EDITOR’S NOTE: Teams in each NL division are listed in order of their forecasted finish for the 2005 regular season. The number listed in parentheses refers to the Las Vegas Hilton’s projected win total. Next week: The American League.
Padres (85Â½): The Padres are a solid ballclub without a superstar. So solid that 3B Sean Burroughs, a .298 hitter, figures to bat eighth. Jeff Peavy led the NL in ERA and could win 20. If closer Trevor Hoffman returns to form, the division title is theirs.
Giants (82): Management is so thankful for the Moises Alou deal. With Barry Bonds on an indefinite leave of absence, the offensive load falls squarely on Felipe’s kid. Jason Schmidt leads a solid rotation that gives value to the dip in win total without Barry.
D’backs (74Â½): The addition of RHP Javier Vazquez, RHP Russ Ortiz, 3B Troy Glaus and RF Shawn Green makes Arizona an intriguing team in this division. The big question mark is finding a closer. If one emerges, the Snakes could be a surprise.
Dodgers (82): Los Angeles arguably presents the weakest batting order in the National League. Jeff Kent is a solid addition, but Dodger Blue hasn’t been the same since dealing Lo Duca to Florida. Pitching is a M.A.S.H. unit, including the Great Gagne.
Rockies (67): Colorado, to its credit, takes a step back to move forward. Watch young lefty Jeff Francis, Baseball America’s 2004 Minor League Player of the Year. 1B Todd Helton is great and we like 2B Aaron Miles (.293), a Wally Backman with power.
Cards (92Â½): Matt Morris has gone from staff ace to No. 5 starter. Lefty Mark Mulder, the new ace, was a great offseason addition. Pujols and a healthy Rolen make St. Louis the favorite to again take the division.
Cubs (89): An outstanding lineup from 1-8. Expect a big year from Garciaparra, whose power numbers were up big in preseason. As always, how far the Cubbies go depends on the arms of Prior and Wood. On paper, this is a World Series caliber team.
Astros (83): Losing Beltran, Kent and P Wade Miller, to us, has Houston taking a step back from last year’s wild card. Andy Pettitte is back, along with Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, but age and health are factors. Brad Lidge must step up as closer.
Reds (76Â½): LHP Eric Milton’s move from Minnesota to Cincinnati didn’t receive the pub of Mulder joining St. Louis, but to us it’s equally large. Cincy has plenty of pop with Griffey, Dunn, Casey and Kearns. If Junior can get in a full year, look out.
Pirates (74): The Wilsons are good, but how much better would Pittsburgh be if they still have Brian Giles, Aramis Ramirez, Jason Kendall, Jason Schmidt and Jose Guillen? In this division, .500 would be a major achievement.
Brewers (70): Ben Sheets (12-14) is the staff ace. That’s trouble. Milwaukee will have to again scratch and fight for everything. Trading Richie Sexson two years ago was a bad message for the fans. Another long season ahead.
Phillies (83Â½): Rollins, Lofton and Abreu comprise the NL’s best base-running team. Expect huge years from Thome and Pat Burrell. If C Lieberthal can bounce back and LHP Randy Wolf wins three times more than five games, Phils have a shot.
Marlins (86Â½): Al Leiter returns to Florida as the No. 4 man in stellar rotation behind Beckett, Willis and Burnett. Miguel Cabrera is 22 and terrific. Fleet CF Juan Pierre outstanding leadoff batter and slugger Carlos Delgado was a nice pickup.
Mets (85Â½): With Beltran in the fold, Mets may indeed have the best offensive lineup in team history. Of course, I thought that way when Mo and Alomar joined the Mets a few years ago. Pedro, Glavine and Benson upgrade staff significantly.
Braves (90): Somehow, Atlanta manages to stay atop the division despite a ton of new faces. Now Smoltz moves back to the starting rotation from closer role joining former Oakland ace Tim Hudson. Drew is gone, but Braves will score lots of runs.
Nationals (70): At least, this team has a home. Still a lot of Montreal Expos on this ballclub, led by standout 2b Jose Vidro. Squad filled with age and journeyman players. Washington will win some, but it’s another year residing in the cellar.