alou or not. Everett/Hidalgo/Bell could be the division's second-best outfield, and it could be better if Lance Berkman winds up in the mix. The starting pitching is still deep, and Mitch Meluskey should garner increasing PT as the season rolls on. 95 wins will take the division handily. Behind the Astros, it's a horrible mess. The Reds had a great team on paper in February, but injuries have made Jason Bere their #2 starter, which is hardly the mark of a contender. There's also the Pokey Reese factor and the probably nonproduction from 3b Aaron Boone. The Cardinals may yet move to add pitching, in which case they could improve their lot, but the rotation is so heavily damaged that they are 2-3 major moves away from 85-win territory. The Pirates will rival the Royals and Rays as baseball's worst, especially as long as the expensive new "talent" remains on the field. They might not be able to beat out their own AAA team in Nashville, which employs most of the system's top talent.
There are some good teams in this division; it's the hardest of all to pick, with four teams having a chance. Larry Dierker will continue to be an excellent manager; Tony LaRussa will continue to have the reputation of being an excellent manager. LaRussa's team will finish at least ten games behind Dierker's team, but his reputation will remain intact.
The Astros will decline, but not enough to endanger their post-season chances. Look for their offense to be down a few notches, as Derek Bell and Carl Everett return to their actual levels of ability, and Ken Caminiti continues his slow fade. But the pitching staff has room for improvement over last year, when only Randy Johnson's two- month stint was well above expectations.
The Cardinals have had enough pitching injuries to warrant an investigation into workplace conditions by OSHA, yet I still see them as the wild card. This team is going to generate huge amounts of revenue at the ballpark, making them a strong candidate to add salary at mid-season. Look for the Redbirds to make at least one major acquisition this summer, and maybe two if the second-base situation remains a problem into July.
The Cincinnati Reds could look completely different in three months. Give credit to Jim Bowden, and ownership, for going against the "small market" nonsense and picking up Greg Vaughn at a relatively small talent cost, as well as upgrading the rotation and defense with the Neagle and Cameron deals. It's still not going to be enough to make the postseason, however: the lineup holes (Reese, Boone) are pretty wide, and there's no expectation of health for the team's best players.
Behind the Reds, there's the Pirates, who have done a great job of slowing down a nice rebuilding movement by signing every old stiff the Orioles weren't employing. The team has considerable upside, and can actually get into the wild-card mix if they get the Hermansens in and the Spragues out. Check back in two months.
Wrigley Field will be tough place to hang out this summer, as the Cub offense returns to earth, taking the team's wild-card hopes with it, and Sammy Sosa slips back to a more human .275/.330/.510 performance. But it will be more fun than Milwaukee, which continues to field a faceless collection of talent. The Brewers are going to score more runs than people expect, but the rotation is Steve Woodard and four left-handers who are going to collectively strike out around five men per nine innings. Not good enough.
1. Astros - The Astros have the talent and Dierker has the skill to cope with their losses.
2. Reds - Jim Bowden has collected enough talent here to make a good run.
3. Cardinals - The Cards should score lots of runs, but unfortunately neither McGwire and Drew can pitch. Most teams are in need of good pitchers, but the Cards would probably be happy with any pitcher who can stay healthy.
4. Cubs - This is an old team unlikely to repeat all its 1998 career years in 1999.
5. Brewers - Too much duplication in the middle infield without enough offense at the hitting positions, and a starting rotation that has trouble staying healthy.
6. Pirates - Offense doesn't understand the concept of walks. Decent pitching won't be enough.
Houston - Will miss Moises Alou, of course, but not too much. The big question to me is their pitching. I've learned not to bet against Larry Dierker getting solid years from scrap heap pitchers, but I'm still amazed when he does it.
St. Louis - Even with a catastrophic dropoff from McGwire (an embarrassing 54 HRs), the Cards look to be improved offensively in 99. Drew, Davis, and a full season of Tatis should see to that. Their pitching is just too iffy for me to pick them above the Astros.
Cincinnati - Remember three years ago when this division was the laughing stock of baseball? Now it's not out of the question that they could have three teams win 90 games. If it's going to happen for the Reds, though, their pitching needs to get healthy in a hurry.
Chicago - The loss of Wood is huge, of course, but this team has so many other players who are unlikely to reach last year's level: Sosa, Morandini, Mulholland, Tapani, and Beck, to name a few.
Milwaukee - They finished 28 games behind the Astros last year, and it's pretty much the same cast of characters this year.
Pittsburgh - One-line blurb summarizing the Pirates from my local newspaper: "The Pirates added a veteran presence with the signings of free agents Mike Benjamin, Pat Meares, and Ed Sprague." That pretty much says it all.
Even without Alou. Houston will do just fine, though they could help themselves by giving Meluskey the catching job early in the season. Cincinnati's fortunes depend on the health of their pitching staff, and by which Greg Vaughn shows up for 1999. Pittsburgh will slowly improve when they let the youngsters play and stop wasting time on Mike Benjamin and Ed Sprague. Francisco Cordova becomes a bonafide ace this year. St. Louis's lack of pitching combined with McGwire's "decline" to only 60 HR will have them once again fighting to stay above .500. A Wood-less rotation and a Clark Kent year by Sammy disappoint Cubs fans. Meanwhile, Milwaukee wishes they were back in the AL where the worst team only finishes in fifth place.
The off-season signings of Davey Johnson and Kevin Brown are enough to nudge the Fox Dodgers to the division crown, although they will be hard pressed to win ninety games. Let's just hope the BBWAA doesn't reward resident knucklehead GM Kevin Malone with a completely undeserved Executive of the Year Award. Barry Bonds and a deep bullpen should provide Manager/Cheerleader Dusty Baker with enough magic to nip at the Dodgers' heels all season and force Big Blue into some short-sighted deals at the trading deadline. Jim Leyland brings his arm thrashing ways to the skewed environment of Planet Coors, which should make for some busy times amongst baseball analysts and orthopedic surgeons alike. New Rockie Brian Bohanon will be the biggest bust since Ishtar and make fans realize that Darryl Kile didn't have such a bad season last year after all. The Diamondbacks signed Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre and Armando Reynoso even though starting pitching was their strongest suit last season. For consistency's sake, they replaced the two most productive outfielders on the league's third worst offense with the third-worst hitting center fielder and second baseman (!) in the league. As long as baseball is littered with front offices as inept as Arizona's, "small market" blather will remain a myth. The '98 Padres were an old team ripe for an overhaul. While I agree with many of their off-season moves, the taxpayers in San Diego may not be as understanding.
LA, 89-73: I don't like their arrogance any more than you do, but Davey Johnson has won with a lot less before. Brown, Park, Valdes, Dreifort is a good front four in any park, and I fully expect Adrian Beltre to go nuts this year. Johnson won't tolerate lack of production, so if that means Angel Pena is catching full-time by June, so be it. I also see him piecing together an outstanding bullpen in front of Shaw, even if I'm not sure exactly how. But would someone please tell Kevin Malone to shut up? Has he forgotten he once worked for the Expos?
San Francisco, 85-77: Once again, Barry Bonds does a lot more for a team of average guys than anyone wants to give him credit for. In fairness, Jeff Kent really is a good second fiddle, and Bill Mueller is one of the game's unsung players. If J.T. Snow takes to hitting left-handed all the time and approaches his 1997 numbers, and Shawn Estes is healthy, they could surprise everyone and contend for the wild card. Again.
San Diego, 81-81: Someone needs to set up a town meeting in San Diego and explain to all the disgruntled Padre fans that re-signing Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley to large gobs of money would have been AN INCREDIBLY STUPID IDEA, and they should stop whining about being betrayed. Teams sometimes have to rebuild, and give John Moores & Co. some credit for doing it now instead of waiting for the inevitable post-World-Series malaise that hits a lot of old teams that refuse to face reality square in the face. They won't totally suck this year, and the pitching staff has a lot of talent (Ashby, Hitchcock, Hoffman) to keep the team afloat until the next wave of hitters (Ben Davis, Mike Darr) is ready.
Arizona, 78-84: I still expect Bank One to prove to be a good hitter's ballpark, which would help to mask the fact that the Diamondbacks' offense is just putrid, and in no danger of improving. Johnson, Benes, Stottlemyre, and Daal is formidable, it really is, but there isn't a single strong point to the team besides the rotation. The bullpen is shaky, the infield is half good (Travis Lee, Tony Batista) and half old, and the outfield is just God-awful. Tony Womack? Daal may not be the only one to post a 2.88 ERA and 8-12 record this year.
Colorado, 77-85: Aside from the fact that Jim Leyland has become one of our favorite whipping boys, the Rockies really haven't done much to address the issues that plagued them last year. That, of course, is because they don't understand what their problems are. Brian Bohanon is not going to solve anything. Signing Darryl Hamilton was a wise move, but not nearly enough. Neifi Perez is one of the most overrated players in the game, sort of the Rey Ordonez of high elevation. Kirt Manwaring is back on the team and starting on Opening Day. Dante Bichette is the everyday leftfielder. Vinny Castilla is a star. Do I really need to go on?
This should provide both baseball's closest race and its largest in terms of number of teams. Any of the first four listed could win, with numerous outside variables - including injuries and the results of the division's two new managerial hires - deciding who takes the division and the wild card. The Dodgers are hardly a powerhouse, but they do boast the division's best pitching staff (yes, really), a reasonably deep bullpen, and probably the majors' best manager. The defense isn't that strong, and the offense hinges greatly on the growth of Adrian Beltre and the ability of Todd Hundley to get 500 AB, so the Blue Man Group could wind up in third as easily as they could in first. Jim Leyland needs to make the mental adjustment to dealing with the altitude in Coors while regaining interest in things like the health of his pitchers. The team isn't any different than last year's slightly above-average squad, but better bullpen management, a more experienced Todd Helton, and perhaps a healthier Mike Lansing should add 2-3 wins. Much has been made of the Padres' sell-off, but they only lost one player (Brown) they really needed. To contend, they will have to see contributions from young players like Ruben Rivera, Matt Clement, and George Arias, or will have to be willing to promote talented Gary Matthews Jr. and/or Mike Darr early. The Giants have overachieved two years running, and the luck will run out as core players age and pitchers continue to show signs of heavy usage. Kind of strange to put a team as relatively strong as Arizona in last place, the same category in which we place the likes of Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City - the dregs of the majors at this point. But Arizona's horrendous offense gives them a greater Achilles' heel than those of any of their divisional rivals; for all that money, this team will be lucky to score 750 runs.
If it wasn't for Davey Johnson, I'd pick the Giants. Johnson will make that much of a difference. The Giants will compete with the Mets for the wildcard spot, and will then sweep the Dodgers in the final three regular season games ever at Candlestick Park to clinch it. The "Arizona Will Contend" notion is the silliest of the year; they won't reach .500 until they get someone who can hit.
In Davey We Trust. The Dodgers are going to score the most runs they've put up in a long time and win the division fairly handily, thanks to a manager who knows and understands the value of plate discipline, and knows how an offense really works. Los Angeles also has three rotation starters with astronomical upside in Ismael Valdes, Darren Dreifort and Chan Ho Park. Park and Valdes are going to have huge years, and Kevin Brown is going to get too much credit for them by a factor of 100.
The rest of the division is unimpressive. The Giants can score runs, thanks to the anonymous contributions of people like Rich Aurilia, Bill Mueller and Marvin Benard. Their rotation is porous, and Dusty Baker has a habit of burning out his bullpen by August. If they can somehow add Schilling, their outlook brightens considerably.
The Diamondbacks, like their expansion counterparts, feature a good rotation and an abysmal offense. Travis Lee and Tony Batista are the only hitters with upside--check that: the only hitters with upside who are going to play much--while Steve Finley, Matt Williams and Tony Womack soak up 1400 outs.
The Padres aren't as bad as everyone thinks they are, having cleared out some older deadwood and seriously upgraded their defense. They are at least two hitters shy, though, and will still be dealing with the declines of Gwynn and Joyner. They'll approach .500.
Finally, the Rockies still don't get it. Year Seven of The Denver Experiment will yield gaudy offense and gory pitching at home, the reverse on the road, and no one with decision-making power taking any time to look at the issue analytically. It is possible that playing half a schedule in the most unique environment in MLB history makes it impossible to be successful. It is certain, however, that the organization has yet to look carefully at what works, and does not work, when you play baseball at 5,280 feet.
1. Dodgers - Not that good. But good enough with Johnson pressing the right buttons.
2. Giants - Barry. Barry Bonds. With the help of a few of Dusty Baker's mirrors.
3. Diamondbacks - Great pitching, and Travis Lee and Tony Batista may emerge as stars. But the offense looks good only compared to Tampa Bay's.
4. Rockies - Jim Leyland will get to learn all about Coors Field.
5. Padres - San Diego will be better off in the long run because of their moves, but this year they'll sink to the bottom.
Los Angeles - Finally there will be a Dodgers starting rotation that lives up to the hype.
Arizona - Yes, they'll have trouble scoring runs, but maybe not as much trouble as people think. On the other hand, their pitching probably won't be as good as advertised either.
San Francisco - Same old Giants, with an emphasis on "old". Lots of people get burned by underestimating the Giants, but I don't see how Dusty's going to pull a rabbit out of the hat this year. This year's bullpen, in particular, looks to be much worse than recent years'.
Colorado - You've probably read this a million times, but I'll give you the standard stathead Rockies diagnosis. This team has a lousy offense, but management doesn't see the problem, so they've done nothing to fix it.
San Diego - I'd like to pick them higher, because I think what they did over the offseason -- cutting loose and trading a bunch of aging veterans -- is the right way to run a ballclub. But it will be awhile before the holes left by those veterans are adequately filled.
The hardest division to call. I'm going to go with the Giants based in part on the division-best 2nd half Pythagorean performance in 1998. The Dodgers are vastly improved thanks to Kevin Brown and Davey Johnson, but their offense has too many question marks. San Diego wouldn't have been as good, even if they'd retained Brown, Vaughn, and Caminiti, but their decline will be blamed too much on the loss of the trio anyways. Colorado will disappoint as age and injury start to catch up to Bichette and Walker while the park-effect illusion will still make management focus on pitching. The big question in Arizona will be who has the higher OBP -- pseudo-leadoff hitter Tony Womack, or Randy Johnson's opposing batters?