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It’s tough for me to believe that there will be a runaway winner in the
division this year. The Diamondbacks, so good last season, still feature an
old offense that may not play up to last year’s standards. The Dodgers,
despite quite a bit of individual talent, sport the worst pitching staff
I’ve seen in Dodger blue in quite a while. The Giants offense will do its
usual good work, and the Rockies have an entirely revamped team. That
leaves the Padres, and looking over this year’s roster, they’re better off
left.

Last year, the Diamondbacks rode several career performances to the title.
This season, the division winner might just be the team that has to endure
the fewest injuries.

How important is Matt Williams to the Diamondbacks? A cynic says his
age makes him as likely to be part of the problem as the solution, but he
had a fine year last season and didn’t show his age in spring training.
Williams provides a reliable power bat in the middle of an order that is
depending heavily on Travis Lee and Erubiel Durazo, two
promising but unknown quantities.

Williams’s broken foot will keep him out for two months or so. To make
matters worse, infielder Andy Fox, the logical replacement, broke
his arm in spring training. He’s beginning a rehab assignment, but until
he’s ready to play, the Snakes are making due with Lenny Harris at
the hot corner. Harris, predictably, has hit .194/.259 so far, and made a
critical throwing error that cost the Diamondbacks the game Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers have lost ace Kevin Brown to a broken pinkie
finger. What happens with this injury depends on how much Brown dictates
things: if left up to him, he’s probably pitching as you read this, but
Davey Johnson and company will probably sit him down at least three starts
while he heals.

Brown broke his finger on a bunt attempt, which brings to mind the good
reasons not to bunt with someone like Kevin Brown:

  • he’s your ace, and one of the best pitchers in the league.
  • he’s paid $15 million per season for 30+ starts, not for his bat.

  • he actually had a season (1998, when he hit .244/.244) in which he hit
    like Rey Ordonez; he doesn’t do much with the bat, but at least he
    isn’t Joey Hamilton up there.

  • your sixth starter, Carlos Perez, has been pitching like
    Rosie Perez and isn’t likely to give the team a good effort in
    Brown’s absence.

In a close race (we almost couldn’t decide between the Dodgers and the
Diamondbacks in
our National League predictions
), injuries to core players can mean the
difference between a playoff berth and bupkus. Of course, if the Diamondbacks
keep playing like they are now, the race is already over.


Notes

It took six games for the Padres’ Opening Day outfield of Al Martin,
Ruben Rivera and Tony Gwynn to miss a start. Gwynn has
well-documented health problems, Rivera hit .195 last season and Martin,
who threatened to "OJ" his reserve wife, has some extracurricular
problems to sort out. Spring-training hero John Roskos, who hit .400
with two bombs in four games with the Las Vegas Stars and was called up on
April 11, must be licking his lips…. Colorado’s power problems have
carried from spring training over to the regular season. The team has seven
home runs in its first eight games, half of division-leading Arizona’s total.

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