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Das Texan

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2003: The New Odyssey (cont)

Now lets take a look at the National League beginning in the west.

I am going to go out on a limb here. The Los Angeles Dodgers will win the N.L. West. Don?t think so? The biggest question with the Dodgers will be their health. If Kevin Brown is healthy look out. If Darren Dreifort is healthy, look out. Joe Thurston may prove to be extremely important with this team both offensively and defensively. Adrian Beltre needs to step up finally. The excuses are over, its time to produce. This is a make it or break it year for Adrian. I look for him to be better than last year, but not a superstar. However he will provide enough for the Dodgers to not give up on him.
The Arizona Diamondbacks come up next in the West. I am tempted to say they will win the division on the arms of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. But there are far too many questions in that rotation after these two. It will prove to be the difference between a division title and second place. Luis Gonzalez will again continue to dazzle, but this team needs to find some youth. They continue to get older, at some point they are going to be forced to find some young talent from somewhere. The dismantling of the Diamondbacks will occur, but not this year. They are going to make at least one more run at another World Series.
The Giants are destined to finish third this year. The difference? No Dusty Baker and no Jeff Kent. The Giants will miss them more than they realize. Now Felipe Alou is a quality major league manager, but he is not Dusty Baker. There are far too many question marks with this team. Ray Durham should fill the hole at the leadoff position, but I wonder just how many good years he has left, and I am not a fan of his defensively. Edgardo Alfonzo is hoping for a fresh start in San Fransico but I don?t know if he has anything left to return to his earlier form. Jose Cruz Jr. frustrates people. He has the tools, but has yet to transform them into consistency.
The Colorado Rockies will score runs. Unfortunately they will give up more than they score. The addition of Preston Wilson and Jose Hernandez will get the balls flying out of Coors again. Of course the strikeouts will pile up in the process. If the Rockies had good pitching, they win the West. But outside of Jason Jennings, they have question marks everywhere. Denny Neagle will never be the same again. The Rockies just do not have enough horses to compete with the big boys in this division.
Rounding out the West are the San Diego Padres. Before the season started, I would have been willing to give the Padres a third place finish. However this was before the injuries began piling up. Losing Trevor Hoffman was bad enough, but losing Phil Nevin will be the straw that broke the camel?s back. The Padres need to just wave the white flag on this season and work on developing their young players for 2004 when they move into the new Petco Park.

The National League Central features two powerhouses at the top, a couple of teams that may surprise and then two cellar dwellers.
The St. Louis Cardinals again seem to be the class of the league, at least on paper. I am still convinced that with a healthy Scott Rolen the Cardinals are in the World Series last year. Their infield defense is second to none in baseball. Albert Pujols continues to amaze with the bat. This kid will only continue to get better. Before he is done, he will put up some truly dazzling numbers. The real question with this team is the pitching. There are a number of questions, but plenty of options out there to fill them. If the Cardinals can find the components to fill up the back end of that rotation, they will be fine. If not then they may be faced with a second place finish.
The Houston Astros will duel with the Cardinals until the last weekend of the season. Both of these two teams are just that good. Jeff Kent will give the Astros that extra bat they truly need to be a power in the league. Craig Biggio seems to be rejuvenated in center field, and he just might bounce back this year and prove all his detractors wrong once more. Brad Ausmus is unmatched by any catcher in the league behind the plate. No catcher does a better job in all regards behind the plat than this guy. Their pitching is young. But very good. Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller lead this staff. They could both win 20. Billy Wagner is a lock for 40 saves this year.
The Chicago Cubs could turn out to be the team that shocks everyone by hanging around in this race until late in the summer. Mark Prior is going to be the best pitcher in baseball within 2 years. He stuff is solid, his mechanics are solid, there are no noticeable flaws to his game. Kerry Wood is not a bad option for your second slot in the rotation. Matt Clement finally began to show off his stuff and he may be the second coming of Kevin Brown. Clement is right around the age of Brown when he began to dominate. The offense may provide to be the crux for this team. Sammy will be Sammy, but how much protection will he receive. That will determine where this team is come August.
The Cincinnati Reds are just the opposite of the Cubs. No pitching but plenty of hitting. Ken Griffey Jr is hitting 50 home runs this year. He seems to be on a mission. Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns may each hit 30 as well. Brandon Larson will contend for Rookie of the Year. But their pitching leaves people scratching heads. Don Gullet is a great pitching coach but if he can put together a staff that gets this team into the playoffs then he should be inducted into the Hall immediately. They will probably hang around, but will fade in mid to late summer.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are not as bad as people assume them to be. That being said they are still not that good. Brian Giles makes this team tick. He is an awesome player but you wonder if they might be better off trading him for younger talent that can fill your many holes. Jason Kendall needs to bounce back. The pitching surprised at times last year, especially Josh Fogg. If Kris Benson can prove himself to be healthy, he might be able to win 15 games. Aramis Ramirez needs to bounce back from a horrible season last year. He might just do it. This team if they play their cards right, could have a contending team in a couple of years. They might be able to hang around .500 for most of the year, but far from the cream of the crop.
The Milwaukee Brewers are the worst team in the league. If they lose less than 100 games they have had a good year. Anybody remember the days of Robin Yount and Paul Molitor? They seem like a few lifetimes ago. Ben Sheets still is trying to find a niche for himself in the big leagues. He has the stuff, but has not parlayed it into major league success on a consistent basis yet. Richie Sexton is a good hitter, but is vastly overshadowed in Milwaukee. He will have a good year though, but his RBI numbers may not indicate his true worth as a hitter.

Lastly we look at the National League East. This division may be the best in baseball, so lets get to it.
The Atlanta Braves are still the team to beat. Until they go down, you cannot count them out. Last year I said they were on the way down but they shocked me. I am not making the same mistake this year. They win the division again. Mike Hampton will show all that he can still pitch. Gary Sheffield and Chipper Jones will pace the offense and Mark Derosa or someone else will relegate Vinny Castilla to the bench by May. Greg Maddux will continue his quest of 300 victories and you can pencil him in for another fifteen this year.
The Philadelphia Phillies are the most improved team in the division. Jim Thome will be great for this team and will provide that big bat to compliment Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell. Jimmy Rollins bounces back from a sup par sophomore campaign. David Bell is solid, but not spectacular. The big question with this team resides in the pitching. Kevin Millwood is moving from the number three starter to the number one in Philly. I am not sold on him. Jose Mesa drives managers crazy, but somehow he usually gets the job done. Its not out of the question for the Phillies to win the division, but I see them fading just a bit down the stretch and coming up just short of the Braves.
The New York Mets will either compete with the big boys or fall flat on their face. There is no middle ground. Tom Glavine will wish he never left Atlanta, as the Met defense is nowhere nearly as good as the Braves. Mo Vaughn will be better than last year, but it will not take much for that to occur. I do see Robby Alomar having a bounce back season. Look for him to provide his traditional gold glove defense at the very least. They have the pitching to contend, but questions defensively and offensively which will doom them.
The Florida Marlins are relying on speed, pitching and defense to win games. The good thing about speed and defense is that these items do not go into slumps. As long as the Marlins stay focused mentally they should continue to stay in the race. But their ability to score runs will hamper this team. They cannot count on Pudge to shoulder the entire burden offensively. Mike Lowell is a good if not great third baseman, but thrives more on a secondary support role offensively. Derrek Lee is great defensively, possibly the best in the game, but his offense has not yet matured. If he can put it all together, the Marlins will smile broadly. The pitching should be good from the top especially, but will they score the runs needed to win ball games? AJ Burnett, Josh Beckett and Brad Penny need health, they need to throw strikes and they need some runs behind them. The Marlins just don?t have enough offensive punch to win this division.
Finally the traveling Expos will bring up the cellar. Granted they will not be that bad of a last place team, but someone has to finish here. The traveling will prove to be a toll on the team. Vlad Guerrero will again prove that he is one of the elites in this game. Javier Vazquez is a good pitcher, but I don?t see ace material in him. He is better suited to a number two role on a staff. The bullpen scares nobody. Jose Vidro and Orlando Cabrera should provide the offensive punch, but there are far too many holes offensively for this team to win the division.
 

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