- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

1. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Projected lineup
2B Fernando Vina
LF Placido Polanco
RF J.D. Drew
3B Albert Pujols
CF Jim Edmonds
1B Tino Martinez
SS Edgar Renteria
C Mike Matheny/Eli Marrero
Rotation
Matt Morris, Darryl Kile, Woody Williams, Bud Smith, Garrett Stephenson
Closer
Jason Isringhausen
2001 record: 93-69 (1st place)
Manager: Tony LaRussa (7th season, 507-464 record)
Key additions: RHP Jason Isringhausen (FA/A's), OF Al Martin (FA/Mariners), 1B Tino Martinez (FA/Yankees), OF So Taguchi (FA/Japan)
Key losses: RHP Alan Benes (FA/Cubs), OF Bobby Bonilla (retired), RHP Dustin Hermanson (trade/Red Sox), RHP Mike James (released/Rockies), RHP T.J. Mathews (FA/Astros), 1B Mark McGwire (retired), IF Craig Paquette (FA/Tigers)
Key questions: Can Martinez replace the retired McGwire at first base? If Rick Ankiel pitches well in the minors, is there a place in the stacked rotation for him? Is Isringhausen the final piece to the puzzle?
Key stat: Despite winning 93 games, the Cards had a total of only 38 saves.
The lowdown: Few teams could lose one of the greatest power hitters of all time and actually think they are better the next year. This one can. Martinez will be more than adequate in McGwire's stead, and Pujols should be fabulous again in his sophomore season. The rotation is so good that they traded away Hermanson and still don't have room for Ankiel. And they got the closer they need in Isringhausen. Remember, the Cards were one out from beating Arizona in the NLDS last fall. They're ready to take the next step.

2. HOUSTON ASTROS

Projected lineup
2B Craig Biggio
SS Adam Everett/Julio Lugo
1B Jeff Bagwell
CF Lance Berkman
RF Richard Hidalgo
LF Daryle Ward
3B Morgan Ensberg
C Brad Ausmus
Rotation
Wade Miller, Roy Oswalt, Shane Reynolds, Dave Mlicki, Carlos Hernandez
Closer
Billy Wagner
2001 record: 93-69 (1st place)
Manager: Jimy Williams (1st season)
Key additions: IF Geoff Blum (trade/Expos), OF Brian Hunter (FA/Phillies), RHP T.J. Mathews (FA/Cardinals), LHP C.J. Nitkowski (FA/Mets), C Gregg Zaun (FA/Royals)
Key losses: OF Moises Alou (FA/Cubs), RHP Pedro Astacio (FA/Mets), 3B Vinny Castilla (FA/Braves), C Tony Eusebio (FA/Rockies), RHP Mike Jackson (FA/Twins), 3B Chris Truby (trade/Expos), LHP Ron Villone (FA/Pirates), RHP Mike Williams (FA/Pirates)
Key questions: Were last year's outstanding young pitchers for real? Will rookie Ensberg be a stud at third base? What's the name of their stadium (no, really)?
Key stat: Miller and Oswalt combined for 30 wins last year.
The lowdown: Pity poor Larry Dierker. All he did was win 93 games and take the Astros to the playoffs, and ownership fired him because this team can't win a postseason series to save its life. Enter Williams, who somehow managed to keep the dysfunctional Red Sox in the race last year only to get fired. The 'Stros have got the young pitching, and they can slug the ball with the best of them, but it's going to be tough overcoming the Cardinals in the Central.

3. CHICAGO CUBS

Projected lineup
2B Delino DeShields
3B Bill Mueller/Chris Stynes
RF Sammy Sosa
1B Fred McGriff
LF Moises Alou
C Todd Hundley
SS Alex Gonzalez
CF Corey Patterson
Rotation
Jon Lieber, Kerry Wood, Julian Tavarez, Jason Bere, Juan Cruz
Closer
Kyle Farnsworth/Jeff Fassero
2001 record: 88-74 (3rd place)
Manager: Don Baylor (3rd season, 153-171 record)
Key additions: OF Moises Alou (FA/Astros), RHP Alan Benes (Cardinals), SS Alex Gonzalez (trade/Blue Jays), OF Darren Lewis (FA/Red Sox), RHP Pat Mahomes (FA/Rangers), LHP Jesus Sanchez (trade/Marlins), IF Chris Stynes (FA/Red Sox)
Key losses: IF Ron Coomer (FA/Yankees), SS Ricky Gutierrez (FA/Indians), LHP Felix Heredia (trade/Blue Jays), OF Matt Stairs (FA/Brewers), RHP Kevin Tapani (retired), OF Michael Tucker (trade/Royals), RHP Todd Van Poppel (FA/Rangers), RHP David Weathers (FA/Mets), OF Rondell White (FA/Yankees), 2B Eric Young (FA/Brewers)
Key questions: Is DeShields the answer at the top of the order, or will Patterson take over? How many homers will Sammy hit with McGriff and Alou batting behind him? Can Farnsworth and Fassero hold down the fort until Tom Gordon comes back from injury?
Key stat: Cubs pitching staff broke major league record with 1,344 strikeouts in 2001.
The lowdown: Very rarely do fans of the beloved North Siders enter a season with hopes as high as they are this year. Alou was a huge signing for this team he'll provide much-needed protection behind Sosa and McGriff. Wood is just now getting back to his pre-surgery form, a frightening thought. And phenom Mark Prior might not be far behind. The unthinkable may not happen this season, but if management can keep everyone around, the Cubbies could make a serious run in 2003.

4. CINCINNATI REDS

Projected lineup
2B Todd Walker
SS Barry Larkin
CF Ken Griffey Jr.
1B Sean Casey
LF Adam Dunn
3B Aaron Boone
RF Juan Encarnacion
C Jason LaRue
Rotation
Elmer Dessens, Joey Hamilton, Jose Acevedo, Chris Reitsma, Jimmy Haynes
Closer
Danny Graves
2001 record: 66-96 (5th place)
Manager: Bob Boone (2nd season, 66-96 record)
Key additions: LHP Brian Bohanon (FA/Rockies), OF Juan Encarnacion (trade/Tigers), RHP Jimmy Haynes (FA/Brewers), LHP Gabe White (trade/Rockies)
Key losses: RHP Pete Harnisch (FA/Rockies), 2B Pokey Reese (trade/Rockies), LHP Dennys Reyes (trade/Rockies), OF Dmitri Young (trade/Tigers)
Key questions: Is Larkin healthy, or are his days numbered? Is Dunn the game's next great power hitter? Is this the worst starting rotation in baseball?
Key stat: Staff "ace" Dessens has 23 career wins.
The lowdown: The Reds will turn out the lights at Cinergy Field (previously Riverfront Stadium) after this season, and not a moment too soon. Those expecting a dramatic farewell season for the giant cookie cutter should be ready to be disappointed. There are several things to like about this team, especially Casey, Dunn and that Griffey guy, but the pitching is horrendous. The only thing keeping Cincinnati out of the Central basement is the fact that Milwaukee and Pittsburgh are even worse.

5. MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Projected lineup
2B Eric Young
3B Ron Belliard/Tyler Houston
LF Geoff Jenkins
1B Richie Sexson
CF Jeffrey Hammonds
RF Matt Stairs/Alex Ochoa
SS Jose Hernandez/Mark Loretta
C Henry Blanco/Raul Casanova
Rotation
Ben Sheets, Glendon Rusch, Jamey Wright, Ruben Quevedo, Paul Rigdon
Closer
Chad Fox
2001 record: 68-94 (4th place)
Manager: Davey Lopes (3rd season, 141-183 record)
Key additions: OF Midre Cummings (FA/Diamondbacks), IF Lenny Harris (trade/Mets), OF Alex Ochoa (trade/Rockies), LHP Glendon Rusch (trade/Mets), OF Matt Stairs (FA/Cubs), 2B Eric Young (FA/Cubs)
Key losses: OF Jeromy Burnitz (trade/Mets), RHP Jeff D'Amico (trade/Mets), RHP Jimmy Haynes (FA/Reds), OF Devon White (FA)
Key questions: Can the offense survive without Burnitz? Is Sheets a future 20-game winner? Who will win the sausage race?
Key stat: Brewers struck out a major league record 1,399 times in 2001.
The lowdown: This franchise just can't seem to get things right. They had one of the better-slugging teams in the game, then decided to trade Burnitz and pitcher D'Amico to the Mets for Rusch and Harris. They've got about five decent utility infielders, none of them worthy of playing every day, and a makeshift rotation that will place far too much pressure on U.S. Olympics hero Sheets. Pass the MGD Light it's gonna be a long season.

6. PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Projected lineup
CF Adrian Brown
2B Pokey Reese
LF Brian Giles
3B Aramis Ramirez
C Jason Kendall
1B Kevin Young/Craig Wilson
RF Armando Rios/Derek Bell
SS Jack Wilson
Rotation
Kip Wells, Ron Villone, Jimmy Anderson, David Williams, Sean Lowe
Closer
Mike Williams
2001 record: 62-100, 6th place
Manager: Lloyd McClendon (2nd season, 62-100 record)
Key additions: RHP Josh Fogg (trade/White Sox), RHP Sean Lowe (trade/White Sox), RHP Pat Rapp (FA/Angels), 2B Pokey Reese (FA/Reds), LHP Ron Villone (FA/Astros), RHP Kip Wells (trade/White Sox), RHP Mike Williams (FA/Astros)
Key losses: RHP Francisco Cordova (FA), RHP Rich Loiselle (released), OF Gary Matthews Jr. (trade/Mets), RHP Todd Ritchie (trade/White Sox), RHP Jose Silva (trade/Reds)
Key questions: Can Kendall rebound from an off year? Can the very shaky pitching staff hold on until Kris Benson returns in June? When will Bell officially go into "Operation Shutdown?"
Key stat: Pirates haven't had a winning season since 1992, longest drought in the majors.
The lowdown: They opened the sparkling PNC Park last year, but the Bucs stunk up the joint with their worst record since '85. There are reasons for optimism, namely players like Giles, Kendall, Ramirez and Benson (when he's healthy) and new GM Dave Littlefield. But with a very inexperienced rotation and a couple of gaping holes in the lineup, McClendon might be wise to spend more time admiring the view at PNC than watching the action on the field.


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