From the New York Post- Spike Ewing
The New York Mets will be coming off a 2nd straight season of steady improvement under 3rd year owner DHERZ. While the new stadium is being completed in the parking lot, the franchise is starting to take shape in Old Shea. Rookie manager Seth Borders gets his shot as a major league manager, despite being 52 games under .500 with the White Sox triple-A team. That shape starts with the starting rotation. The Mets have one of the best young staff in all of baseball. The staff features 3 young lefties that can get it done. Tony Stankiewicz is entering his 3rd season, and brings a 95 mph fastball and a plus slider to the mound. Justin Leonard is a good looking young lefty, who just needs to command his 3 plus pitches a little better. The 3rd young lefty is Walt Hernandez. Hernandez was the number 1 overall pick in the season 2 draft. He has steam rolled through the minor leagues, and is will be one of the early favorites for the rookie of the year. Walt still has a lot of improving to do, but his mid 90’s fastball should allow him to keep batters at bay. Boomer Paige is the veteran leader of this staff, and along with Philip Lindsey brings Right Hand balance to the rotation. Raul Astacio was great as the closer, after being acquired from Boston. Set-up man, Pat Michaels looks to bounce back from a disappointing season 3. The Mets defense is also very good, sporting 2 Gold Glove winners in SS- Tony Azocar and CF- Wade Baker. The infield is rounded out by solid glove men 2B- Coco Rodgers, a rule-5 guy, and Veteran Kid Washington. Even though the pitching and defense are really strong, the line-up is a major question. Wolf Douglas is coming off a career year, but he lacks ideal power for a top run producer. Middle of the order help will come from Eugene Ball and Graham Powell, both of which are strikeout prone. All in all, the Mets have made great strides in the last couple of years. But, in a division that features the Phillies, Pirates and Nationals, it may be another year or two before the Mets are…well amazing.
From the Philadelphia Times Union- Donavan Balboa
Can a team win 112 games in a season, and still be considered a failure? If the team is from the city of brotherly love they can. The Phillies had one of the best regular seasons in baseball history. But, falling short of a World Series Title nearly caused another crack in the bell. Bruce Parnell, former Nationals AAA skipper, enters his 2nd season as the head Philly. Parnell’s lineup has plenty of STUDS in the barn. The Phillies lineup returns most of the bats that made them the leagues most feared offensive force. 3 time all-star Del Wilhelm leads it off, and has complied unbelievable numbers in the leadoff spot. CF & 2 time all-star Frank Jorgensen and 1B & former Rookie of the year Pedro Garrido return to set the table in front of Jake Clapp. Clapp has had a pretty solid career, seeing how he is the only MVP the national league has crowned for the last 3 seasons. The RBI slots are man by Albert Gonzalez, a Jeff like 2B and Magglio Molina, one of the best young catchers in the game. Two newcomers finish out the order as Jeff Jones and Max Salinas come to join the Phillies. Jones is coming over from division rival Washington, and is looking to bounce back from an injury riddle season. Salinas brings a weak bat, but a much need defensive ace to man the SS position for Philly. The rotation is headed by season 3 Cy Young winner Perry Harvey and young 17 game winner Hi White. Buddy Kapler adds solid veteran leadership to the pitching staff. While, Frank Feng and Donn Sisler look to prove that they belong in the starting mix. The bullpen is almost as impressive as the line up. All-Star closer Ken Upshaw is coming off of his best season. Also setup men Alex Ozuna, Merv Christopher and Walter Gwynn form what could be the best bridge to the closer in the national league. The Phillies starting rotation lacks a little to be desired. But if the bullpen can’t help mask the average rotation…the new version of murders row can. Even though they had a disappointing finish to season 3, the road to the World Series appears to go through the city of brotherly love.
From the Pittsburgh Sun- Mario Clemente
Harry Bravo moves into his new office with one thing in mind…getting the Pittsburgh Pirates back into the playoffs. The Pirates are October regulars under famed skipper Jim Leyland, but have only made the playoffs once sine. Will this group make you forget about the “KILLER B’s” of the 90’s? No. However, Shep McNeil, Clyde Redmond and James Sherman help to form one of the leagues best trios. McNeil will start in Left Field, and has averaged over .300 35HR 110RBI over the last three seasons. 2B- Clyde Redmond, and season 3 All-Star, is a legit treat to join the 30-30 club this season. James Sherman, who is looking for a long term contract, has been one of the premier power hitter in the National League for years. Throw in: steady SS- Daryle Lloyd, Thumper Ivan Izuiendo and a steady catching duo, the Bucos have a nice veteran line-up. Marc Cash, rookie CF, is the only real question mark in the order. The pitching rotation is a little more of an iffy situation. The staff is headed by 17 game winner, Robert Knotts. Knotts is one of the leagues bright young stars. After Knotts, a group of unproven young hurlers are left to fill out the rotation. Rookie Left hander, Orlando Guerreo, appears to be posed to step right into the 2nd slot in the rotation. Rookie lefty, Fonzie Robinson, will have to command his pitches better, if he wants to be a consistent major leaguer. The rotation is filled out by rookie right handers Omar Delado and Miguel Perez. Delado has good control and touches the low 90’s, While Perez has pinpoint control and a great sinking fastball. Closer, Fernando James, has been one of the better closers in terms of save situations. Like many closer, Fernando had a hard time in non-save situations last season. If Jimmy Houck can bounce back, and Buster Norton and Andres Jimenez can hold down set-up roles, the pen can be solid. We all know that the lineup is going to be impressive. The real question mark centers around a pitching staff that runs out 4 rookies. If the baby Bucs pitch well, Pittsburgh may be playoff bound, if they don’t…PNC park may once again be empty come October.
From the Washington Post- Barack O’Bush
Last season was supposed to be a big year for the Washington Nationals. The club had made the playoffs 2 years in a row, winning the division once. The front office made a number of trades to beef up a lineup that had been lacking in certain areas. The pitching staff was returning intact, and even added a few pieces to help for the playoffs. And then, season 2 Cy Young Runner and staff Ace, Ozzie Percival’s season was cut short. Coming off of a 24 Win season, then 24 year-old Percival pitched 7 games before being shutdown for the year, and the Nationals season went with him. Ozzie is once again healthy, and ready to lead the young staff once again in Season 4. Also, looking to bounce back, is Raul Lee. After winning 15 games in Season 1 and Season, the 25 year-old had a tough Season campaign. Finishing out the all right handed rotation is Tom Durham, Rusty Little and Juan Delgado. Durham had a good rookie season, and sports an upper 90s fastball. Little and Delgado also bring good velicity and high strikeout totals to the mound. Once again, the bullpen is headed by Matthew Crosby. Crosby has had 2 straight seasons with a whip under 1.00. The set up roles are a question for the Nationals. Veterans Albert Howell and Alfredo Morales are back in Washington, after being traded the STL for a playoff run. The rest of the bullpen will be filled out by: RHP- Harry Romero, RHP- Derrek Carpenter and LHP- Grant Snavely. When you talk about hitting in Washington, you have to start with the name Ralph Levine. After being acquired from the Yankees in the spring of Season 1, Levine has posted an average of over 45HR, 120RBI, 125walks and 1.042 OPS. Those numbers have placed him in the top 5 of the MVP voting the last three years. Also back joining Levine is Bing Miles, Antonio Uchida and Paul Gong. Miles is one of the league’s most skilled young hitters, while 2B/3B-Uchida and SS-Gong should provide power from there positions. Washington added a number of free agent position players including: Danys Puente, Bey Brinkley, Damaso Andujar, Jimmy Dunn, Dean Henry, Mark Irabu and Thom Stewart. The additions are all veterans and should help fill out the National lineup. There are questions in the nation’s capitol this year: Who is will be in the White House…Will the Nats make the playoffs…? Well, maybe the Nats can save the city from going down the drain.
Predictions: This division has a shot to get 3 teams in the playoffs in Season 4…or maybe just one
2. Washington/Pittsburgh (tie)
4. New York