Volume 96, Issue 94
Thursday, March 27, 2003

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National League preview

By Anthony Lafratta
Gazette Staff

In an era of juiced balls, juiced players and washed-up fat guys tossing perfect games while on the juice, it's nice to know that National League baseball still gets things done the old way: with pitching, speed and execution. Sure it's confusing, but The Gazette's quasi-expert is back to guide you through it.

NL East Winner:
New York Mets

How could the Mets, so rich with talent, have been so horrible last season? Well, Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz and Mo Vaughn were all absolutely dreadful. However, they will rebound, and with newcomer Cliff Floyd hitting in front of Mike Piazza, the Mets now boast the NL's top offense, not to mention a legitimate ace in Tom Glavine.

The Atlanta Braves' 11-year divisional hegemony will finally end this season. Losing starters Glavine and Kevin Millwood to divisional rivals will be crippling for the Braves, whose success has hinged on its hurlers for a decade. Replacements Paul Byrd and Russ Ortiz will likely prove insufficient.

They don't look as menacing as the '93 edition, but the Philadelphia Phillies managed to woo Millwood from the Braves and first baseman Jim Thome from the Indians. Thome will anchor a solid lineup with loads of young talent and if the veterans can hold this young team together, they'll take the wild-card.

NL Central Winner:
St. Louis Cardinals

Much like last year, the Central will shape up into a two-horse race between the Cardinals and Astros; although Ken Griffey Jr. could give the Reds a pulse. Both contenders pack a ton of power in the 3-4-5 slots. Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen for St. Louis, and Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman and the newly acquired Jeff Kent for Houston. There's not much room to differentiate the top clubs in pitching either – both are very solid. This race may be determined by one team's willingness to shop for big names at the trade deadline, like the Cards did last summer when they nabbed Rolen.

NL West Winner:
Los Angeles Dodgers

With no West teams making significant off-season moves, the Dodgers, perhaps by default, will lead the pack. Shawn Green will have another outstanding year at the plate, although LA's young arms, namely starter Odalis Perez and closer Eric Gagne, will need repeats of last season's performance if this club is to play in October.

The Arizona Diamondbacks' Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson show no signs of fatigue despite a poor showing in the playoffs, but the rest of the rotation is dismal. Last October's three-game sweep at the hands of the Cardinals was testament to the fact that the D-Backs' offense is dwindling. Don't expect more than an 85-win campaign from Arizona.

Despite being recently decorated with an unprecedented fifth NL Most Valuable Player award, a trip to the World Series and the unofficial title of baseball god, Barry Bonds's friends just don't want to play with him anymore. Jeff Kent, Reggie Sanders, Kenny Lofton, David Bell and even manager Dusty Baker flew the coop. The Giants' inability to bolster their rotation will leave them reeling by mid-summer.

Predicted Divisonal Champions

NL East: New York Mets
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
Wild-card: Philadelphia Phillies


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