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NL Central spring preview

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St. Louis Cardinals
2000: 95-67, 1st place, defeated Atlanta in Division Series, lost to Mets in NLCS

Offseason transactions: Traded 3B Fernando Tatis and RHP Britt Reames to Montreal for RHP Dustin Hermanson and LH Rel. Steve Kline. Signed FAs OF John Mabry, 3B Shane Andrews, OF Bobby Bonilla and OF Bernard Gilkey. Lost FAs RHP Pat Hentgen and OF Eric Davis.

Rookies and other strangers: LHP Bud Smith (17-2, 2.26, 2 no-hitters, AA-AAA). RHP Clint Weibl (12-7, AA-AAA). RHP Jason Karnuth (5-4, 4.04, AA-AAA). RHP Chad Hutchinson (2-3, 3.38, A). LHP Luther Hackman (8-9, 4.74, AA). 3B Albert Pujols (.317, 19, A-AAA). OF Luis Saturria (.274, 20, 72, AA). OF Bill Ortega (.325, 12, AA). LHP Jose Rodriguez (5-2, 4 Svs., AA). Invited Heathcliff Slocumb, Jim Corsi, Rick Krivda, Jeff Tabaka, Dan Carlson, Mike Cather, Mike Figga, Bernard Gilkey, John Mabry to spring training.

Runs scored/allowed: 887-771, +116

Runs: 887
Slugging/On-base pct.: .455/.356
OPS: .811
Home runs: 235
BB/K: 675/1253
SB/CS: 87-51
1-2-3 OBP: .377/.363/.375

Last season, the Cardinals scored more runs than any NL Central team not housed in Enron Field and did so using 137 different lineups. Mark McGwire was limited to 236 at-bats, Ray Lankford played the first two months of the year on a gimpy knee and J.D. Drew hasn't yet matured. Many wonder about trading Fernando Tatis' power, but the Cardinals feel that between Placido Polanco, Shane Andrews and Craig Paquette they can hold on until Albert Pujols is ready at third base; plate discipline will not be the specialty at third, however. Drew and Lankford should be improved and obviously McGwire is a huge key. Fernando Vina gives them juice and on-base capabilities and Edgar Renteria hit 16 homers and knocked in 76 runs.

So, if McGwire, Jim Edmonds, Lankford and Drew produce in the middle and manager Tony La Russa makes use of all the depth signed by GM Walt Jocketty, they should be very dangerous again. A monster year from Drew or Lankford or a deal for a power-hitting third baseman would really help.

Runs allowed/ERA: 771/4.38
OPS: .772
Groundball/flyball ratio: 1.13
Starters: 76-46, 4.21
Starters' innings pitched: 1000.2
Quality starts: 85
Bullpen: 19-21, 4.78
Saves-opportunities: 37-59
Appearances/innings: 386/433

Darryl Kile had a great year, Garrett Stephenson had a career year and Rick Ankiel was brilliant at times. But this staff led the division in ERA, starters' ERA, quality starts and innings by their starters with Pat Hentgen and Andy Benes doing the best they could. They didn't use a sixth starter until Britt Reames in August. Now Hentgen is gone, Stephenson likely won't be back, Reames has been traded and no one knows precisely what to expect from Ankiel. Hopefully, the brilliant young left-hander will be fine. If so, they will be solid again, with Dustin Hermanson benefiting from Dave Duncan (he should cut the 4.77 ERA down at least a half a run), Kile, Ankiel, Matt Morris and Andy Benes completing the rotation. Ankiel and Morris are both potential 20-game winners. How close they are now is another matter, entirely. Bud Smith could walk on in and have an impact right away, and Clint Weibl could, too, by midseason. The Cardinals have a solid supply of arms for sure.

Dave Veres led the majors in what STATS, Inc. calls "tough saves." Enough said. Kline was a great pickup, to go with Jason Christiansen from the left side. Mike Timlin is a key setup man -- and that is his best role -- while Gene Stechschulte, Alan Benes, Mike James, Heathcliff Slocumb and others will get shots, depending on health.

Errors: 111
Unearned runs allowed: 73
Opponents SB pct.: 51

Catcher Mike Matheny handles the pitching staff very well and Edmonds is a superb center fielder. Drew is solid in right, Vina turns the double play as well as anyone and overall their defense is very good. They also position themselves very well.

Ballpark factors, 1998-2000
Runs per game: 5th
Home runs per at-bat: 3rd

No more days of Whiteyball. Busch is fair.

Spring training questions
The most important question concerns McGwire's knee. Then, how are Morris, Ankiel, Stephenson and Alan Benes? Who will emerge at third base, and is Pujols on the radar screen? There are a lot of questions, but if the right ones are answered correctly, this has a chance to be a very good team.

2001 team song: "My Home Town"

Cincinnati Reds
2000: 85-77, 2nd place, 10 games back

Offseason transactions: Fired manager Jack McKeon, hired Bob Boone. Traded 3B Chris Stynes to Boston for INF Donnie Sadler and OF Michael Coleman. Traded C Eddie Taubensee to Cleveland for RHPs Jim Brower and Robert Pugmire. Traded LHP Ron Villone for P's Jeff Taglienti and Justin Carter. Traded RHP Steve Parris to Toronto for LHP Clayton Andrews and RHP Leo Estrella. Traded SS Wilmy Carceres to Anaheim for RHP Seth Etherton. Signed FAs INF Wilton Guerrero and RHP Frankie Rodriguez. Claimed LH Rel. Jeff Wallace and C Kelly Stinnett on waivers. Re-signed FA RHP Mark Wohlers. Released OF Brian Hunter. Re-signed OF Deion Sanders to a minor-league contract.

Rookies and other strangers: RH Rel. John Reidling (6-3, 2.52, AAA). OF Brady Clark (.304, 16, 79, AAA). LHP Eddie Yarnall (5-5, AAA). RHP Brian Reith (12-8, A-AAA). LHP Hector Mercado (1-4, 3.04, AAA). RHP Chris Reitsma (10-6, A-AA). 3B Brandon Larson (.275, 22, AA-AAA). 3B Mike Bell (.268, 22, AAA).

Runs scored/allowed: 825-765, +60

Runs: 825
Slugging/On-base pct.: .447/.443
OPS: .790
Home runs: 200
BB/K: 559/995
SB/CS: 99/38
1-2-3 OBP: .359/.389/.375

They managed to score 825 runs despite the fact that Junior Griffey struggled to fulfill expectations the first couple of months. Sean Casey also began the season with a fractured thumb. Barry Larkin and Aaron Boone (who was on his way to a 25-homer, 100-RBI season) both got hurt. If Pokey Reese can get on base, with Larkin, Griffey, Dimitri Young, Michael Tucker/Alex Ochoa and Boone, the possibilities for scoring more consistently are there. They aren't the Astros, but with Larkin, Griffey and Casey, there is a lot of thunder. There should also be a lot of depth to choose from.

Runs allowed/ERA: 765/4.23
OPS: .779
Groundball/flyball ratio: 1.14
Starters: 62-54, 4.49
Starters' innings pitched: 954
Quality starts: 85
Bullpen: 23-23, 4.01
Saves-opportunities: 42-54
Appearances/innings: 387/502.1

With the ballpark renovations creating what may be an offensive riverside palace and the Reds' payroll the lowest in the division, the staff is built from the end forward. With Danny Graves (a double-double with 10 wins and 30 saves) at the end, Boone may use a more conventional bullpen setup than the hot hand mix that McKeon employed. The key decision is whether or not to use Scott Williamson as a starter or reliever, where he had 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. With Mark Wohlers and John Reidling, Boone would have two dominant 7th-8th inning setup men, with workhorse Scott Sullivan (100+ IP three straight years), Dennys Reyes and Jeff Wallace adding balance and depth.

How they get to that bullpen is the problem, although losing a 17-game loser (Parris) and a 5.49 ERA (Villone) is hardly catastrophic. Pete Harnisch is the veteran presence and they hope that Rob Bell progresses and that they get close to the 11-5 record and 3.62 ERA that they got from Elmer Dessens and Osvaldo Fernandez. Williamson or Reyes could start and Boone will take a look at some of their kids like Ed Yarnall and Chris Reitsma.

Errors: 111
Unearned runs allowed: 65
Opponents SB pct.: 71

The numbers didn't reflect the fact that the Reds did not play well defensively in 2000 as they did in '99, as losing the steady Aaron Boone and Larkin for so much of the season weakened them. With Griffey, Larkin, Reese and Boone, this is a team built around defensive consistencies, range and sometimes brilliance. Jason LaRue and Kelly Stinnett will throw better than Taubensee, which further helps them and having Donnie Sadler to play second, short and center really helps.

Ballpark factors, 1998-2000
Runs per game: 4th
Home runs per at-bat: 5th

The preparations for the new park may change a lot of things -- they've had to tear down the bleachers in dead center, which with the wind blowing off the river may make for a lot of 11-10 games. Can Junior hit 70?

Spring training questions
Will Bob Boone use Williamson as a starter or reliever? Same question for Reyes. With Sadler, Coleman and Guerrero, how will Boone put together his bench? Will GM Jim Bowden have to further slash a payroll that's already more than $10M less than any other in the division?

2001 team song: "The Fall of the World's Own Optimist"

Milwaukee Brewers
2000: 73-89, 3rd place, 22 games

Offseason transactions: Traded IF Santiago Perez to San Diego for RHP Brandon Kolb. Traded OF Chad Green to San Diego for RHP Will Cunnane. Signed FA OF Jeffrey Hammonds. Lost FA Charlie Hayes, released OF Lyle Mouton.

Rookies and other strangers: RHP Ben Sheets (8-8, 2.38, AA-AAA). LHP Horacio Estrada (14-4, 3.33, AAA). RHP Allen Levrault (6-8, 4.54, AAA). RHP Kane Davis (3-2, AA-AAA). RHP Mike Buddie (10-5, AAA). RHP Carlos Chantres (10-4, AAA). Invited OF Jason McDonald to camp. Runs scored/allowed: 740-826, -88

Runs: 825
Slugging/On-base pct.: .403/.325
OPS: .728
Home runs: 177
BB/K: 620/1245
SB/CS: 72/44
1-2-3 OBP: .323/.,326/.354

GM Dean Taylor searched far and wide for a leadoff hitter, but when he couldn't find one went out and got Jeffrey Hammonds to play center field. Ron Belliard dropped to a .354 on-base percantage and led the league in errors at second base, but he can be that leadoff guy in front of a classic two-hole hitter in Mark Loretta. And after that, there is the dangerous mid-lineup mix of Geoff Jenkins, Richie Sexson, Jeromy Burnitz and Hammonds. They need a better year out of third baseman Jose Hernandez and with the unbalanced schedule and only a couple of lefty starters in the NL Central, his problems against those pitchers won't be as significant as they were last year (he hit just .212 vs. lefties in 2000). The Brewers scored the fewest runs in the division last year (740). This year, they should be much improved.

Runs allowed/ERA: 824/4.63
OPS: 797
Groundball/flyball ratio: 1.26
Starters: 48-65, 5.05
Starters' innings pitched: 964.1
Quality starts: 78
Bullpen: 25-24, 3.84
Saves-opportunities: 29-44
Appearances/innings: 433/502

Like the Reds, this is a team built on its bullpen, which manager Davey Lopes brilliantly fused into the second most effective pen in the majors last year. Curtis Leskanic closed out 11 of 12 after Bob Wickman was traded to get Sexson, and allowed the lowest percentage (9.7) of inherited runners to score of any reliever. Ray King and Valerio de los Santos are two power lefties and with Juan Acevedo, Kane Davis, David Weathers and potential in kids like Allen Levrault, who had a good winter starting in Venezuela, they have depth.

Jeff D'Amico was an amazing 12-7 in his comeback and that was with only 3.8 runs per game of support. Jamey Wright, who should be cured of 2000 shoulder problems, and Jimmy Haynes are set in the rotation. The rest depends on spring training, although it would be a shock if Olympic hero Ben Sheets didn't open the season as a starter. The last spot in the rotation could come from Triple-A 14-game winner Horacio Estrada, Carlos Chantres, Levrault, John Snyder or Paul Rigdon, who was superb after coming over from Cleveland. In two offseasons, Taylor has built some depth.

Errors: 118
Unearned runs allowed: 71
Opponents' SB pct.: 60

Taylor went and got Henry Blanco to end the carousel of opposing basestealers, and his CS percentage was the best since Bob Boone in 1982. There is some question whether or not Hammonds can play center field on a regular basis and Belliard and Hernandez need to step up.

Ballpark factors, 1998-2000
Runs per game: 8th
Home runs per at-bat: 15th

At this point, they don't know how Miller Park will play, but they know that with the roof and the capability to raise the temperature to 30 degrees above the outside number, they won't have those chilling days and nights. Having three million people in the park over the course of the season will help, as well.

Spring training questions
Is Sheets ready, and can Rigdon, Estrada, Levrault, Chantres or one of those kids step in, as well? Can Belliard bounce back, especially defensively? Can Hammonds play center? Will the new park generate all sorts of enthusiasm? Their first two exhibition games there -- March 30 and 31 -- sold out in a matter of hours.

2001 team song: "The Healer"

Houston Astros
2000: 72-90, 4th place, 23 games back

Offseason transactions: Traded OF Roger Cedeno, C Mitch Meluskey and RHP Chris Holt to Detroit for C Brad Ausmus and RH Rels. Doug Brocail and Nelson Cruz. Signed FAs RHP Kent Bottenfield, RH Rel. Mike Jackson, IF Jose Vizcaino. Lost FA 3B Ken Caminiti.

Rookies and other strangers: RHP Roy Oswalt (14-5, 2.30, A-AA). LH Rel. Wayne Franklin (3-3, 4 sv., AAA). RH Rel. Scott Linebrink (3-4, 4.38, AAA). RHP Tim Redding (14-5, A-AA). RHP Tony McKnight (4-10, AA-AAA). SS Adam Everett (.245, AAA). 2B-3B Keith Ginter (.333, 26, 92, AA-AAA). Invited RHP Brad Rigby, RHP Brian Powell, 3B Charlie Hayes, OF Orlando Merced, OF Scott Pose, C Jeff Reed to camp.

Runs scorwed/allowed: 938-944, -6

Runs: 938
Slugging/On-base pct.: .477/.361
OPS: .838
Home runs: 249
BB/K: 673/1129
SB/CS: 114/52
1-2-3 OBP: .389/.359/.429

OK, they raised the fences, but that won't stop the Astros from being an overwhelming offensive machine. In the first place, when Craig Biggio began his workouts in cleats last weekend, they were amazed and convinced that he will be back, as good as ever. They could get 100-110 homers out of their outfield of Lance Berkman (with so few LHPs in the division, his struggles from the right side aren't as important), Richard Hidalgo and Moises Alou -- if he's not upset about not getting a contract extension in his walk year. Jeff Bagwell and Biggio are dynamos, and Daryle Ward is a .300/40 guy waiting for a chance while dreaming of a position. The problem spots are third and short. Chris Truby is 27 and has a long swing, so how much he hits will be a bonus to his defense; Billy Spiers can spot him against right-handers. Jose Vizcaino gives them flexibility until Adam Everett is ready.

Runs allowed/ERA: 944/5.41
Groundball/flyball ratio: 1.09
Starters: 51-60, 5.52
Starters' innings pitched: 988
Quality starts: 70
Bullpen: 21-30, 5.52
Saves-opportunities: 30-55
Appearances/innings: 410/449.2

There are some major questions here, but GM Gerry Hunsicker hopes he acquired enough bullpen depth to keep their starters at a more normal six-inning max. Scott Elarton jumped to 17 wins and he is the front man with the potential and makeup to be a steady 18-20 game-winner. Shane Reynolds hopes to be back by April 20 after knee surgery and that's only the beginning of the questions. Jose Lima pitched winter ball to try to bounce back from his dandy season -- 48 homers, .659 slugging from lefties -- and it's now time for Octavio Dotel to show that he has enough touch to win as a starter; many feel he's a classic eighth-inning guy. Kent Bottenfield was signed to be the fifth starter, but if rookie Roy Oswalt comes into camp and blows people away, he could surprise. Wade Miller will be in the mix, as well.

The most important return is Billy Wagner and reports this winter have been that he's touching 100 mph while throwing on the side. If Wagner can return to his old form with Doug Brocail, Mike Jackson and Jay Powell (both coming off surgery, however) and Scott Linebrink and Nelson Cruz as swingmen they have far better depth. One major concern is that unless Wayne Franklin makes it, then Wagner could be the only lefty on the staff. Hmm.

Errors: 133
Unearned runs allowed: 80
Opponents SB pct.: 78

It is an offensive outfield, and they understand that, and there really isn't a plus defender to use in the late innings. But once Truby and Everett are on the left side, they have a big strength, and ask the players -- getting Brad Ausmus back changes the whole team, defensively and attitude-wise. That 78 percent stealing number (worst in the league) and the handling of a shaky staff was a big problem.

Ballpark factors, 1998-2000
Runs per game: 2nd
Home runs per at-bat: 2nd

They've raised the fences, but this is still the No. 2 offensive park in the league after Colorado. The impact the first year had on the pitchers was devastating. This year it should be lessened.

Spring training questions
What are the medical reports on Wagner, Biggio, Reynolds, Powell, Jackson, et al? Is Alou OK with his contractual status, or could that be a distraction? Can Bottenfield bounce back? Can Oswalt or one of the rookie pitchers jump up? Is Everett close to the big leagues?

2001 team song: "Recovering the Satellites"

Pittsburgh Pirates
2000: 69-93, 5th place, 26 games back

Offseason transactions: Fired manager Gene Lamont, hired Lloyd McClendon. Signed FAs OF Derek Bell and LHP Terry Mulholland. Waived LHP Jeff Wallace and RHP Marc Wilkins.

Rookies and other strangers: 2B Jack Wilson (.282, 9 HR, AA). C-1B Craig Wilson (.283, 33 HR, AAA). LHP Brian O'Connor (14-6, AA-AAA). OK Tike Redman (.264, AAA).

Runs scored/allowed: 793-888, -95

Runs: 793
Slugging/On-base pct.: .424/.339
OPS: .773
Home runs: 168
BB/K: 564/1032
SB/CS: 86/40
1-2-3 OBP: .344/.380/.410

There are a lot of issues with this team's offense: too many guys who swing out of their shoes and below-average production at first and second base in Kevin Young and Warren Morris. But where last year they were cooked when Chad Hermansen and Aramis Ramirez disappointed and Morris dropped from 15 to three homers, there were no replacements. This time around, they think they have some answers, starting with the fact that they have depth.

For instance, John Vander Wal, although he has a no-trade clause in his contract, has asked to be traded because of the Derek Bell signing, but with Bell, Brian Giles, Young and Vander Wal for the corner outfield positions and first, they have flexibility. With Enrique Wilson to push Pat Meares and Morris, they have alternatives, and McClendon has seen Jack Wilson two straight years in the Arizona Fall League and loves him. If Adrian Brown can get on base 37 percent of the time out of the leadoff spot again -- or if Hermansen makes it -- than they have a guy who can hit in front of Jason Kendall and Giles. They need more out of Young, but Ramirez hit .290 and played a solid third base when he returned from his minor-league stint last season.

Runs allowed/ERA: 888/4.93
OPS: .793
Groundball/flyball ratio: 1.57
Starters: 42-61, 5.04
Starters' innings pitched: 927.1
Quality starts: 71
Bullpen: 27-32, 4.74
Saves-opportunities: 27-48
Appearances/innings: 466/521.1

As bad as the Bucs were last season, remember this, coming out of Florida, opposing players thought they were a serious wild-card contender because of their starting pitching. But then Jason Schmidt and Francisco Cordova went down, Kris Benson wore down and they ended up with that disappointing 5.04 starters' ERA. Benson has the stuff to be a star and he's stronger and he's learning that he doesn't need to try to strike everyone out; if he can simplify his approach, he can be the ace. The reports on Schmidt and Cordova are encouraging. Todd Ritchie declined from his 15-win '99 season, but he still led the league in fewest pitches per batter and had a 1.89 GB/FB ratio, which tells you that he was the victim of horrid defense. Jimmy Anderson has great sinking stuff and while he isn't good holding runners he still has a very good upside. They need to catch the ball better.

Mike Williams is a solid closer when his unhittable slider is biting, but the last two years he's worn down throwing so many sliders. They hope Rich Loiselle and Jose Silva have strong set-up seasons from the right side, and that with Terry Mulholland and Scott Sauerbeck from left side, they can fill in the blanks as long as the starters are what they were supposed to be. In left-handers Brian O'Connor, John Grabow and Sam McConnell, they have three kids who will move from Double-A to Triple-A and perhaps step into the picture come July.

Errors: 132
Unearned runs allowed: 94
Opponents SB pct.: 71

This has been a terrible problem, trying to build a team around pitching and defense where you have a team that allows almost 100 unearned runs a year. Nowhere were they close to average defensively in the infield.

Ballpark factors, 1998-2000
Runs per game: 7th
Home runs per at-bat: 4th

They don't know how the new park will play, only that it has to help to have people in the stands.

Spring training questions
Are Schmidt and Cordova healthy? Can Loiselle and Silva step up? How will the middle infield shake out, and is Jack Wilson close to making it at short or second? Is Hermansen over the scars of unlimited potential, or will it be next season when he makes it big?

2001 team song: "Which Way to the Top?"

Chicago Cubs
2000: 65-97, 6th place, 30 games back

Offseason transactions: Traded RHP Tim Worrell to San Fransisco for 3B Bill Mueller. Traded RHP Tim Ireland to Oakland for OF Matt Stairs. Signed FAs C Todd Hundley, RHP Julian Tavarez, LH Rel. Jeff Fassero, RH Rel. Tom Gordon, 1B Ron Coomer and RHP Jason Bere. Re-signed SS Ricky Gutierrez. Lost FA 1B Mark Grace and 3B Shane Andrews, released RHPs Jerry Spradlin and Ben Ford.

Rookies and other strangers: CF Corey Patterson (.274, 16, AA). 1B Julie Zuleta (.311, 28, 94, AAA). RHP Ben Christensen (7-3, 2.85, AAA). 1B Hee Seop Choi (.299, 29, 95, A-AA). SS Augie Ojeda (.280, 8, AAA). OF Ross Gload (.292, 30, 104, AAA). LHP Will Ohman (6-4. 1.89, 85 SO, 71 IP, AA). RH Rel. Carlos Zambrano (5-6, AA-AAA). RHP Jay Yennaco (5-4, 2.87, AA). RH Rel. Courtney Duncan (5-4, 25 sv., AA). LHP Joey Nation (11-10, 3.31, AA). Invited RHP Rob Stanifer, 3B Chris Snopek, IF Trace Coquillette, 2B Chad Meyers, OF Gary Matthews Jr. to camp.

Runs scored/allowed: 764-904, -138

Runs: 764
Slugging/On-base pct.: .411/.335
OPS: .746
Home runs: 183
BB/K: 632/1110
SB/CS: 93/37
1-2-3 OBP: .364/.360.384

Essentially you can throw out last year's numbers with the Cubs' tradition of mediocrity, because Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and Don Baylor don't buy into the status quo. Believe it or not, there was outrage about letting Mark Grace go. Outrage? He's a great guy and a good player, but his OPS was less than Steve Cox or Gabe Kapler. With Eric Young on base, leading into a pretty good lineup with Mueller hitting second, followed by Sammy Sosa, Hundley, Stairs, Rondell White and perhaps Patterson, if he makes it out of spring training. Ron Coomer gives them a platoon for Stairs, although if Jimmy Anderson and Rick Ankiel turn out to be the only lefty starters in the division, he won't see much action. Ricky Gutierrez had one of the best offensive years of any NL shortstop. Great guy on this team.

Runs allowed/ERA: 904/5.25
OPS: .800
Groundball/flyball ratio: 1.16
Starters: 40-62, 5.29
Starters' innings pitched: .978
Quality starts: 69
Bullpen: 25-35, 5.17
Saves-opportunities: 39-68
Appearances/innings: 421/476.1

MacPhail's Plan No. 1 was to sign Mike Hampton. Plan No. 2 was to revamp the bullpen. Well, plan No. 1 fell short, but not because of effort. Still, if Kerry Wood comes back, with Jon Leiber (251 IP) and Kevin Tapani (195.2 IP with a bad back) apparently healthy after a knee scope and with his back clear, they have the potential of three solid front men. Jason Bere threw increasingly better last season, removed from serious shoulder surgery and they promised Tavarez that he would get a shot at starting. Eventually, they could move Tavarez into the pen if a kid like Nation or Christensen proves ready.

The Cubs had to find a closer, and Gordon was throwing as well as ever when he signed. Still, if Flash can handle the ninth inning, then with Fassero and Felix Heredia from the left side and Todd Van Poppel, Courtney Duncan, Kyle Farnsworth (who has star potential), Ruben Quevedo and a couple of the kids they could be OK. But Gordon has to close, and everyone else will fall in line behind him.

Errors: 100
Unearned runs allowed: 55
Opponents SB pct.: 64

There are warts; Young isn't a Gold Glover and Stairs is a fall from Grace. But Mueller, White and Joe Girardi are fine defenders, and overall they can be average.

Ballpark factors, 1998-2000
Runs per game: 8th
Home runs per at-bat: 9th

It doesn't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows and whether it's going to be a 12-9 or 3-2 game.

Spring training questions
Check the trainer's room: Wood, Gordon, White, Bere, Tapani. Then there is the Patterson watch, as well as the watch on some of their young pitchers, like Christensen, Duncan, et al. But perhaps the biggest question will be the Sammy Sosa Contract Watch. Don't expect the Cubs to go 5-6 years or pay him 16-20 percent of the payroll, so if this becomes an issue, the trade questions will start.

2001 team song: "(It's been a long time coming, but) A Change is Gonna Come"

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