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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, June 22, 2024

Baseball gears up for limelight

This year more than others in recent memory, the National League race will be characterized by a rich mixture of old post-season powers and up and coming franchises. 




Will the league championship go the way of the likely suspects--Arizona, San Francisco or St. Louis? Or will fans be treated to a refreshing new World Series contender-- i.e. the Cubs, Phillies, or Dodgers? 




The season has not yet begun, but soon the thrills and heartbreaks of October will be upon us. Here is a division-by-division breakdown of this year's new National League models. 




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Tony La Russa, who has led the Cardinals to post-season play in nearly every season he has managed them, must show the St. Louis faithful that he can bring the club to World Series-caliber this year, as they come off yet another disappointing playoff defeat. 




The Cardinals look to third baseman Scott Rolen to step up his performance after his lackluster effort last year. 












As usual, the Astros should be one of the league's most potent offensive forces this season, with former National League MVP Jeff Kent set to join perennial sluggers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio in the Houston lineup. 




Houston will score plenty of runs, but what about their defense? Despite right-handed ace Roy Oswalt's solid 2002 performance (19-9), the Astros still appear to lag behind the Cardinals and Cubs in terms of pitching prowess. 












Barring some surprises, the Reds, in their first season in a new ballpark, seem destined to land in third or fourth place in the Central Division. 




The losses of number-one starter Elmer Dessens, left-hander Shawn Estes and Todd Walker outweigh the minute additions the Reds made. 




Ken Griffey Jr. must step up and prove his worth after three lackluster seasons in the Queen City. 












Things are looking up a bit in Pittsburgh this year with the offensive additions of Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders. 




Pitching remains questionable, with Pirate fans now hoping for a breakthrough season for right-hander Kris Benson. 




Don't expect better than fourth place for this Pittsburgh squad. 












As Dusty Baker suited up in the familiar blue pinstripe uniform and Sammy Sosa actually arrived at spring training on time, Cubs fans have begun to ask if this year could indeed be the

ext year"" for which north-siders have always longed. 




Along with the winning attitude Baker is sure to bring to Wrigley Field, the Cubs have added left-hander Shawn Estes to a starting rotation that may prove to be the most potent in the league. 




In the infield, the Cubs are counting on much-heralded prospect Hee Seop Choi to anchor first base in place of the departed Fred McGriff.  












Despite a complete off-season makeover in their front office, there is still a steep hill to climb for the Brewers organization, which has not had a winning season since the other George Bush was president. 




Jerry Royster is out and former Brewers catcher Ned Yost is in as manager, but this year's Milwaukee lineup is still largely similar to the crew that led the Brewers to a franchise record 106 losses last year. 




On the mound, the Brewers' saving grace is their bullpen, featuring closer Mike DeJean, who completed 27 saves in 2002, not bad for a club that won 57 total games. 




Milwaukeeans should certainly not hold their breath for postseason play at Miller Park. 




















Don't look now, Virginia, but these are not the Braves of the dot-com boom era anymore. 




With the departure of Tom Glavine, 37-year-old Greg Maddux is now the only member of the Braves vaunted rotation who dates back to the club's 1995 World Series Championship and other late '90s crushing postseason defeats. 




Left-hander Mike Hampton joins the new-look quintet of Braves starters along with right-handers Maddux, Russ Ortiz, Paul Byrd and southpaw Horacio Ramirez. 




These Braves may look different, but don't expect anything less than yet another postseason appearance for Bobby Cox's squad this October. 












With a record 103 games away from Olympic Stadium scheduled this season, including 22 ""home games"" in Puerto Rico, this year's Expos team will further shed their identity with Montreal as the league-owned franchise continues to entertain offers from several locales that would remove baseball's original Canadian team from its homeland next year. 




First baseman Andres Galarraga and outfielder Troy O'Leary have hit the road along with right-handed ace Bartolo Colon, although Expos fans will anxiously await to see what newcomers Orlando Hernandez and Livan Hernandez can do to fill the club's talent void. 












With one of the more active off-seasons in baseball, the Phillies have poised themselves to improve their sub-.500 2002 campaign. 




Notably, slugger Jim Thome and third baseman David Bell will frame a revamped infield, surrounding former all-star shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Placido Polanco. 




While they are strong contenders for second place, the Braves still stand as Philadelphia's greatest barrier in front of an East Division title. 












After winning a surprising 79 games last season, there is no reason that this year's Marlins cannot register their first winning season since their World Championship 1997 season. 




That said, the Florida club must deal with the loss of four-time Gold Glove-winning catcher Charles Johnson. For the meantime, they seem to have solved this dilemma with the free agent signing of Ivan Rodriguez to a one-year contract.  












Coming off a disappointing 75-win season in 2002, the Mets look to improve in 2003 under new manager Art Howe. 




With Edgardo Alfonzo and Rey Ordonez gone, the inexperienced Ty Wiggington will take over at third. Acquiring pitcher Tom Glavine is a clear shot at winning now, but with an improved Phillies team and a disjointed and unpredictable roster, the efforts may be in vain. 




















After an embarrassing three-game sweep defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals in last year's National League Divisional Series, the Diamondbacks are poised to return to dominance in the West this season.  




Most notably, former closer Byung-Hyun Kim will move to the starting rotation, leaving Matt Mantei as the Diamondbacks' closer. Four-time Cy Young Award-winner Randy Johnson and right-hander Curt Schilling, who combined for a 47-12 record last season, will continue to anchor down the Arizona rotation. 




On the offensive side, first baseman Lyle Overbay will take over starting duties for Mark Grace and Erubiel Durazo. Again, this year's West Division race should be a square-off between the D'Backs and Giants. 












With Barry Bonds anchoring one of baseball's richest offensive lineups, pitching will be the biggest question as to whether the Giants will be able to return to the World Series. 




The Giants' success will ride on the shoulders of right-hander Jason Schmidt and lefty Kirk Rueter. Right-handers Ryan Jensen and Kurt Ainsworth will fill the last two positions. 




Look for the Giants to be right back in the thick of the West Division race this year, under the leadership of new manager Felipe Alou. 












The Dodgers, who quietly compiled a 92-win season under third-year manager Jim Tracy last season, could see bigger and better things this year. That is if new arrival Fred McGriff is able to pack some more offensive power into the light-hitting L.A. lineup. 




If pitchers Brown and Dreifort return to full swing, expect the Dodgers to equal or improve upon their 2002 record. Otherwise, the team may lag. 












It will be sink or swim for the Rockies this year, who are taking a gamble with a young rotation that, with the exception of 34-year-old Denny Nagle, features exclusively pitchers less than 27 years old with relatively little combined major league experience. 




San Diego Padres (66-96) 




After a disappointing 2002 campaign, things only appear worse this year for the Padres, who will be forced to play in the wake of some key departures and mounting long-term injuries. 




At the same time, left-fielder Phil Nevin is expected to miss the entire season after dislocating his shoulder in a spring training contest. 




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