Czechs squeak by Canada
An early look at the 1999 baseball season: American league
Quick feet in the hall
Canada needs the national hockey team
By Chad Thompson
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks. And oh yeah, some pitching too money's no obstacle. A quick look around the National League makes it appear this was the theme in the off-season.
The leaders of the spending spree are the National League West Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Arizona signed Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre and Andy Benes to sure up their pitching rotation. The team focused on pitching but the question mark for their team is the offence. Will Matt Williams and Steve Finley be able to lead the team offence? Doubtful. Williams has not been the same since he left San Francisco.
The Dodgers also spent money on pitching by acquiring Kevin Brown, but forgot to follow up that acquisition with another strong starter. They will have to rely on their offence for wins, with the likes of Eric Karros, Gary Sheffield and Raul Mondesi.
The Colorado Rockies will probably be chasing the Dodgers in home runs but lack the pitching to contend. Larry Walker will have another great season and will be aided by Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla. Unfortunately they can't pitch, so the Rockies will be left in the middle of the pack ahead of the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants. The Giants' Barry Bonds is the only thing keeping his club respectable but he cannot play every position. The Padres lost Kevin Brown and Ken Caminiti and will enjoy the view from the West division basement.
The National League Central is the most surprising division, but the division crown belongs to the Houston Astros. No one can touch the Astros' offence. Their pitching is suspect, but Shane Reynolds can be a 20 game winner. The Astros have the best batting order next to the Atlanta Braves which includes the like of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Derek Bell. You cannot pitch around any of them. If their pitching holds, they will easily take the division. The Chicago Cubs will be the only team to challenge the Astros. The Cubs have a strong batting order with Sammy "66 home runs" Sosa, Henry Rodriguez and Mark Grace. The loss of pitcher Kerry Wood hurts their pitching staff and it will be up to Terry Mulholland and Kevin Tapani to take the pitching load. Their offence will enjoy second place standing behind the Astros.
The St. Louis Cardinals will be the most watched baseball team this year. Not because they are the best team, but because they have Mark McGwire. Other than McGwire chasing his own record, the Cardinals will not be worth watching. The pitching is weak and the loss of Brian Jordan to the Atlanta Braves will allow teams to pitch around McGwire. It will take a career year for the Cardinals' players to get the team close to the playoffs.
The Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates will enjoy watching the Cubs-Astros race but will likely just be automatic wins for any team which visits them.
The National League East is probably the most intriguing race. The Braves are picked to win as usual but can they beat the Mets? The Braves' pitching staff is getting older with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz all aging, while the young arms are not there to take their spots. As well, the Braves do not have a closer. Mark Wolhers can't seem to close a door, let alone a game. The team has the offence and Brian Jordan will really provide a boost to an already stacked club. Like the Dodgers, the Braves' hitting will really have to carry them.
The New York Mets have the young pitching and the hitting. John Franco is a solid closer and if Al Leiter can live up to his 1997 season, the Mets can win the division. Also, they have a strong batting order with the likes of Mike Piazza, John Olerud and Robin Ventura. At worst the Mets will be the wild-card team.
The Montreal Expos have a lock on third place in the division and nothing more. They are the best young team in the NL which will turn out to be their downfall. They are too young. In two years the Expos will be a great team but for right now they are mediocre at best. If Felipe Alou has his way, the Expos could be a surprise team.
The Florida Marlins and the Philadelphia Phillies will battle for last place in the division. Curt Schilling will be the only reason the Phillies will not be in last place, but at the trade deadline he will probably be going to a contending team.
West - Arizona Diamondbacks
Central - Houston Astros
East - Atlanta Braves
/New York Mets
Wild Card - Atlanta Braves
/New York Mets
Cy Young - Randy Johnson
MVP - Jeff Bagwell