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Braves no longer a sure thing in East
Imagine the shock for an Atlanta Braves fan who spent the winter abroad without giving his favorite team a second thought.
Hey, that isn't Tom Glavine in a New York Mets uniform, is it? And what's the deal with Kevin Millwood wearing that Phillies cap? The new left-hander searching for his old velocity and command, that's not Mike Hampton, is it?
For that matter, any San Francisco fan who bid adieu to the Giants after Livan Hernandez got knocked around in Game 7 should be forgiven for wondering how many years it has been since that heart-breaking World Series.
Welcome to the new National League order, where there is little order at all.
The Braves have won 11 straight East titles, but they're not guaranteed a 12th, not with the Phillies and Mets raiding their pitching staff and general manager John Schuerholz taking a huge gamble on Hampton. St. Louis and Arizona remain favorites, but surprises are possible in the Central and West. The key story lines there are Jeff Kent's impact in Houston, the comebacks of Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort in Los Angeles and the determination of San Francisco's management to win with Felipe Alou behind Dusty Baker's old desk.
Here's a look at each team, in order of finish from 2002.
St. Louis Cardinals
Last year: 97-65, 1st; beat Arizona in the first round, lost to San Francisco in the NLCS.
Manager: Tony La Russa.
Key addition: RHP Brett Tomko.
Key losses: LHP Chuck Finley, RHP Andy Benes, RHP Dave Veres.
Other moves: Added RHP Dustin Hermanson, C Joe Girardi, OF Orlando Palmeiro, OF Alex Ochoa, RHP Joey Hamilton, RHP Cal Eldred, RHP Todd Erdos, LHP Lance Painter, RHP Chris Carpenter, RHP John Snyder; lost RHP Rick White, RHP Luther Hackman, C Mike DiFelice, RHP Jamey Wright.
Big question: Are there enough quality pitchers among the 33 in camp to replace the four members of an already depleted playoff staff who are not returning?
Keep an eye on: RHP Jason Isringhausen. Cards' closer had shoulder surgery in October and will be handled carefully.
Last year: 84-78, 2nd.
Manager: Jimy Williams.
Key addition: 2B Jeff Kent.
Key loss: RHP Tom Gordon.
Other moves: Added LHP Jesus Sanchez, RHP Chris Gissell; lost RHP Dave Mlicki, OF/1B Daryle Ward, RHP Nelson Cruz.
Big question: Can Shane Reynolds recover from back surgery to help anchor the rotation behind Wade Miller and Roy Oswalt? There's uncertainty about three spots, with knuckleballer Jared Fernandez in the mix along with Kirk Saarloos, Tim Redding, Brian Moehler, Peter Munro and rookie Jeriome Robertson.
Keep an eye on: Craig Biggio. Despite questions about his mobility, he moves to center field at age 37.
Last year: 78-84, 3rd.
Manager: Bob Boone.
Key additions: RHP Paul Wilson, SS Felipe Lopez.
Key losses: RHP Elmer Dessens, LHP Shawn Estes, 2B Todd Walker.
Other moves: Added RHP Luke Prokopec, LHP Jimmy Anderson, LHP Kent Mercker, LHP Felix Heredia, INF-OF Wilton Guerrero, 3B Felipe Crespo, OF Emil Brown; lost RHP Brian Moehler, RHP Jared Fernandez.
Big question: Is this the year Ken Griffey Jr. comes through? A good spring could lead either to a trade or talk the Reds can contend.
Keep an eye on: 3B Brandon Larson. His arrival has forced Aaron Boone to move to second base. It's unclear where the talented Lopez fits.
Last year: 72-89, 4th.
Manager: Lloyd McClendon.
Key additions: RHP Jeff Suppan, RF Matt Stairs, 1B Randall Simon.
Key losses: None.
Other moves: Added RHP Julian Tavarez, LHP Denys Reyes, RHP Rolando Arrojo, RHP Jeff D'Amico, RHP Pat Mahomes, RHP Jim Mann, LHP Mike Holtz, RHP John Wasdin, 2B Dave Doster, SS Mike Caruso; lost LHP Jimmy Anderson, LHP Adrian Burnside, INF Mike Benjamin, C Keith Osik, LHP Ron Villone.
Big question: Can GM Dave Littlefield trade for a run-producing outfielder? There have been only minimal upgrades for a lineup that outscored only Milwaukee. Brian Giles is willing to move to center.
Keep an eye on: 3B Aramis Ramirez and C Jason Kendall. Both could contribute a lot more at the plate than they did last season.
Last year: 67-95, 5th.
Manager: Dusty Baker.
Key additions: LHP Mike Remlinger, RHP Dave Veres, LHP Shawn Estes, 1B Eric Karros, C Damian Miller.
Key losses: 1B Fred McGriff, RHP Jon Lieber.
Other moves: Added LHP Mark Guthrie, LHP Mike Sirotka, RHP Rod Beck, C Paul Bako, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, OF Troy O'Leary, 3B-PH Lenny Harris, INF Ramon Martinez, CF Tom Goodwin, CF Charles Gipson; lost C Todd Hundley, C Joe Girardi, RHP Pat Mahomes, RHP Jason Bere, RHP Courtney Duncan, RHP Will Cunnane, 1B-OF Angel Echevarria, CF Chad Hermanson.
Big question: Can a slimmed-down Antonio Alfonseca improve enough to hang onto his spot at the back of an upgraded bullpen?
Keep an eye on: 1B Hee Seop Choi. No longer a kid, it's time he justifies his standing ahead of the likes of Mark Grace, McGriff, Karros and even Jim Thome.
Last year: 56-106, 6th.
Manager: Ned Yost.
Key additions: SS Royce Clayton, RHP Todd Ritchie.
Key loss: SS Jose Hernandez.
Other moves: Added RHP Dave Mlicki, 3B Wes Helms, INF Enrique Cruz, C Javier Valentin, C Keith Osik, C Eddie Perez, OF Brady Clark, OF John Vander Wal, 3B Ryan Gripp, INF Manny Alexander, RHP Chuck Smith, RHP Brooks Kieschnick, RHP Scott Winchester; lost OF Matt Stairs, 3B/PH Lenny Harris, C Paul Bako, LHP Ray King, RHP Jose Cabrera, 2B Ron Belliard, OF Jim Rushford, C Jorge Fabregas.
Big question: Did Yost bring magic dust with him? The longtime Bobby Cox lieutenant must build hope for perennial losers.
Keep an eye on: Kieschnick, who was a 1B/OF with Cubs, used winter ball to show he's ready to return as a pitcher.
Last year: 101-59, 1st; lost to San Francisco in the first round.
Manager: Bobby Cox.
Key additions: LHP Mike Hampton, RHP Paul Byrd, RHP Russ Ortiz, RHP Roberto Hernandez, 1B Robert Fick.
Key losses: LHP Tom Glavine, RHP Kevin Millwood, LHP Damian Moss, LHP Mike Remlinger, RHP Kerry Ligtenberg.
Other moves: Added C Johnny Estrada, LHP Ray King, LHP Mike Venafro, RHP Chris Spurling; lost LHP Chris Hammond, RHP Albie Lopez, 3B Wes Helms, OF B.J. Surhoff, OF Dave Martinez, 2B Keith Lockhart, 2B Jesse Garcia.
Big question: Can Hampton get back on track after losing confidence? If not, rotation could unravel in Glavine's wake.
Keep an eye on: Hernandez. If the holder of 320 career saves has enough left, the Braves could consider moving Smoltz back into the rotation.
Last year: 83-79, 2nd.
Manager: Frank Robinson.
Key addition: RHP Orlando Hernandez.
Key loss: RHP Bartolo Colon.
Other moves: Added 1B Jeff Liefer, RHP Rocky Biddle, OF Wil Cordero, RHP Luis Ayala; lost RHP Matt Herges, 1B Andres Galarraga, OF Troy O'Leary.
Big question: Can Liefer and Biddle turn the Colon deal into a success for GM Omar Minaya? Liefer takes over at first base and Biddle could get a look as the closer as Scott Stewart is recovering from elbow surgery.
Keep an eye on: Another trade or two before Opening Day. C/3B Mike Barrett will be watched closely by many teams, including the Cubs.
Last year: 80-81, 3rd.
Manager: Larry Bowa.
Key additions: 1B Jim Thome, RHP Kevin Millwood, 3B David Bell.
Key losses: RHP Mike Timlin, 1B Travis Lee.
Other moves: Added RHP Matt Herges, 3B Tyler Houston, RHP Mike Fhyrie, C Todd Pratt; lost 2B Marlon Anderson, CF Doug Glanville, C Johnny Estrada, RHP Robert Person, RHP Ricky Bottalico, 3B Dave Hollins.
Big question: How will Millwood and the easygoing Thome handle their new manager and the huge expectations that go with their arrival? They're going to set the tone.
Keep an eye on: CF Marlon Byrd. The lineup is deep enough that he can provide a pleasant surprise hitting seventh or eighth.
Last year: 79-83, 4th.
Manager: Jeff Torborg.
Key additions: C Ivan Rodriguez, CF Juan Pierre, LHP Mark Redman, RHP Tim Spooneybarger.
Key losses: CF Preston Wilson, C Charles Johnson, RF Kevin Millar.
Other moves: Added OF Todd Hollandsworth, OF Gerald Williams, OF Luke Allen, RHP Mike Croushore, LHP Allen Levrault, RHP Doug Bochtler; lost RHP Julian Tavarez, LHP Graeme Lloyd, OF Tim Raines, OF Eric Owens, RHP Gary Knotts, LHP Nate Robertson, LHP Rob Henkel.
Big question: How healthy are middle infielders Luis Castillo (hip) and Alex Gonzalez (shoulder), who both had surgery last year? Andy Fox is the first option at SS and 2B.
Keep an eye on: RHP Josh Beckett. Recurring blisters have limited the effectiveness of a guy who was untouchable in the minors.
New York Mets
Last year: 75-86, 5th.
Manager: Art Howe.
Key additions: LHP Tom Glavine, LHP Mike Stanton, OF Cliff Floyd, SS Rey Sanchez.
Key losses: 3B Edgardo Alfonso, SS Rey Ordonez.
Other moves: Added 3B Russ Johnson, LHP Graeme Lloyd, CF Tsuyoshi Shinjo; lost LHP Mark Guthrie, RHP Steve Reed, RHP Jeff D'Amico, RHP John Thomson, OF Brady Clark, 3B John Valentin.
Big question: Does 1B Mo Vaughn get it? The one-time AL MVP was an eyesore last year. He has lost some weight and could regain some credibility.
Keep an eye on: 3B Ty Wigginton. After hitting .300 in Triple A, he's being handed a spot in a lineup loaded with veterans.
Last year: 98-64, 1st; lost to St. Louis in first round.
Manager: Bob Brenly.
Key addition: RHP Elmer Dessens.
Key losses: 1B Erubiel Durazo, C Damian Miller, RHP Rick Helling, LHP Brian Anderson.
Other moves: Added RHP Mike Jackson, RHP Manny Aybar, RHP Ricky Bottalico, LHP Ron Villone, 3B Chris Donnels, 3B Mike Bell; lost RHP Mike Fetters, 2B Jay Bell, 1B/PH Gregg Colbrunn, RHP Mike Morgan.
Big question: What becomes of Byung-Hyun Kim with Matt Mantei returning to the closer role? He'll join Cincinnati's Danny Graves among relievers getting a chance to start.
Keep an eye on: P John Patterson. Nasty in a cameo last season, he could give Arizona its first homegrown stud in the starting rotation.
San Fransico Giants
Last year: 95-66, 2nd; won wild card, beat Atlanta in first round, St. Louis in NLCS and lost to Anaheim in World Series.
Manager: Felipe Alou.
Key additions: 3B Edgardo Alfonzo, 2B Ray Durham, RF Jose Cruz Jr., CF Marquis Grissom, LHP Damian Moss.
Key losses: 2B Jeff Kent, RHP Russ Ortiz, 3B David Bell, CF Kenny Lofton, RF Reggie Sanders.
Other moves: Added 1B Andres Galarraga, INF Neifi Perez, OF Brian Simmons, OF Ruben Rivera; lost CF Tsuyoshi Shinjo, RHP Jay Witasick, 3B Bill Mueller, INF-OF Shawon Dunston.
Big question: The Giants averaged 91 wins in last six seasons under Dusty Baker and appear headed toward decline.
Keep an eye on: RHPs Kurt Ainsworth, Jesse Foppert and Jerome Williams.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Last year: 92-70, 3rd.
Key addition: 1B Fred McGriff.
Key losses: LHP Omar Daal, 1B Eric Karros.
Other moves: Added C Todd Hundley, OF Chad Hermanson, LHP Wilson Alvarez, 2B Quilvio Veras, 3B Ron Coomer, LHP Pedro Borbon, 2B Terry Shumpert, 2B Jason Romano; lost 2B Mark Grudzielanek, RHP Luke Prokopec, C Chad Kreuter, 3B Tyler Houston, 3B-PH Dave Hansen, INF Jeff Reboulet.
Big question: How healthy are Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort? The Dodgers were strong without their big-ticket pitchers but need at least one of them to re-establish themselves.
Keep an eye on: 2B Joe Thurston. He could provide a spark for the lineup.
Last year: 73-89, 4th.
Manager: Clint Hurdle.
Key additions: CF Preston Wilson, C Charles Johnson, 3B-SS Jose Hernandez.
Key losses: LHP Mike Hampton, CF Juan Pierre, 3B Todd Zeile.
Other moves: Added LHP Vic Darensbourg, RHP Nelson Cruz, RHP Rich Garces, RHP Steve Reed, RHP Brad Clontz, LHP Chris Michalak, LHP Darren Oliver, INF Chris Stynes, 2B Ron Belliard, INF Pablo Ozuna, OF Mark Sweeney; lost C Sandy Alomar Jr., RHP Pete Harnisch, LHP Kent Mercker, 2B Terry Shumpert.
Big question: Can Hurdle rejuvenate the careers of Wilson, Johnson and Hernandez? All three are intriguing projects who could thrive at Coors Field.
Keep an eye on: RHP Aaron Cook. He could follow Jason Jennings to give Colorado back-to-back NL Rookies of the Year.
San Diego Padres
Last year: 66-96, 5th.
Key additions: None.
Key losses: SS Deivi Cruz, OF Ron Gant, RHP Brett Tomko.
Other moves: Added C Mike Rivera, 2B Mark Loretta, RHP Luther Hackman, LHP Jesse Orosco, RHP Jay Witasick, 3B-PH Dave Hansen, 2B Guy Bush, OF Brady Anderson, OF Shane Victorino, 1B Mario Valdez, RHP Charles Nagy, RHP Jaret Wright; lost OF Ray Lankford, C Tom Lampkin.
Big question: Is 3B Sean Burroughs ready to produce? The Padres are moving Phil Nevin to left field to accommodate him.
Keep an eye on: Closer Trevor Hoffman. He's no lock for Opening Day after off-season shoulder surgery. It would help his peace of mind if the club exercised its $10 million option for 2004, but it isn't ready to make that decision.