National League East

In predicted order of finish.

1. Atlanta Braves

Who's new: P Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Paul Byrd, Roberto Hernandez and Ray King, 1B Robert Fick.

Who's gone: P Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood, Mike Remlinger, Chris Hammond, Kerry Ligtenberg, Damian Moss and Tim Spooneybarger, OF Darren Bragg, INF Wes Helms and Keith Lockhart.

Strengths: Despite the loss of four pitchers from baseball's best bullpen in 2002, the relief corps, led by closer John Smoltz, should still be among the league's best. An outfield of Gary Sheffield, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones combined for 86 homers and 278 RBIs last season. A Maddux-led rotation has been overhauled but still looks deep and talented.

Weaknesses: There isn't much run production potential at the corner infield positions and no power threat in the infield. Hampton, put on the disabled list Saturday, is a question: If pitching coach Leo Mazzone can help restore his confidence and delivery, the Braves should be fine; if not, they could be in trouble. Byrd is also on the DL, with a sore elbow.

Outlook: The Braves appear to have excellent chemistry, Sheffield is sound after suffering early-season injuries in 2002, and Javy Lopez has lost about 25 pounds. Atlanta won't run away with the East again but should be strong enough to fend off the Phillies.

At Dodger Stadium: May 12-14.

PROJECTED LINEUP

SS Rafael Furcal

1B Robert Fick

RF Gary Sheffield

LF Chipper Jones

CF Andruw Jones

C Javy Lopez

3B Vinny Castilla

2B Marcus Giles

STARTING PITCHERS

Greg Maddux

Mike Hampton

Russ Ortiz

Paul Byrd

Horacio Ramirez

BULLPEN

John Smoltz

Darren Holmes

Kevin Gryboski

Roberto Hernandez

Ray King

*

2. Philadelphia Phillies

Who's new: 1B Jim Thome, P Kevin Millwood, 3B David Bell, INF Tyler Houston.

Who's gone: 1B Travis Lee, 2B Marlon Anderson, OF Doug Glanville, P Robert Person.

Strengths: Thome, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu, who are in the first year of long-term contracts totaling $199 million, combined for 109 homers and 319 RBIs last season. Bell also hit 20 homers for the Giants in 2002, and Mike Lieberthal is capable of hitting 20 homers. Some thought Millwood was the best pitcher in the Braves' rotation in 2002.

Weaknesses: Who will set the table for the Phillies' muscle? Jimmy Rollins had a .306 on-base percentage in 2002, and he struggled this spring trying to fulfill the Phillies' request that he bunt and hit the ball on the ground more. Closer Jose Mesa set a club record with 45 saves last season but also tied for the major league lead with nine blown saves.

Outlook: If Millwood responds to pressure of being a No. 1 starter, if Randy Wolf remains consistent, if Vicente Padilla pitches like the All-Star he was in 2002 and not one who struggled because of arm problems, if Brandon Duckworth (starting season on DL) pitches as he did in 2001 (3-2, 3.52 ERA) and not 2002 (8-9, 5.41) and Brett Myers fills his potential, the Phillies should challenge Atlanta.

At Dodger Stadium: April 28-May 1.

At Edison Field: June 9-11.

PROJECTED LINEUP

SS Jimmy Rollins

2B Placido Polanco

1B Jim Thome

LF Pat Burrell

RF Bobby Abreu

C Mike Lieberthal

3B David Bell

CF Marlon Byrd

STARTING PITCHERS

Kevin Millwood

Randy Wolf

Vicente Padilla

Brandon Duckworth

Brett Myers

BULLPEN

Jose Mesa

Terry Adams

Dan Plesac

Rheal Cormier

*

3. Florida Marlins

Who's new: C Ivan Rodriguez, OF Juan Pierre and Todd Hollandsworth, P Tim Spooneybarger and P Mark Redman.

Who's gone: C Charles Johnson, OF Preston Wilson, Kevin Millar and Eric Owens, P Julian Tavarez.

Strengths: Luis Castillo and Pierre were the top two NL base stealers in 2002, but speed isn't limited to the top of the order. Juan Encarnacion has the potential to steal 30 bases, Derrek Lee stole 19 last season, and Rodriguez can still run. The defense should be improved with Pierre in center and the strong-armed Encarnacion in right, and all four infielders and the catcher are Gold Glove-caliber.

Weaknesses: They won't generate much power -- they don't play in a hitter's park, and they might not have a player who hits 30 homers this season. Braden Looper lost his closer job early in 2002 but regained it with 13 scoreless innings to close the season. He won't have much room for error with Vladimir Nunez and Spooneybarger behind him.

Outlook: Florida is a popular sleeper pick because of its pitching potential, defense and speed, and if the rotation remains sound, the Marlins could contend for a wild-card berth. But a rotation filled with great young arms has been touted for years; now it's time for pitchers to start winning.

At Dodger Stadium: May 16-18.

PROJECTED LINEUP

2B Luis Castillo

CF Juan Pierre

C Ivan Rodriguez

1B Derrek Lee

3B Mike Lowell

RF Juan Encarnacion

LF Todd Hollandsworth

SS Alex Gonzalez

STARTING PITCHERS

A.J. Burnett

Brad Penny

Josh Beckett

Mark Redman

Carl Pavano

BULLPEN

Braden Looper

Tim Spooneybarger

Vladimir Nunez

Armando Almanza

*

4. New York Mets

Who's new: P Tom Glavine, David Cone, Mike Stanton and Graeme Lloyd, OF Cliff Floyd and Tsuyoshi Shinjo, SS Rey Sanchez, INF Jay Bell.

Who's gone: 3B Edgardo Alfonzo, SS Rey Ordonez, P Jeff D'Amico and Mark Guthrie, OF Tony Tarasco, INF John Valentin.

Strengths: An already solid bullpen got even better with the addition of Stanton, one of baseball's more reliable and durable left-handed specialists. The rotation is deep and experienced. Roberto Alomar, Mike Piazza, Mo Vaughn and Jeromy Burnitz can't all be as bad as they were last year, can they? A bounce-back year from one or two, with the addition of Floyd, should boost the offense.

Weaknesses: The Mets led the NL in errors (144) and were second in unearned runs allowed in 2002, and won't be much better in 2003. They're strong in the middle infield defensively but below average at every other position. They'll miss the clutch-hitting Alfonzo.

Outlook: Baseball's second-highest-paid team should improve from 2002, when an expected contender finished 26 1/2 games behind the Braves, but don't expect New York to win more than 90 games. New Manager Art Howe should be a soothing presence compared to former manager Bobby Valentine.

At Dodger Stadium: Aug. 22-24.

At Edison Field: June 13-15.

PROJECTED LINEUP

CF Roger Cedeno

2B Roberto Alomar

LF Cliff Floyd

C Mike Piazza

1B Mo Vaughn

3B Ty Wigginton

RF Jeromy Burnitz

SS Rey Sanchez

STARTING PITCHERS

Tom Glavine

Pedro Astacio

Al Leiter

Steve Trachsel

David Cone

BULLPEN

Armando Benitez

Mike Stanton

David Weathers

Scott Strickland

*

5. Montreal Expos

Who's new: P Orlando Hernandez, Livan Hernandez and Rocky Biddle, INF Jeff Liefer.

Who's gone: P Bartolo Colon, Matt Herges and Masato Yoshii, OF Troy O'Leary.

Strengths: The Expos have one of baseball's most talented all-around players in Vladimir Guerrero, who hit .336 with 39 homers and 111 RBIs last season, but with the right fielder beginning a free-agent year, there's a good chance the budget-conscious and nomadic Expos will trade him before July. Jose Vidro is one of the game's best and most unheralded second basemen. The rotation could be decent.

Weaknesses: The bullpen is filled with anonymous, unproven pitchers, some of whom have been slowed by injuries this spring, and there is no clear-cut closer. Third base is a question, with Fernando Tatis looking to rebound from an awful year (.228, 15 homers, 55 RBIs).

Outlook: The Expos, who will play a quarter of their home games in Puerto Rico but have no idea where they'll be playing next year, have the kind of lineup that will give opponents trouble, and with a sound pitching staff, they could finish third in an improved division. But there isn't enough pitching or resources for a roster-bolstering move to challenge for a playoff spot.

At Dodger Stadium: Aug. 19-21.

PROJECTED LINEUP

CF Endy Chavez

2B Jose Vidro

RF Vladimir Guerrero

3B Fernando Tatis

LF Brad Wilkerson

1B Wil Cordero/

Jeff Liefer

SS Orlando Cabrera

C Michael Barrett

STARTING PITCHERS

Javier Vazquez

Orlando Hernandez

Livan Hernandez

Tony Armas Jr.

Tomo Ohka

BULLPEN

Scott Stewart

Joey Eischen

Rocky Biddle

Dan Smith

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

NL WORLD SERIES DROUGHTS

Longest current span without winning a World Series:

*--* Years Team Latest appearances since win 95 Chicago Cubs 1910, '18, '29, '32, '35, '38, '45 49 San Francisco Giants 1962, '89, 2002 41 Houston Astros None 34 Milwaukee Brewers None 34 Montreal Expos None 34 San Diego Padres None 24 Pittsburgh Pirates None 23 Philadelphia Phillies 1983, '93 21 St. Louis Cardinals 1985, '87 17 New York Mets 2000 15 Dodgers None 13 Cincinnati Reds None 10 Colorado Rockies None 8 Atlanta Braves 1996, '99 6 Florida Marlins None 2 Arizona Diamondbacks None

*--*

Note: Colorado, Houston and Montreal have never appeared in the World Series; Milwaukee lost in its only World Series appearance in 1982 and San Diego lost its only two World Series appearances (1984, 1998). San Francisco's last World Series win came when the franchise was located in New York.

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