- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

1. NEW YORK METS
Projected lineup
LF Roger Cedeno
2B Roberto Alomar
C Mike Piazza
1B Mo Vaughn
RF Jeromy Burnitz
3B Edgardo Alfonzo
CF Jay Payton
SS Rey Ordonez
Rotation: Pedro Astacio, Al Leiter, Jeff D'Amico, Shawn Estes, Steve Trachsel
Closer
Armando Benitez
2001 record
82-80 (3rd place)
Manager: Bobby Valentine (7th season, 461-381 record)
Key additions: 2B Roberto Alomar (trade/Indians), RHP Pedro Astacio (FA/Astros), OF Jeromy Burnitz (trade/Brewers), OF Roger Cedeno (FA/Tigers), RHP Jeff D'Amico (trade/Brewers), LHP Shawn Estes (trade/Giants), LHP Mark Guthrie (trade/A's), OF Gary Matthews Jr. (trade/Pirates), 1B Mo Vaughn (trade/Angels), RHP David Weathers (FA/Cubs)
Key losses: OF Benny Agbayani (trade/Rockies), RHP Kevin Appier (trade/Angels), OF Alex Escobar (trade/Indians), IF Lenny Harris (trade/Brewers), OF Matt Lawton (trade/Indians), IF Desi Relaford (trade/Giants), RHP Jerrod Riggan (trade/Indians), LHP Glendon Rusch (trade/Brewers), OF Tsuyoshi Shinjo (trade/Giants), 3B Robin Ventura (trade/Yankees), 3B Todd Zeile (trade/Rockies)
Key questions: Will Alomar, Vaughn and Burnitz bolster what had been an anemic offense? Can Astacio, D'Amico and Estes bring some legitimacy to a revamped rotation? Can they finally surpass the Braves in the East?
Key stat: The Mets scored 642 runs in 2001, worst in baseball.
The lowdown: They won't have so much trouble scoring runs this year, not with that lineup. Burnitz and Alfonzo might be No. 3 hitters on some teams here they'll be relegated to fifth or sixth. The question is pitching; GM Steve Phillips revamped three-fifths of the starting rotation, bringing in Astacio, D'Amico and Estes. The Mets' fortunes will rest squarely on those three pitchers' shoulders. If they throw well, this team could get back to the World Series after last year's letdown.

2. ATLANTA BRAVES

Projected lineup
SS Rafael Furcal
CF Andruw Jones
LF Chipper Jones
RF Gary Sheffield
3B Vinny Castilla
C Javy Lopez
1B Wes Helms/Julio Franco
2B Marcus Giles
Rotation
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood, Jason Marquis, Albie Lopez
Closer
John Smoltz
2001 record: 88-74, 1st place
Manager: Bobby Cox (17th season, 1,349-1,053 record)
Key additions: 3B Vinny Castilla (FA/Astros), RHP Albie Lopez (FA/Diamondbacks), OF Gary Sheffield (trade/Dodgers)
Key losses: RHP John Burkett (FA/Red Sox), 3B Ken Caminiti (FA), OF Bernard Gilkey (FA), OF Brian Jordan (trade/Dodgers), RHP Steve Karsay (FA/Yankees), LHP Odalis Perez (trade/Dodgers)
Key questions: How will Chipper adjust to life in the outfield? Can Smoltz's arm hold up for an entire season as closer? Will Marquis become the next great Braves starter?
Key stat: Pitching staff has led the NL in ERA eight times since 1990.
The lowdown: You keep wondering every year if the Braves' stunning, decade-long run is over. Then they go out and win another division title. So the question yet again is: Is this it for Atlanta? The rotation appears to be its weakest in a long time, though Millwood and Marquis are capable of big seasons. The lineup has its holes, most notably Castilla and the first base platoon of Helms and the ageless Franco. But when it's all said and done, you've got to assume they'll be in the hunt one more time.

3. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Projected lineup
SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Marlon Anderson
RF Bobby Abreu
3B Scott Rolen
LF Pat Burrell
1B Travis Lee
C Mike Lieberthal
CF Doug Glanville
Rotation
Robert Person, Randy Wolf, Terry Adams, Brandon Duckworth, Vicente Padilla
Closer
Jose Mesa
2001 record: 86-76 (2nd place)
Manager: Larry Bowa (2nd season, 86-76 record)
Key additions: RHP Terry Adams (FA/Dodgers)
Key losses: RHP Chris Brock (trade/Orioles), LHP Dennis Cook (FA/Angels), LHP Omar Daal (trade/Dodgers), OF Brian Hunter (FA/Astros)
Key questions: Can they build off of last year's turnaround, or will they fall back to the pack? Is Duckworth the real deal? Will Rolen and Bowa get along all season?
Key stat: Phillies committed 91 errors in 2001, fewest in club history.
The lowdown: This is a team that could go in either direction. There are reasons to believe they will continue to improve (Rollins, Burrell, Duckworth), and there are reasons to believe they will regress (the Rolen contract saga, shaky starting pitching, a very quiet offseason). If the Braves falter and the Mets aren't as good as advertised, the Phils could sneak up and take the East crown. If the Marlins and Expos show continued improvement, Philly could drop all the way to fifth.

4. FLORIDA MARLINS

Projected lineup
2B Luis Castillo
CF Preston Wilson
LF Cliff Floyd
RF Kevin Millar
3B Mike Lowell
1B Derrek Lee
C Charles Johnson
SS Alex Gonzalez
Rotation
Ryan Dempster, A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny, Matt Clement, Josh Beckett
Closer
Antonio Alfonseca/Braden Looper
2001 record: 76-86 (4th place)
Manager: Jeff Torborg (1st season)
Key additions: None
Key losses: RHP Juan Acevedo (FA/Tigers), IF Dave Berg (FA/Blue Jays), RHP Alex Fernandez (retired), LHP Jesus Sanchez (trade/Cubs)
Key questions: Can Floyd stay healthy all year? How will the closer situation play itself out? Will they avoid the contraction axe?
Key stat: Marlins lost 48 games in which they led last year, tops in NL.
The lowdown: The team that is perpetually on the brink of something big. The Marlins have loads of young talent, especially in the starting rotation, where all five guys have the potential to be a No. 1 or 2 starter someday. With the ownership situation finally resolved and Torborg finally in place as manager, the Marlins should feel a sense of stability for the first time since they won the World Series in 1997. But if no fans show and Jeffrey Loria can't get a ballpark built, they could be up for contraction or relocation.

5. MONTREAL EXPOS

Projected lineup
CF Peter Bergeron
2B Jose Vidro
RF Vladimir Guerrero
LF Jose Canseco
SS Orlando Cabrera
1B Lee Stevens
3B Chris Truby/Fernando Tatis
C Michael Barrett
Rotation
Javier Vazquez, Tony Armas Jr., Carl Pavano, Tomo Ohka, Masato Yoshii
Closer
Scott Strickland/Graeme Lloyd
2001 record: 68-94 (5th place)
Manager: Frank Robinson (1st season)
Key additions: OF Jose Canseco (FA/White Sox), 3B Chris Truby (trade/Astros)
Key losses: IF Geoff Blum (trade/Astros), RHP Mike Thurman (FA)
Key questions: Can Robinson fire up this group for one last season in Canada? Can Canseco make it through an entire season in the outfield? Will they be called the Senators or Nationals in 2003?
Key stat: Total attendance for 81 games at Olympic Stadium was 609,473 (or six Michigan football games).
The lowdown: Has a ballclub ever entered a season under such unusual circumstance and with so little expectation? Owned by the 29 other clubs, with a lame-duck manager appointed by MLB for one season and a fan base that may shrivel up to nothing by midsummer, the Expos actually embark on this bizarre journey with a fairly decent roster. Guerrero is one of the top five players in the game, Vazquez could win 20 games on a good team and the Vidro-Cabrera combo up the middle is dynamite. Start paying attention to these guys. You might see a lot of them next year.


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