Q&A with Western's C.J.
MLB 2000 - the National League preview
MLB 2000 - the National League preview
By Chad Thompson
Last year, the biggest trend in baseball was buying the talent you needed. This year, well, it's buying the talent needed to make you a contender. The National League is shaping up to be the league to watch this year, as the teams have gotten stronger and the competition better.
The N.L. East presents, yet again, a two horse race. The New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves will again be the class of the division. Expect competition for the N.L. wild card spot from the Cincinnati Reds and the Houston Astros.
The Braves are the same team they were last year, except for improvement in the top two slots of their already strong batting order. They have acquired second baseman Quilvio Veras and outfielder Reggie Sanders from the San Diego Padres.
The biggest problem for the Braves is pitching. Their starters were the best in baseball last year, but they are another year older and the pressure will be on the offence to bail them out of games. Pitcher John Rocker will also present a problem in the locker room and this could be a factor the leads to the Braves missing the post season for the first time in a decade.
The Mets are the team to beat in the N.L. East. They have it all pitching, hitting and defence. With the additions of first baseman Todd Zeile and outfielder Derek Bell, the Mets have the batting order to rival the Braves and the bull pen to save the games they need.
The Montreal Expos may have spent more money on their lineup, but in the end they will only be able to slightly push past the .500 mark. The Expos do have some of the best young talent, however this could be the problem they may be too young and lack the leadership needed to make them a strong club. But with manager Felipe Alou at the helm, anything can happen.
The Philadelphia Phillies and the Florida Marlins represent the basement of the N.L. East. Curt Schilling needs to get out of Philadelphia and get to a contending team, while the Marlins need an act of god to contend.
The N.L. central holds a horse race for the division crown. Perennial favorites, the Astros, have strong competition from the Reds who acquired the best player in baseball when they made a trade for Ken Griffey Jr. They gave their offence another boost by picking up outfielder Dante Bichette from the Colorado Rockies. The problem for the Reds is that Griffey will have to patrol more of left center than ever because of Bichette's running speed.
The Reds' biggest weakness is their starting pitching and that is the only area where the Astros have an advantage. Pitcher Jose Lima leads a strong staff who will keep the Astros in enough games to compete with the Reds.
The St. Louis Cardinals bolstered their pitching staff this year with the acquisition of Pat Hentgen, Andy Benes and Darryl Kile. The problem for the Red Birds is that they failed to get someone to protect first baseman Mark McGwire in the batting order. Expect the Cardinals to compete for third in the division with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Like the Expos, the Pirates are on the rise, but only if their young talent is not sold to other teams. They have a good pitching staff but lack any offensive punch and with the loss of outfielder Al Martin to the Padres, expect the Pirates offence to be in Davey Jones' locker. The Chicago Cubs have outfielder Sammy Sosa good for them. The Cubs will battle for last place in the division with the Milwaukee Brewers, who will have to drink a lot of beer to forget this season.
The N.L. West presents the most boring division of all. The Arizona Diamond Backs will handily win the division because the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants and the Colorado Rockies do not present a great threat. The Dodgers' bats do not have the power to help their pitching staff and the Giants may be moving into a new stadium, but they have the same old team.
The Rockies, following what has become the most popular phrase in sports, are having a rebuilding year. They have done the most restructuring by trading Bichette and third baseman Vinny Castilla.
©Graphics by Terry Warne