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NL East | NL Central | NL West

Welcome to Baseball Prospectus’ predictions for 1998. 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

Clay
Davenport

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Florida
Marlins

Montreal
Expos

Philadelphia
Phillies

Gary
Huckabay

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Montreal
Expos

Florida
Marlins

Philadelphia
Phillies

Rany
Jazayerli

Atlanta
Braves

Florida
Marlins

New York
Mets

Montreal
Expos

Philadelphia
Phillies

Chris
Kahrl

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Florida
Marlins

Philadelphia
Phillies

Montreal
Expos

Keith
Law

Atlanta
Braves

Florida
Marlins

New York
Mets

Philadelphia
Phillies

Montreal
Expos

Dave
Pease

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Florida
Marlins

Philadelphia
Phillies

Montreal
Expos

Steven
Rubio

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Philadelphia
Phillies

Florida
Marlins

Montreal
Expos

Joe
Sheehan

Atlanta
Braves

Florida
Marlins

New York
Mets

Philadelphia
Phillies

Montreal
Expos

Consensus

Atlanta
Braves

New York
Mets

Florida
Marlins

Philadelphia
Phillies

Montreal
Expos

Clay Davenport:
For the season standings, I used estimates of playing time and production, with
a player’s three-year average being the primary (but not only) consideration
for production. Then I summed all the batters and pitchers for each team,
normalized them all to league average, turned that into expected runs scored
and allowed, to get a won-loss record. If last year’s try was normal, then
I’ll get 2/3 of the teams within six games. The other ten, though, could be
off by 15-20 games, like the Pirates were last year.

                         GB      Hitting Pitching
1. Atlanta       93-69   --      6       1
2. New York      81-81   12      12      4
3. Florida       73-89   20      9       15
4. Montreal      69-93   24      16      13
5. Philadelphia  64-98   29      14      16

Three of the league’s four worst teams. Florida had the greatest fire sale
since Connie Mack, Montreal won’t keep a good player and now has no offense
beyond White and Guerrero, and Philadelphia wouldn’t know a good player from a
good donut. The Mets offense will essentially feature three pitchers, as
Ordonez and whoever fills in for Hundley sabotage the attack. The Braves’
offense will be down, but the pitching is still enough to carry them easily
through this division.

Gary Huckabay:
Atlanta’s got that rotation, and despite potential collapses from Neagle and
Glavine, they’re still the team to beat, even with the colossally ignorant
signings of Andres Galarraga and Walt Weiss. Their offense will still be
pretty darn good, buoyed by better years from Klesko, Andruw, and Chipper.
Who’s in that Philadelphia outfield? The Mets had a lot of things break their
way last year, and a few of them likely won’t this year. Les Expos will lose
Rondell White for at least part of the season, and he’s likely to be massively
overrated if they don’t. Felipe will manage to pull another great starter or
two out of his hat, but it won’t be enough. The Marlins could be the favorites
in the 1999 season. Notice that they kept Sheffield. Smart lad, that
Dombrowski.

Rany Jazayerli:
Predicting the Braves to win the division is about as bold a statement as
claiming the Mideast Peace Process is going to hit another roadblock. Despite
John Schuerholz’ best attempt to sabotage his team by signing two Rockies
hitters, their pitching staff, a young outfield led by Andruw Jones, and the
decimation of the two other quality teams in the division means that the
regular season, at least, should be a cakewalk for Atlanta, to the tune of
about 93 wins.

That the Marlins have traded away their `97 championship core is undeniable;
that they are doomed to a horrible season in `98 is not. The Marlins’ offense,
once the Marlins send Josh’s Booty to AAA, is every bit as good – and younger –
than Atlanta’s. Charles Johnson and Edgar Renteria are on the cusp of stardom;
Derrek Lee, Mark Kotsay, and Cliff Floyd are not far behind. If Sheffield
keeps his head up and puts together a monster season, this team could surprise
everyone by contending for a wild-card spot. It’s doubtful they’ll make it, of
course, because behind Livan Hernandez, their rotation has the shelf life of
the Spice Girls, albeit with a little more talent. But they could finish a
little over .500 – and give this team two years, and uppity journalists may
stop whining about what a crime has been perpetuated on fans of this franchise.

Give the Mets back Todd Hundley, and they could fight for a playoff spot all
season. Give them Todd Pratt, or worse, let them select Tim Spehr and Alberto
Castillo, and they’ll be hard-pressed to break even for the year. If Hundley
comes back mid-season and Paul Wilson shows even a hint of his former self,
they should remain comfortably ahead of the Expos and Phillies. Expect 80-82
wins, but if they replace Ordonez with anyone, you can tack on a few more.

Montreal has the makings of a good rotation in Hermanson, Pavano, Carlos Perez,
and Javier Vasquez. But too many of their players are still developing, and
they really only have two above-average hitters in Rondell White and Vlad
Guerrero. If they can sign Guerrero to a long-term deal and guys like Fullmer
and Bocachica develop, they might actually contend in 2000 or 2001 – if they’re
not in Northern Virginia by then.

The Phillies’ impressive second-half surge is unlikely to mean playoff
contention this year. Behind Schilling, the starting pitching is a melange of
mediocre (Mark Leiter) or perpetually injured (Tyler Green) hurlers, and their
second-best starter, Garrett Stephenson, barely earned a job in spring
training. Scott Rolen may be the best third baseman in the game, but like
Schmidt before him, he may have to showcase his talents on a brutal team for a
while.

Chris Kahrl:
Its tempting to put Florida second, because you can almost envision a future
that has “Genius Leyland does more with less” headlines that are already
scanned and ready for future use at most newspapers, and because so many things
worked out for the Mets last year. That’s just the fan in me: I’d love to see
another reason why we should consider believing a talking turnip’s take on the
game before Peter Jennings’ sanctimonious vacuousness from his “investigation”
of what happened in Florida. Even so, Bobby Valentine will do more with less,
using a talented bench and a solid pen to keep close. I’d call the Phillies
finishing ahead of the Expos as a sort of Indian Summer for the franchise, that
may lead to a new round of ill-considered acquisitions by an organization
laboring with the unjustified belief that Doug Glanville is progress. And in
other news, the Braves win.

Keith Law:
Atlanta wins the division by 15 games, with Florida finishing another
5-8 ahead of New York and hanging in the wild-card race into September.
The Braves are the best team in baseball right now, despite the
Galarraga and Weiss signings. They can live without Smoltz for a few
weeks, and that pretty much says it all for their outlook.

The Marlins are obviously taking a lot of heat for their offseason
purge, but the offensive changes have made room for better, cheaper
players from the farm – a maneuver more teams should learn. The rotation
isn’t likely to make this more than an 85-win team, but that’s probably
enough to play in October this year.

The Mets get third on the strength of their pitching staff, despite the
lack of any offensive threat more powerful than Butch Huskey. The Expos
will fight the Devil Rays for the title of worst offense in baseball,
and will be lucky to draw 500 walks as a team. The Phils and Expos are
interchangeable and equally irrelevant for 1998, although both teams
acknowledge that they’re building for longer-term competitiveness.

Dave Pease:
Tough call, but I think Atlanta will take home the gold.
Talk about an embarassment of riches; John Schuerholz has
made plenty of not-so-great moves in his career as Braves
GM, but the team just keeps plugging along. That may come
to an end soon, with the minors drying up, and Dre Galarraga
and Walt Weiss were terrible ideas, but the Bravos win it
again anyway.

They’ll win it by double digits, because the rest of the
teams in the division are subpar. I’ll pick New York for
second, on the strength of a somewhat established pitching
staff, John Olerud, and Edgardo Alfonzo. Todd Hundley would
really help here, but he’ll be out most of the year and be
unHundleylike when he returns. Bernard Gilkey rebounds, and
Butch Huskey hits a bunch of HR.

Florida will be close, but their staff is full of unknowns.
Livan Hernandez and Rafael Medina are both moderately
successful, but don’t fit anyone’s definition of a good
team’s top two starters. Derrek Lee hits 25 HR and Cliff
Floyd and Gary Sheffield both rebound from last year. Bonilla
falls off, and Castillo and Renteria both show their youth
in the infield.

Philadelphia rides Curt Schilling’s arm to finish fourth.
Mark Portugal is as healthy as he ever is, and Bobby Abreu
shows why he was considered a top OF prospect with Houston,
hitting for doubles power and playing good defense. Scott
Rolen has one of the top three seasons for a third baseman
in the NL. Gregg Jeffries keeps Billy McMillion in the
minors by hitting like he did in 1995.

Montreal is running out of prospects. The rotation is
weak after Perez and Hermanson; Carl Pavano has a rough
first year in the majors. Vlad Guerrero, Rondell White,
and Shane Andrews combine for 75 HR, but all have their
problems getting on base. Brad Fullmer bombs at first
base, and Mark Grudzielanek again hits for an empty high
average.

Steven Rubio:
Philosophically, I’d prefer this list was different. I think Montreal has done
a good job in the past of deflating the “small market” crap, think Florida did
well to dump some of those hitters, and believe Atlanta’s signing of The Big
Cat was very, very stupid. But Montreal let Pedro go, Florida didn’t stop with
those hitters, and the Braves are still real good. I pick the Mets for the
wild card.

Joe Sheehan:
John Scheurholz’ efforts to end the Braves’ dynasty will go for naught, at
least this year. Continued development from Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Andruw
Jones, Tony Graffanino and Ryan Klesko helps cover the Walt Weiss and Andres
Galarraga signings. And besides, who’s going to catch them? Expect the
Marlins to improve on last year’s offense (740 runs) by 10-15%, but even that
won’t be enough to make up for what should be a brutal pitching staff. The
loss of Todd Hundley is much more devastating for the Mets than they realize,
even if Bernard
Gilkey rebounds somewhat. The Phillies and Expos are expected to play 162
games. Stay tuned.


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NL Central


First
Place

Second
Place

Third
Place

Fourth
Place

Fifth
Place

Sixth
Place

Clay
Davenport

St. Louis
Cardinals

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

Milwaukee
Brewers

Chicago
Cubs

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Gary
Huckabay

St. Louis
Cardinals

Cincinnati
Reds

Houston
Astros

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Milwaukee
Brewers

Chicago
Cubs

Rany
Jazayerli

Houston
Astros

St. Louis
Cardinals

Chicago
Cubs

Cincinnati
Reds

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Milwaukee
Brewers

Chris
Kahrl

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

St. Louis
Cardinals

Chicago
Cubs

Milwaukee
Brewers

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Keith
Law

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

Pittsburgh
Pirates

St. Louis
Cardinals

Milwaukee
Brewers

Chicago
Cubs

Dave
Pease

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

St. Louis
Cardinals

Milwaukee
Brewers

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Chicago
Cubs

Steven
Rubio

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

Pittsburgh
Pirates

St. Louis
Cardinals

Chicago
Cubs

Milwaukee
Brewers

Joe
Sheehan

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

St. Louis
Cardinals

Milwaukee
Brewers

Chicago
Cubs

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Consensus

Houston
Astros

Cincinnati
Reds

St. Louis
Cardinals

Pittsburgh
Pirates

Milwaukee
Brewers

Chicago
Cubs

Clay Davenport:

                         GB      Hitting Pitching
1. St Louis      94-68   --      4       2
2. Houston       88-74   6       1       14
3. Cincinnati    82-80   12      7       8
4. Milwaukee     80-82   14      11      7
5. Chicago       79-83   15      10      11
6. Pittsburgh    71-91   23      15      8

I was so surprised by this that I had to go back and check the numbers again,
but, yes, I’m calling for St Louis to lead the NL in wins. Call me crazy.
Realize that I’m counting on McGwire to get 550 PAs, for Jordan and Gant to
return to productivity, and for Morris and Benes to pitch often and well.
Houston’s pitching, especially the bullpen (except for Wagner), will be too
much for the B-boys to overcome. Reds, Brewers, Cubs…the word “average”
doesn’t quite convey how unimpressed I am. Last year’s darlings, the Pirates,
will have to watch their infield do nothing all year, as Womack et al. fall
back towards their real hitting levels.

Gary Huckabay:
Those top five teams could finish within three games of each other. It’s going
to come down to health. Some teams are betting on health, others on
improvement. The rapidly aging Cardinals are counting on 420 healthy and
productive games from Jordan, Gant, and McGwire. Pittsburgh’s hoping for
continued success from the pitching staff and an uncharacteristically good
season from the likes of Al Martin — they won’t get it. Houston still can’t
understand why they’re not getting big run totals with Derek Bell in Harris
County, but a healthy Shane Reynolds and Mike Hampton puts them in the
playoffs. Milwaukee’s got a surprisingly strong team, and if Jaha, Nilsson,
Cirillo, Valentin, and Newfield all play like they’re capable of, they could
win the division. The Cubs… made some Cub-like decisions, and they’re going
to be wearing that Sammy Sosa albatross contract for a very long time. No OBP,
no pennant.

Rany Jazayerli:
In what should be the majors’ tightest race, the Astros have arguably the two
best players in the division in Bagwell and Biggio. Alou is a huge upgrade in
left field, and even with the defection of Darryl Kile, the Astros have two
fine starters in Shane Reynolds and Mike Hampton, and Scott Elarton should be
ready by June. They also have the division’s best closer in Billy Wagner, and
manager Larry Dierker showed an uncanny knack for getting the most out of his
pitchers last year (how else can you explain Mike Magante?). In a division
where 88 wins may be enough for the title and 82 wins puts you in 4th, the
Astros should have just enough for 89 and first place.

The Cardinals are a dollar short and an hour late to win this division. That
hour, of course, is the one they spent sitting on their thumbs instead of
finishing the deal for Andy Benes, and with Benes now in Phoenix, the
Cardinals’ rotation isn’t dominant enough to compensate for an offense that –
even with Mark McGwire – isn’t as good as Houston’s. Throw in Eli Marrero’s
unfortunate bout with thyroid cancer, which may give the bulk of the catching
duties to Tom Pagnozzi, and the uncertainty around the return of Jeff Brantley,
and you have a team with too many holes to win more than 86 games and finish
higher than second.

The Cubs, finally deciding that it doesn’t take much to contend in this
division, made moves in the off-season with an eye to win this year. Jeff
Blauser was an excellent pickup, and while veteran pickups Morandini and Henry
Rodriguez are not stars by any stretch, they may actually represent improvement
over the husk of Ryne Sandberg’s body and the semi-prospects that have been
fighting over left field the last three years. Throw in a power surge from
Kevin Orie, and the Cubs could improve their offense by 80 runs this year. The
pitching staff, while it may not be better than last year’s, with a full season
of Tapani and Rod Beck in the fold, shouldn’t be any worse. If Kerry Wood were
ready, the Cubs could contend, but he isn’t and the Cubs look to finish third,
with 83-85 wins.

For the Cincinnati Reds, the difference between the postseason and the second
division is the difference between Barry Larkin and Pokey Reese. If Larkin can
play all season at his vintage 1995-96 form, the Reds, with hitters like Willie
Greene, Jon Nunnally, and Reggie Sanders, could have the best offense in the
division. But if Larkin can’t play at full strength, the Reds add Pokey Reese
to the bottom of a lineup that is also trying to hide Bret Boone. Throw in
Jack McKeon’s misplaced affection for Eduardo Perez (over Roberto Petagine?),
and suddenly that offense doesn’t look nearly as impressive. The rotation
lacks a true ace, but Tomko, Burba, and Mercker are all serviceable #2-#3
starters, and the bullpen, with Shaw, Belinda, and Sullivan, may be the
division’s best. Until we know whether Larkin can play true to form, the Reds
are unlikely to rise above .500 and 4th place – but if Larkin and Sanders stay
healthy, and Bret Boone finds his missing bat, the Reds could stay in the race
to the very end.

The Pirates, Cinderellas that they were last year, have more where that came
from this year. The rotation, minus Steve Cooke but soon to add Kris Benson,
is young and talented. The offense should get improvement from Kendall and
Jose Guillen, but pinning their hopes on Freddy Garcia at third is a bit of a
stretch, and until Chad Hermansen arrives, Tony Womack may continue to be one
of the most overrated players in baseball. If the pitching staff stays
healthy, they could make things interesting in September, but more likely
expect much the same as last year, with 76-79 wins. Unlike last year, that may
only be good enough for 5th place.

The Brewers think Marquis Grissom is their savior, don’t have a single
top-quality starter, and have to rely on 41-year-old Doug Jones to be their
closer. For all the talk about the excitement of moving to the NL this year,
the Brewers seem to forget that fans rarely get excited about 73-89 teams.
Which, on a team where Mike Matheny has been the main catcher for three
straight seasons while Kelly Stinnett is let go, is about as much as the
Brewers can expect this year.

Chris Kahrl:
I’m perhaps overly optimistic that Larry Dierker can get the most out of
whatever assembly of pitching talent he throws together to paper over the Holt
and Garcia injuries, but keep in mind that both were last year’s solutions to
problems, which is indicative that the Astros will be nothing if not flexible.
That, on top of great offense, a solid bench, and an adequate pen, should
handily win. The Cardinals are easily the most volatile team in the game: if
all three of Morris, Stottlemyre, and Alan Benes get or stay hurt (no need for
a caveat with Osborne), they may finish fifth, even with the Lankford-McGwire
duo. They’re carrying too many weak or overrated hitters. The Reds will
surprise, and although McKeon will get a good year from his pitching staff,
diddling around with guys like Pokey Reese, Brook Fordyce, and Bret Boone
spells disappointment for those of us who’d like to see Jim Bowden earn a
feather to put in his cap. The Cubs will save the jobs of Ed Lynch and Jim
Riggleman, which means they’ll get to reap their just desserts for the Viva
Sammy! franchise. The Brewers struggle with a lineup rife with bad hitters, to
the point that Garner’s newfound skill handling his pitching staff will be
besides the point. The Pirates disappoint dramatically, setting up for a big
`99 built around the organization’s real young talent, not these Womackers.

Keith Law:
Another tight race here, probably one that will not be decided until the
last week of the season, with the loser(s) going home and not to the
wild card berth. All four teams that might challenge for the title have
gaping holes. The Astros have a weakened rotation until May 1st due to
injuries, and still have little offense outside of Bagwell & Biggio,
although that was enough last year. If Ramon Garcia and Chris Holt
return at full strength, the Astros then have a pitching staff to match
up with Pittsburgh’s but can still field a better offense. Here’s hoping
they rid themselves of Derek Bell this year to make room for Darryl Ward
or Lance Berkman.

The Reds, a consensus last-place pick among conventional media
“experts,” have most of the right pieces on the team, but need to make
tough decisions to play talent over popularity and salary: Dmitri Young
instead of Eduardo Perez, Melvin Nieves instead of Chris Stynes, Damian
Jackson instead of Bret Boone, and Gabe White instead of Pete Harnisch.
They’re also riding on the edge with Jeff Shaw, a potential victim of
heavy workloads the past two seasons.

The Bucs still have the NL’s third-best rotation and one of its weakest
offenses and defenses. Improvement from hitters Jose Guillen, Jason
Kendall, and Jermaine Allensworth plus a full year of Kevin Young will
be partially offset by slippage from Tony Womack and Al Martin, while
Freddy Garcia remains something of an enigma at third. Womack, Garcia,
and Martin give the team a horrific defensive profile that does not bode
well for a pitching staff that keeps the ball in play.

The Cardinals have a good team on paper … and in the recovery room.
With Alan Benes and Donovan Osborne on the shelf, Matt Morris suffering
shoulder pain, and Jeff Brantley apparently less ready than widely
believed, the team’s pitching situation is in a shambles. If Ron Gant’s
rumored “comeback” year turns out to be much ado about nothing and the
likes of Pagnozzi, Lampkin, Mabry, and Gaetti see much playing time, the
offense will be little better. The team has too many outstanding
questions to pick them for higher than fourth, as the odds are that some
of the questions will be answered less than satisfactorily.

The Brewers are somewhat overrated, as their juggernaut offense has been
partially a product of the ballpark and their rotation lost its shining
star, Jeff D’Amico, for at least half the season. The team has isolated
standouts like Jose Valentin, but not enough for more than 70-73 wins.

The Cubs are dismal and getting worse every year. Eventually the
faithful will wise up and stop going until they put a real team on the
field. 70 wins would be a very successful year in Wrigley.

Dave Pease:
I’ll go with Houston’s dynamic duo over anything else in this division.
Look for Shane Reynolds to come back strong, Mike Hampton to continue to
pitch effectively, and a bunch of dreck in the bottom of the rotation
to hold together for the efficient bullpen. The outfield is still bad,
but Moises Alou, overrated player that he is, is more likely to be
effective than anyone the Astros were running out there last year.

The top three teams in this division will all be close. Cincinnati
made many unpopular moves in the offseason, but I liked most of them.
Jim Bowden may be the smartest man in baseball; the success this team
has had with a limited budget and meddling idiot owner is really
fairly remarkable. That said, this is not a good team; with the state
of the NL Central, though, that’s all it takes to compete. The Reds
have a weak rotation and some good young hitters, but that probably
won’t be enough. Look for Reggie Sanders to enjoy something of a
comeback and Willie Greene to hit 30 HR, or they won’t even get this
far.

St. Louis really hurt itself with the the Andy Benes non-deal.
Their rotation isn’t bad, but Alan Benes isn’t healthy and
may not be for a while, and who knows what ailment Donovan Osborne is
going to come up with? Brian Jordan will rebound with a solid season,
and Big Mac McGwire will be as awesome as ever, but Ron Gant is finished
and the Cards just don’t have the horses to finish it off.

The Brewers have an entertaining team. Jeromy Burnitz is an excellent
player, and guys like John Jaha, Dave Nilsson, and Bobby Hamelin are
all fun to watch at the plate. They’ve got a reasonable left side, with
Jose Valentin an underrated SS and Jeff Cirillo a workable 3B, but
they’ve also got Fernando Vina and Marquis Grissom. The pitching
staff is full of questions; Cal Eldred’s arm has been mistreated for
years, and Jeff D’Amico is out for the season. Scott Karl will build
on his strong second half last year, and be the team’s top starter.

At the bottom we have two teams moving in opposite directions. Chicago
is a joke–and a bad one, at that. Sammy Sosa is the most useless ten
million dollar man in baseball, Henry Rodriguez was a really bad idea,
and Lance Johnson, Mark Grace, and Jeff Blauser will all show their
age. Lots of lofty fly balls will go for HR in Wrigley against Rod
Beck, and the rotation has some good young players, but is heavily
depending on Kevin Tapani and Terry Mulholland. That might have been
a good idea about seven years ago, but…

Pittsburgh has a solid rotation, and when they get dead weight like
Tony Womack and Jose Guillen out of their lineup, they’ll be formidable.
Ron Wright will hit 20 HR this year, and Chad Hermansen, Kris
Bensen, and Aramis Ramirez are nearing readiness in the minors. They
won’t be seeing much action this year, but look for a jump of several
places in the standings in 1999.

Steven Rubio:
This division stinks. The primary tool I use as a starting point for these
predictions is the team’s “Pythagorean W-L” record from last season. Based
solely on those calculations, Houston is at least 15 games better than every
team in the newly-aligned division. Cincinnati wins the “most surprising NL
team” award.

Joe Sheehan:
It’s possible, even probable, that this will be the most entertaining race in
baseball history. Every one of these teams should be between 75 and 87 wins;
the above listing is just a best guess. Houston returns the best teammates in
the game, and surrounds them with mediocre right-handed hitters at the other
six positions. The Reds have enough talent available to win the division, but
have shown a tendency to play the wrong players. The Cardinals have the showy
veteran names, but are a two-man offense in search of some help, and have
enormous rotation questions. The Brewers have the deepest middle of the order,
and a Marquis Grissom-Fernando Vina top two that will render it meaningless.
Wrigley Field is a wonderful place to be if you don’t mind mediocre baseball.
While the Pirates have a nasty rotation, unless they get serious and bring up
the baseball players, their time is 1999. Only Jason Kendall is a good bet to
post an .800 OPS.


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NL West


First
Place

Second
Place

Third
Place

Fourth
Place

Fifth
Place

Clay
Davenport

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Diego
Padres

San Francisco
Giants

Colorado
Rockies

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Gary
Huckabay

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Diego
Padres

Colorado
Rockies

Arizona
Diamondbacks

San Francisco
Giants

Rany
Jazayerli

San Diego
Padres

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Francisco
Giants

Colorado
Rockies

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Chris
Kahrl

San Diego
Padres

Los Angeles
Dodgers

Colorado
Rockies

San Francisco
Giants

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Keith
Law

San Diego
Padres

Los Angeles
Dodgers

Colorado
Rockies

Arizona
Diamondbacks

San Francisco
Giants

Dave
Pease

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Diego
Padres

Colorado
Rockies

San Francisco
Giants

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Steven
Rubio

Los Angeles
Dodgers

Colorado
Rockies

San Diego
Padres

San Francisco
Giants

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Joe
Sheehan

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Diego
Padres

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Colorado
Rockies

San Francisco
Giants

Consensus

Los Angeles
Dodgers

San Diego
Padres

Colorado
Rockies

San Francisco
Giants

Arizona
Diamondbacks

Clay Davenport:

                         GB      Hitting Pitching
1. Los Angeles   93-69   --      3       3
2. San Diego     90-72   3       2       5       *wild card*
3. San Francisco 86-76   7       5       6
4. Colorado      81-81   12      7       10
5. Arizona       75-87   18      13      12

The best race in all baseball in my forecast. So long as Piazza and
Valdes/Nomo/Park hold up, I’ll stick with the Dodgers. The Padre pitching
forecast looks awfully optimistic, given how bad they were last year, but Brown
will help and I think a couple of starters will bounce back to their normal
selves. The Giants are very much in it. I don’t think the Rockies are, and I’m
pretty sure the Diamondbacks aren’t, spin notwithstanding.

When I rolled the dice, the Cardinals beat the Padres and the Braves beat the
Dodgers, and then the Braves beat the Cardinals. That’s as good a selection as
I’m likely to make by analyzing, so I’ll stick with it.

Gary Huckabay:
The Dodger rotation is just too nasty for anyone in this division to catch up.
Even after consideration of Chavez’ offense damping, a rotation of Valdes,
Park, Martinez, Dreifort, and Nomo has a better than 50% chance to be even
better than Atlanta’s. The bullpen has depth and quality, and even the
pedestrian Dodger offense will be able to score enough to blow this division
away. San Diego’s aged offense won’t be enough to keep pace with the Dodgers,
but a big step forward by Joey Hamilton will keep them in wild card hunt
throughout the season. Their offense, precariously balanced on the aged core
of Gwynn, Joyner, Caminiti, and Finley, is almost certain to decline, and even
if Greg Vaughn rebounds to his normal league-average form, there’s just
not enough juice with the bats. 500 PA of Mark Sweeney would probably help, as
would a healthy and circumspect Quilvio Veras.

Colorado’s in a pretty good place. Everybody wants pitching, particularly in
the rotation, and the Rockies’ rotation could be one of the top 5 in baseball
if things break their way. Their offense should be comparable to last year,
depending on how quickly Todd Helton starts ripping balls around the park, but
their pitching has a chance to be outstanding. Behind Kile and Astacio, John
Thomson looks like he could develop into a very solid starting pitcher (in
Coors, that means an ERA in the 5 neighborhood), and the bullpen’s got a
collection
of solid veterans, but the loss of Steve Reed to the Giants will undoubtedly
hurt. The Rockies could be the most volatile team in baseball; I can see them
winning 70 games, and I can see them winning 90.

Arizona’s defense is enough to make the pitching staff look fairly decent, and
they’ll avoid the cellar thanks to the plummeting Giants, who suffer a 5%
decrease in the quality of their offense and defense, and don’t get lucky. The
press blames Barry Bonds, but in reality, the Giants just won’t get the same
sorts of career years and breaks they got in 1997 — when they allowed more
runs than they scored, and won about 10 more games than one could reasonably
expect. Bill Mueller’s development and Barry Bonds’ excellence won’t be enough
to overcome the ponderous mediocrity of players like Hayes, Hamilton, Javier,
Snow, Sanchez, Hershiser, Darwin, and pretty much everyone else on the team.
73-78 wins, a lot of confused fans, and a lot of bad press for Barry Bonds, who
wouldn’t be loved by the local media if he saved Baby Jessica while strangling
the spawn of Hitler and Jim Jones.

Rany Jazayerli:
In what should be the best pennant race all year, the Padres should nip the
Dodgers at the wire because the Padres have Kevin Brown and the Dodgers are,
well, the Dodgers. The Padres also have Joey Hamilton and Andy Ashby, both of
whom should improve on their 1997 seasons, and with Trevor Hoffman in the pen,
the Padres may have the best pitching in the NL outside of Atlanta or LA. If
Kevin Brown’s forkball – and his spring training numbers – are for real, he
could actually be better than he was in 1996. The offense isn’t any different
than last year’s aging squad, but Caminiti isn’t coming back from arm surgery
and Greg Vaughn can’t possibly be any worse. Quilvio Veras needs to make the
leadoff spot his own, with 90 walks and a .400 OBP. If he can, the Padres
should win 92-94 games and the division.

The Dodgers might not win the division, but they should hold on to the wild
card, making this a repeat of 1996 in southern California. Karros’ injury may,
in the long run, be the best thing that happens to the Dodgers; Konerko has his
foot in the door, and I don’t think he’s going to be pushed out. The starting
pitching, with the addition of Darren Dreifort and Chan Ho Park’s continued
improvement, is outstanding, and the bullpen, now that Osuna has finally been
handed the job of closer, shouldn’t blow nearly as many 9th-inning leads. But
the Dodgers have a vastly overrated middle infield, and aside from Mondesi,
they don’t have the offense in the outfield to compensate. A late swoon
despite Mike Piazza’s best efforts leaves LA with 89-92 wins and an easy coast
to the wild card.

The Giants’ luck may not be enough to save them this year. Aside from Barry
Bonds, the entire lineup is composed of average players, from J.T. Snow to Stan
Javier to Bill Mueller. And the rotation is much the same; after ace Shawn
Estes, starters like Kirk Rueter and an aged Orel Hershiser are solid pitchers
but aren’t going to help propel the Giants up the standings. The lack of any
major holes should keep the Giants comfortably in 3rd place, with 84-87 wins.

The Rockies aren’t a bad team, and the additions of Darryl Kile and Pedro
Astacio give them arguably their best rotation ever. But until they understand
how to interpret their players in the light of Coors Field, and get rid of
Dante Bichette while keeping players like Steve Reed, they’re in trouble.
Their bullpen, just three years ago the core of the franchise, is now just
average. And their offense is caught between the old veterans – Bichette,
Burks, Castilla – who haven’t been shown the door yet, and young talents like
Todd Helton, who is a fine player but still years from his peak. The offense
is just too dysfunctional to expect more than 77-81 wins and 4th place.

The Diamondbacks talk big and sign big, but they play Jorge Fabregas and spend
big bucks on one-year wonders like Willie Blair, so don’t expect them to win
big just yet. The offense, backed by a hitter-friendly Bank One Ballpark,
could be among the NL’s best, but the pitching staff, aside from Andy Benes and
Jeff Suppan, lacks the talent to succeed. Brian Anderson and Blair don’t
strike out enough hitters to last in the long run, and the bullpen is young,
unproven, or both. When your closer (Felix Rodriguez) has 57 innings in his
major league career and has never – at any level – had a strikeout-to-walk
ratio of 2 to 1, you’re in trouble. The Diamondbacks should be better than
their expansion counterparts, but in the NL West, 73-75 wins puts you in the
cellar.

Chris Kahrl:
I have to confess, I’m probably congenitally incapable of putting the Dodgers
in first. Sure, they have the talent, the rotation, and… Bill Russell and
Fred Claire calling the shots. That means that players like Konerko and Cedeno
sitting for Thomas Howard or Todd Hollandsworth, that they goof off with a
month-long experiment of batting Jose Vizcaino leadoff if they get irritated
that Eric Young just isn’t the same at sea level, and that they’ve still got
Eric Karros playing every day in September. Okay, that’s probably not enough
to overcome the pitching staff and Mike Piazza, but I can see one last charge
from the Grey Padres, with the Rockies even surprising people. The Giants will
surprise some of us by fending off a challenge from the D-backs, but the
difference between the basement and Dustiny this year will be what it always
is: Barry Bonds.

Keith Law:
The Padres’ acquisition of Kevin Brown may have come at a high price,
but it probably will propel them back into first place in 1998, although
they may have to settle for the wild card. The team’s incumbent aces,
Andy Ashby and Joey Hamilton, are good bets to rebound; the bullpen
remains a minor strength; and the lineup should benefit from a healthy
Quilvio Veras and the excision of John Flaherty. The Pads are hardly a
match for the Braves, but they’ve got enough to win 90 games and this
division.

Writing my annual prediction for the Dodgers is liking working with
Java: write once, use every year. The Dodgers’ chances certainly improve
if they enter June with Paul Konerko and Roger Cedeno in the lineup, but
you and I know that’s as likely as Candace Gingrich winning the
presidency of the Christian Coalition. They will continue to pitch well,
continue to post acceptable newspaper-numbers (average, HR, RBI, SB),
and will wonder why they’re not scoring any runs.

The Rockies have finally gotten a clue, even though it took a
super-prospect and a $27MM threat to give it to them. The departure of
Andres Galarraga and arrival of Todd Helton threatens such hallowed
marks as the .400 barrier, while allowing the team to realize that guys
like Dante Bichette aren’t really any good. Still, Helton’s arrival and
the improvements to the rotation make this more than a .500 team and a
more legitimate threat for the future.

The D-backs aren’t quite the laughingstock that their aquatic brethren
in Tampa Bay appear to be, but they’re not a very good team on their
own. By stocking their lineup with veterans already on the decline,
they’ve squandered an opportunity to put a .500 team on the field – and
to give Willie Blair another 16 wins he may or may not deserve.

The Giants’ luck has run out. Predicting a last-place finish may seem
harsh, but they’re as unlikely to win half their games as Arizona is –
and, if Shawn Estes’ workload catches up with him, they’re pretty likely
to only win around 70.

Dave Pease:
In a world where everything worked the way it was supposed to, the
Dodgers would be the clear favorites; their major-league team is strong,
and their farm system is awesome, with useful players all
over the place. Unfortunately, the Dodgers are this way every year,
and every year someone else wins the title. Their misallocation of
resources (and inexplicable infatuation with Eric Karros) are drawbacks
that their perenially strong pitching must overcome. It probably will,
but you never know with this organization.

This is the last gasp for the Padres, and again that’s the way it has
been for years now. Look for a big rebound by the pitching staff,
and a Cy Young for Kevin Brown. The offense has got to slip following
last year’s banner season, and with all the old guys on this team,
one or two of them are going to go in the toilet (or stay there, in
Greg Vaughn’s case). Matt Clement wins three games down the stretch,
and Ruben Rivera takes over for Vaughn full-time by August.

The Rockies finally have some pitchers. Kevin Ritz is plainly overextended
as your ace, but when he’s a member of the bottom of your rotation, you
aren’t in bad shape. Unfortunately, the offense can’t say the same.
It remains underperforming, with gaudy numbers all around at home, and
mediocre ones on the road. Look for Dante Bichette to break something
while waddling around the outfield, and Ellis Burks to miss 80 games.
Todd Helton will win the RoY with an NL top ten batting average.

San Francisco used up all its luck last year. Shawn Estes isn’t an
ace, and he won’t pitch like one in 1998. J.T. Snow regresses with
a season where he performs at the midpoint between his excellent 1997
and his horrid 1996, and both Stan Javier and Darryl Hamilton put up
.330 OBPs with little power in the OF. Barry Bonds has another
great season, and Bill Mueller posts a .400 OBP with power at 3B.
I may be going out on a limb here, but I think Robb Nen will be wild.

Arizona is spending its money in all the wrong places. Fabregas?
Williams for $45M? Jay Bell for almost as much? Ugh. Andy Benes
and Willie Blair never settle in and pitch well, setting the stage
for a disappointing season. The Diamondbacks still clean the floor
with the Devil Rays, but they aren’t near contention with the guys
they have. Travis Lee hits the heck out of the ball all year, and
Karim Garcia hits 30 HR and plays comically bad defense in the OF.
They aren’t terrible, but in baseball’s best division, there’s no
hope for them.

Steven Rubio:
I hate picking the Dodgers, but as long as their luck continues (that is, if
guys like Karros get hurt, allowing better players to surface), they’ll be
fine. Another prediction: when the Dodgers win, 83% of all major-media
commentators will credit an improved clubhouse atmosphere. I disagree with
those who think this is a weak division. Look for four teams to finish above
.500.

NL Champs: Los Angeles

Joe Sheehan:
The Dodgers have dramatically improved their clubhouse chemistry, which will be
an invaluable asset down the stretch when they need to do the little things in
the clutch that win ball games.

Oh, you are still here…

They’re the best team, as long as they play one of Paul Konerko or Roger
Cedeno. If both play–not bloody likely–it may not be close. San Diego’s
pitching makeover amounts to a shuffling of bullpen bodies–not for the
better–and the addition of Kevin Brown. It should be enough for the wild
card, assuming the whole lineup doesn’t go down with Alzheimer’s or gout or
something. Arizona should finish third, but remember, Jay Bell and Matt
Williams are only going to get older. The Rockies still don’t get it–it’s the
hitters, stupid–and won’t be a significant threat until they do. The horror
film of the year will be set in the Bay Area: Dustiny Meets the Johnson Effect!


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