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NL East | NL Central | NL West

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.



NL East


First
Place

Second
Place

Third
Place

Fourth
Place

Fifth
Place

Jeffrey
Bower

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Montreal
Expos

Florida
Marlins

Philadelphia
Phillies

Rany
Jazayerli

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Montreal
Expos

Philadelphia
Phillies

Florida
Marlins

Chris
Kahrl

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Montreal
Expos

Philadelphia
Phillies

Florida
Marlins

Keith
Law

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Montreal
Expos

Philadelphia
Phillies

Florida
Marlins

Dave
Pease

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Montreal
Expos

Philadelphia
Phillies

Florida
Marlins

Steven
Rubio

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Florida
Marlins

Philadelphia
Phillies

Montreal
Expos

Joe
Sheehan

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Montreal
Expos

Philadelphia
Phillies

Florida
Marlins

Greg
Spira

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Montreal
Expos

Philadelphia
Phillies

Florida
Marlins

Michael
Wolverton

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Philadelphia
Phillies

Montreal
Expos

Florida
Marlins

Keith
Woolner

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Montreal
Expos

Florida
Marlins

Philadelphia
Phillies

Consensus

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Montreal
Expos

Philadelphia
Phillies

Florida
Marlins

Jeffrey Bower:

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.

Rany Jazayerli:

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.

Keith Law:

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.

Steven Rubio:

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.

Joe Sheehan:

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.

Greg Spira:

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.

Michael Wolverton:

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…

Keith Woolner:

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.


Return to Top

NL Central


First
Place

Second
Place

Third
Place

Fourth
Place

Fifth
Place

Sixth
Place

Jeffrey
Bower

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

St. Louis
Cardinals

Chicago
Cubs

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Milwaukee
Brewers

Rany
Jazayerli

Houston
Astros

St. Louis
Cardinals

Cincinnati
Reds

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Chicago
Cubs

Milwaukee
Brewers

Chris
Kahrl

Houston
Astros

St. Louis
Cardinals

Cincinnati
Reds

Chicago
Cubs

Milwaukee
Brewers

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Keith
Law

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

Milwaukee
Brewers

St. Louis
Cardinals

Chicago
Cubs

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Dave
Pease

Houston
Astros

St. Louis
Cardinals

Cincinnati
Reds

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Chicago
Cubs

Milwaukee
Brewers

Steven
Rubio

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

Chicago
Cubs

St. Louis
Cardinals

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Milwaukee
Brewers

Joe
Sheehan

Houston
Astros

St. Louis
Cardinals

Cincinnati
Reds

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Chicago
Cubs

Milwaukee
Brewers

Greg
Spira

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

St. Louis
Cardinals

Chicago
Cubs

Milwaukee
Brewers

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Michael
Wolverton

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

St. Louis
Cardinals

Chicago
Cubs

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Milwaukee
Brewers

Keith
Woolner

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

Pittsburgh
Pirates

St. Louis
Cardinals

Chicago
Cubs

Milwaukee
Brewers

Consensus

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

St. Louis
Cardinals

Chicago
Cubs

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Milwaukee
Brewers

Jeffrey Bower:

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.

Rany Jazayerli:

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.

Keith Law:

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.

Steven Rubio:

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.

Joe Sheehan:

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.

Greg Spira:

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.

Michael Wolverton:

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.

Keith Woolner:

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.


Return to Top

NL West


First
Place

Second
Place

Third
Place

Fourth
Place

Fifth
Place

Jeff
Bower

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Francisco
Giants

Colorado
Rockies

Arizona
Diamondbacks

San Diego
Padres

Rany
Jazayerli

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Francisco
Giants

San Diego
Padres

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Colorado
Rockies

Chris
Kahrl

Colorado
Rockies

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Francisco
Giants

Arizona
Diamondbacks

San Diego
Padres

Keith
Law

Los Angeles
Dodgers

Colorado
Rockies

San Diego
Padres

San Francisco
Giants

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Dave
Pease

San Francisco
Giants

Los Angeles
Dodgers

Colorado
Rockies

San Diego
Padres

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Steven
Rubio

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Francisco
Giants

Colorado
Rockies

San Diego
Padres

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Joe
Sheehan

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Diego
Padres

San Francisco
Giants

Colorado
Rockies

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Greg
Spira

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Francisco
Giants

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Colorado
Rockies

San Diego
Padres

Michael
Wolverton

Los Angeles
Dodgers

Arizona
Diamondbacks

San Francisco
Giants

Colorado
Rockies

San Diego
Padres

Keith
Woolner

San Francisco
Giants

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Diego
Padres

Colorado
Rockies

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Consensus

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Francisco
Giants

Colorado
Rockies

San Diego
Padres

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Jeffrey Bower:

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.

Rany Jazayerli:

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?

Keith Law:

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.

Steven Rubio:

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.

Joe Sheehan:

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.

Greg Spira:

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.

Michael Wolverton:

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.

Keith Woolner:

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?


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