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NL Capsultes

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002

NEW YORK METS
C: Mike Piazza
1B: Mo Vaughn
2B: Roberto Alomar
SS: Rey Ordonez
3B: Edgardo Alfonzo
LF: Roger Cedeno
CF: Jay Payton
RF: Jeromy Burnitz
P: Al Leiter

2001 RECAP: 82-80, 3rd in NL East
PROJECTED PAYROLL: $105-million.
WHY HE'S THE MAN: Piazza has a pair of left-handed power hitters sandwiching him in the order. This team won't rank last in the NL in runs scored as it did last season with 642.
WHAT COULD CHANGE THEIR COURSE: Beyond Leiter, the pitching staff is suspect.
BOTTOM LINE: This team certainly has the makings of a contender. But if the Mets don't at least advance to the NLCS, they'll be the most expensive bust of the season.

ATLANTA BRAVES
C: Javy Lopez
1B: Wes Helms
2B: Marcus Giles
SS: Rafael Furcal
3B: Vinny Castilla
LF: Chipper Jones
CF: Andruw Jones
RF: Gary Sheffield
P: Greg Maddux

2001 RECAP: 88-74, 1st in NL East
PROJECTED PAYROLL: $92-million
BIGGEST ADDITION: Outfielder Gary Sheffield
GONNA MISS: Outfielder Brian Jordan
WHY HE'S STILL THE MAN: His ERA was over 3.00 for the third consecutive year in 2001, but Maddux won 15 games for the 14th straight season. Amazing.
WHAT MAY CHANGE THEIR COURSE: Sheffield is the bat the Braves have needed for a while. He's always good for 30 homers and 100 RBIs. But if the rightfielder breaks form, Atlanta is no better than when it had Jordan.
BOTTOM LINE: The dynasty isn't over yet, but the Braves' win totals from the past four seasons have decreased each year. Time is running out.

FLORIDA MARLINS
C: Charles Johnson
1B: Derrek Lee
2B: Luis Castillo
SS: Alex Gonzalez
3B: Mike Lowell
LF: Cliff Floyd
CF: Preston Wilson
RF: Kevin Millar
P: Ryan Dempster

2001 RECAP: 76-86, 4th in NL East
PROJECTED PAYROLL: $43-million
BIGGEST ADDITION: Manager Jeff Torborg
GONNA MISS: General Manager Dave Dombrowski
WHY THEY'RE THE MEN: Rookie Josh Beckett will dazzle with his 97-mph fastball and Dempster, A.J. Burnett and Brad Penny combined for 36 of the team's 76 wins last season.
WHAT COULD CHANGE THEIR COURSE: If new owner Jeffrey Loria starts treating this club like his previous franchise.
BOTTOM LINE: In a division with the Mets, Braves and Phillies, the Marlins should still lurk around .500.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
C: Mike Lieberthal
1B: Travis Lee
2B: Marlon Anderson
SS: Jimmy Rollins
3B: Scott Rolen
LF: Pat Burrell
CF: Doug Glanville
RF: Bobby Abreu
P: Robert Person

2001 RECAP: 86-76, 2nd in NL East
PROJECTED PAYROLL: $57-million
BIGGEST ADDITION: Outfielder Bobby Abreu's new $64-million contract.
GONNA MISS: Pitcher Omar Daal
WHY HE'LL BE THE MAN IF: Though they attempted to quell the Rolen controversy in the spring, the Phillies did exactly the opposite. It's only going to get louder and nastier. We'll see if Rolen can still perform as well as he has in the past.
WHAT MAY CHANGE THEIR COURSE: The Phillies can't surprise anybody with their speed and power. Burrell, Abreu and Rolen have to produce.
BOTTOM LINE: Without a legitimate No. 1 starter, the Phillies will find it difficult to contend against the Mets and Braves.

MONTREAL EXPOS
C: Michael Barrett
1B: Lee Stevens
2B: Jose Vidro
SS: Orlando Cabrera
3B: Chris Truby
LF: Jose Canseco
CF: Peter Bergeron
RF: Vladimir Guerrero
P: Javier Vazquez

2001 RECAP: 68-94, 5th in NL East
PROJECTED PAYROLL: $39-million.
BIGGEST ADDITION: Manager Frank Robinson
GONNA MISS: Montreal
WHY HE'S THE MAN: Guerrero is a monster on offense, but Cabrera is a legitimate Gold Glover on defense. His .986 fielding percentage and assists (514) in 162 games led all NL shortstops.
WHAT COULD CHANGE THEIR COURSE: Bud Selig
BOTTOM LINE: This will be the Expos' final season in Montreal. Players can respond two ways: Go out and try to prove the world wrong or go out and depart quietly.

Central
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
C: Mike Matheny
1B: Tino Martinez
2B: Fernando Vina
SS: Edgar Renteria
3B: Albert Pujols
LF: Placido Polanco
CF: Jim Edmonds
RF: J.D. Drew
P: Matt Morris

2001 RECAP: 93-69, 1st in NL Central
PROJECTED PAYROLL:
BIGGEST ADDITION: First baseman Tino Martinez
GONNA MISS: First baseman Mark McGwire
WHY TINO IS THE MAN: Four championships in the past six years, 141 or more games played in the past seven seasons, 105 or more RBIs in six of the past seven years.
WHAT COULD CHANGE THEIR COURSE: No matter what anybody says, Jason Isringhausen's performance is critical. St. Louis can't have him blowing nine saves like he did with the A's last year and hope to contend.
BOTTOM LINE: After two playoff appearances, the pieces are in place for the Cards to reach their first World Series since 1987. Too bad McGwire won't be a part of it.

HOUSTON ASTROS
C: Brad Ausmus
1B: Jeff Bagwell
2B: Craig Biggio
SS: Adam Everett
3B: Morgan Ensberg
LF: Daryle Ward
CF: Richard Hidalgo
RF: Lance Berkman
P: Wade Miller

2001 RECAP: 93-69, 1st in NL Central
PROJECTED PAYROLL: $62-million
BIGGEST ADDITION: Manager Jimy Williams
GONNA MISS: Outfielder Moises Alou
WHY THEY'RE NOT THE MEN: Alou and Vinny Castilla combined for 50 home runs and 190 RBIs last season. Who did the Astros get to replace that? Brian L. Hunter and minor-leaguer Ensberg, that's who.
WHAT MAY CHANGE THEIR COURSE: If the clubhouse morale goes south as it did in Boston last year when Williams was managing.
BOTTOM LINE: Once again, the Cardinals will push Houston for the NL Central title. Strong starting pitching and a healthy Billy Wagner could give them the edge.

CHICAGO CUBS
C: Todd Hundley
1B: Fred McGriff
2B: Delino DeShields
SS: Alex Gonzalez
3B: Chris Stynes
LF: Moises Alou
CF: Corey Patterson
RF: Sammy Sosa
P: Jon Lieber

2001 RECAP: 88-74, 3rd in NL Central
PROJECTED PAYROLL: $72-million
BIGGEST ADDITION: Outfielder Moises Alou
GONNA MISS: Days when a bleacher seat didn't cost $26
WHY HE'S REALLY GONNA BE THE MAN THIS YEAR: Nobody will walk Sosa to reach McGriff. And nobody will walk McGriff to get to Alou. It's called protection and Sosa's going to see better pitches because of it.
WHAT MAY CHANGE THEIR COURSE: The torn muscle in the back of Tom Gordon's right shoulder. The Cubs boast a fine starting rotation but what good is that with nobody to close a game?
BOTTOM LINE: The Cubs have not had back-to-back winning seasons since 1971-1972. It should happen again this season.

CINCINNATI REDS
C: Jason LaRue
1B: Sean Casey
2B: Todd Walker
SS: Barry Larkin
3B: Aaron Boone
LF: Adam Dunn
CF: Ken Griffey Jr.
RF: Juan Encarnacion
P: Joey Hamilton

2001 RECAP: 66-96, 5th in NL Central
PROJECTED PAYROLL: $43-million
BIGGEST ADDITION: Juan Encarnacion
GONNA MISS: Cinergy Field (after this season)
WHY HE'S THE MAN: Casey has batted .332, .315 and .310 in his past three seasons. That's consistency.
WHAT COULD CHANGE THEIR COURSE: Griffey's past two seasons have been forgettable. If he can come close to duplicating the stats he posted before he came to Cincy, the Reds will be a much better team.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good offense, if healthy, won't be able to score enough runs for a weak pitching staff.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
C: Henry Blanco
1B: Richie Sexson
2B: Eric Young
SS: Jose Hernandez
3B: Ron Belliard
LF: Geoff Jenkins
CF: Jeffrey Hammonds
RF: Matt Stairs
P: Jamey Wright

2001 RECAP: 68-94, 4th in NL Central
PROJECTED PAYROLL: BIGGEST ADDITION: Pitching coach Dave Stewart
GONNA MISS: Jeromy Burnitz
WHY NOBODY'S THE MAN: These guys whiffed a record 1,399 times last season. One of the biggest offenders, Burnitz, blew himself out of town.
WHAT COULD CHANGE THEIR COURSE: Bud Selig contracting the Expos and holding a dispersal draft for the Brewers only. Vladimir Guerrero might look nice in blue, yellow and white.
BOTTOM LINE: Without a proven No. 1 starter or leadoff hitter, the Brewers will struggle to avoid their 10th consecutive losing season. But help is on the way in the minors.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
C: Jason Kendall
1B: Kevin Young
2B: Pokey Reese
SS: Jack Wilson
3B: Aramis Ramirez
LF: Brian Giles
CF: Adrian Brown
RF: Armando Rios
P: Kip Wells

2001 RECAP: 62-100, 6th in NL Central
PROJECTED PAYROLL: BIGGEST ADDITION: Pitcher Kip Wells
GONNA MISS: Willie Stargell (still)
WHY HE'S THE MAN: Giles may be one of the most underrated outfielders out there. He's an able defender but a legitimate offensive threat as evidenced by his 333 RBIs, 111 homers and .313 batting average the past three seasons.
WHAT COULD CHANGE THEIR COURSE: If MLB created a new division consisting of the Pirates, Brewers, Royals, Rays and Expos.
BOTTOM LINE: They've got some pretty decent position players in Kendall, Ramirez, Reese and Giles and will benefit when Kris Benson rejoins the rotation after missing last season because of reconstructive elbow surgery. But GM Dave Littlefield has lots of work remaining.

West
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
C -- Damian Miller
1B -- Mark Grace
2B -- Craig Counsell
SS -- Tony Womack
3B -- Jay Bell
LF -- Luis Gonzalez
CF -- Steve Finley
RF -- Danny Bautista
P -- Randy Johnson

2001 RECAP: 92-70, world champions.
PROJECTED PAYROLL: ?????????
BIGGEST ADDITION: Pitcher Rick Helling.
GONNA MISS: Outfielder Reggie Sanders.
WHY THEY'RE THE MEN: Johnson and Curt Schilling proved they can carry a team to the World Series title. But what if one or both get hurt? It's doubtful Helling, Todd Stottlemyre and Brian Anderson can duplicate their dominance.
WHAT MAY CHANGE THEIR COURSE: Old age.
BOTTOM LINE: The first two starters are superb. The offense is solid, but not spectacular. The average age (34) is staggering.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
C: Benito Santiago
1B: J.T. Snow
2B: Jeff Kent
SS: Rich Aurilia
3B: Pedro Feliz
LF: Barry Bonds
CF: Tsuyoshi Shinjo
RF: Reggie Sanders
P: Livan Hernandez
2001 RECAP: 90-72, 2nd in NL West
PROJECTED PAYROLL: BIGGEST ADDITION: Outfielder Reggie Sanders
GONNA MISS: Pitcher Shawn Estes
WE ALL KNOW WHO THE MAN IS: Bonds.
WHAT COULD CHANGE THEIR COURSE: The Giants scored 799 runs last year even with Bonds' monster season. Snow and Marvin Bernard need to pick it up and produce after mediocre 2001 seasons.
BOTTOM LINE: If the Diamondbacks weren't the defending World Series champs, these guys would be the favorites to win the NL West after falling two games short last season. There's little not to like about the talent on this club.


SAN DIEGO PADRES
C: Wiki Gonzalez
1B: Phil Nevin
2B: D'Angelo Jimenez
SS: Ramon Vazquez
3B: Sean Burroughs
LF: Bubba Trammell
CF: Mark Kotsay
RF: Ryan Klesko
P: Kevin Jarvis

2001 RECAP: 79-83, 4th in NL West
PROJECTED PAYROLL: BIGGEST ADDITION: Shortstop Ramon Vazquez
BIGGEST LOSS: Outfielder Tony Gwynn
WHY HE'S STILL THE MAN: Gwynn was the unofficial batting coach for the offense. Without his expertise and advice in the clubhouse, they could keep the phone lines pretty busy.
WHAT COULD CHANGE THEIR COURSE: A boatload of prospects, including rookie of the year candidate Burroughs, should get their chances this season.
BOTTOM LINE: Give this team another year or two (after their new stadium opens in 2004) and then check back for a division contender.


* * *

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
C: Paul Lo Duca
1B: Eric Karros
2B: Mark Grudzielanek
SS: Cesar Izturis
3B: Adrian Beltre
LF: Brian Jordan
CF: McKay Christensen
RF: Shawn Green
P: Kevin Brown

2001 RECAP: 86-76, 3rd in NL West
PROJECTED PAYROLL: $104-million
BIGGEST ADDITION: Hideo Nomo
GONNA MISS: Gary Sheffield
WHY HE'S THE MAN: Growing up, Lo Duca used to hit pinto beans tossed by his mother. No wonder the guy hit .320 with 25 homers and 90 RBIs last season.
WHAT MAY CHANGE THEIR COURSE: How good could this team be if Brown, Nomo, Ashby, Lo Duca, Karros, Jordan and Green put it all together at the same time?
BOTTOM LINE: What you see is what you get. The Dodgers lack any reinforcements in the minors, and the loss of Sheffield's offense surely will be felt. Bullpen is weak.


COLORADO ROCKIES
C: Ben Petrick
1B: Todd Helton
2B: Jose Ortiz
SS: Juan Uribe
3B: Todd Zeile
LF: Todd Hollandsworth
CF: Juan Pierre
RF: Larry Walker
P: Mike Hampton

2001 RECAP: 73-89, 5th in NL West
PROJECTED PAYROLL: $47-million
BIGGEST ADDITION: Reliever Todd Jones
GONNA MISS: the playoffs, again
WHY HE'S THE MAN: Helton became the first major-leaguer last season to get 100 or more extra-base hits in consecutive seasons. He also batted .360 with runners in scoring position in 2001.
WHAT COULD CHANGE THEIR COURSE: This could be the best bullpen ever for the Rockies with Jose Jimenez and Todd Jones.
BOTTOM LINE: Lefthanders will make the difference. Walker and Helton are two of the best offensive players in the NL this season. Hampton and Denny Neagle headline the rotation.




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