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Atlanta Braves
2000: 95-67, 1st place, lost Division Series to St. Louis.

Offseason transactions: Signed FAs 1B Rico Brogna, OF Dave Martinez, INF Kurt Abbott. Traded INF Steve Sisco to Baltimore for INF Jesse Garcia. Lost FAs Wally Joyner, Andres Galarraga, Andy Ashby, Terry Mulholland, Bobby Bonilla and Reggie Sanders. Re-signed RHP John Burkett, INF Keith Lockhart. Picked up option on RHP John Smoltz. Claimed LHP Trey Moore on waivers from Montreal.

Rookies and other strangers: OF George Lombard (.276, 10 HR, 32 SB, AAA). SS Mark DeRosa (.292, AAA). 3B Wes Helms (.288, 20 HR, AAA). Lombard, DeRosa and Helms are all out of options. RHP Jason Marquis (4-5, AA-AAA). LHP Damian Moss (9-6, AAA). LHP Odalis Perez (injured). RHP Derrik Lovis (7-9, 147 K, 163.2 IP, AA). RHP Christian Parra (17-4, A). RH Rel. Billy Sylvester (3-0, 0.79, 16 Sv, A). RHP Matt McClendon (9-7, A-AA).

Runs scored/allowed: 810-714, +96

Runs: 810
Slugging/On-base pct.: .429/.346
OPS: .775
Home runs: 179
BB/K: 595/1010
SB/CS: 148/58
1-2-3 OBP: .396/.361/.402

A lot has been written and said about the Braves' failure to do anything this offseason, but look at the club they have assembled: Quilvio Veras, who GM John Schuerholz believes is the key to the offense, missed half of last season; Brian Jordan was so hurt he needed two arthroscopic shoulder operations; Chipper Jones started the year with a bad elbow and couldn't quite match his MVP numbers; B.J. Surhoff got hurt after being acquired; Javy Lopez was off after having knee surgery.

Where once they couldn't get on base at the top of the order, Veras and Rafael Furcal can both be close to having .400 OBPs. After Chipper, Andruw Jones, Lopez, Jordan and Surhoff, Rico Brogna could be a nice addition. Brogna was bothered last year after breaking his arm, and afterward swung like a man who was hurt. Dave Martinez gives them some depth, and they're all watching George Lombard. At some point this exceptional person is going to be a star, in some uniform, once he relaxes.

Runs allowed/ERA: 714/4.65
OPS: .721
Groundball/flyball ratio: 1/38
Starters: 76-49, 4.06
Starters' innings pitched: 1,040.1
Quality starts: 93
Bullpen: 19-18, 4.03
Saves-opportunities: 53-67
Appearances/innings: 376/400

OK, they failed to get Mike Hampton, but John Smoltz believes he's coming back with his old velocity and even more movement. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine won 40 games between them, and Kevin Millwood is better than 10-13 wins, especially with the new high strike zone. They re-signed reliable John Burkett, who could have won 12-13 games, so that Jason Marquis and others can develop. If the new strike zone is implemented, watch Maddux carve up the new space within the enlarged quadrants. He might have a 22-5, 1.90 season.

After all he and his parents went through, here are John Rocker's second half stats: 12-for-13 save opportunities, 1.30 ERA, 27.2 IP, 40 K. The underrated Mike Remlinger and Kerry Ligtenberg set him up. They're looking for two more arms, but want to look at their kids first; Marquis has knee-buckling stuff, Odalis Perez is reportedly on his way back from surgery and Kevin McGlinchy has ability. Bobby Cox loves all of these kids.

Errors: 129
Unearned runs allowed: 66
Opponents SB pct.: 72

The decision has been made to leave Chipper Jones at third base and he should make a fine comeback. Having Jordan, Surhoff, Chipper, Lopez and Veras improves this team and Brogna is still one of the very best defensive first basemen in the game.

Ballpark factors, 1998-2000
Runs per game: 11th in NL
Home runs per at-bat: 9th in NL

Spring training questions
The health of Smoltz, Perez, Chipper, Veras and Jordan. Can any of those young pitchers burst forward? Has Eddie Perez come back? Was Brogna's problem simply the broken arm? Is Lombard ready to break out?

2001 team song: "The Song Remains the Same"

New York Mets
2000: 94-68, 2nd place, one game back, won Division Series and NLCS, lost World Series to Yankees

Offseason transactions: Signed FAs RHP Kevin Appier, RHP Steve Trachsel and OF Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Signed FA OF Darren Bragg. Traded OF Bubba Trammell to SD for RHP Donnie Wall. Re-signed FAs LH Rel. John Franco, RH Rel. Turk Wendell, SS Desi Relaford, RHP Rick Reed, Util. Lenny Harris. Lost FA LHP Mike Hampton, IF Kurt Abbott, OF Derek Bell, SS Mike Bordick. Added FAs Mark Leiter, Paul Wagner. Acquired LH Rel. Tom Martin from Cleveland and RH Rel Rick Croushore from Boston.

Rookies and other strangers: OF Alex Escobar (.288, 18 HR, AA). SS Jorge Velandia (.276, AAA). C Vance Wilson (.260, 16 HR, AAA). RHP Grant Roberts (7-8, AAA). RHP Dicky Gonzalez (13-5, AA). RHP Eric Cammack (6-2, 1.70, AAA).

Runs scored/allowed: 807-738, +69

Runs: 807
Slugging/On-base pct.: .430/.346
OPS: .776
Home runs: 198
BB/K: 675/1037
SB/CS: 66/46
1-2-3 OBP: .341./340/.418

OK. The Mets could have had Johnny Damon if they'd been willing to trade Alex Escobar and they could have had Pedro Astacio or Junior Cruz if they'd traded the talented outfield prospect. But they feel they can't trade their star prospect for someone for one year and now have to figure out how to re-assemble their lineup. They could have Matt Lawton for Jay Payton, but where does that leave them? Presuming that Robin Ventura is healthy they will have one good left-handed bat and they get extraordinary production out of Mike Piazza at catcher and Edgardo Alfonzo at second, but no production out of shortstop with Rey Ordonez. Payton is in center and they have the Benny Agbayanyi/Tsuyoshi Shinjo/Darryl Hamilton/Darren Bragg group in the outfield. Could they get into a Sammy Sosa sweepstakes? Yes. Lawton? Maybe, maybe not. Troy O'Leary, likely, but Boston has to be willing to take a Hamilton's contract. There's a lot to be worked out but you can be sure Steve Phillips will do it.

Runs allowed/ERA: 738/4.16
OPS: .730
Groundball/flyball ratio: 1.14
Starters: 63-45, 4.07
Starters' innings pitched: 1003.1
Quality starts: 86
Bullpen: 31-23, 4.35
Saves-opportunities: 49-66
Appearances/innings: 411/446.2

It's one thing to replace Mike Hampton and Bobby Jones with Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel. It's another to replace them after getting rid of Dave Wallace. Charlie Hough is now the pitching coach. Hough is a respected man, but he's one that's not used to the job description -- middle man between the pitchers and the manager.

Al Leiter is a No. 1, Rick Reed is proven and Glendon Rusch was a revelation. But Hampton's a tough guy to replace, especially with his toughness -- a toughness the quotemasters in New York never understood.

The bullpen has been a huge part of their success and if Armando Benitez avoids legal problems, he and John Franco can close. Turk Wendell, if he isn't blown out, is a huge 7th-8th inning man. Phillips then has great depth -- Rick White, Donne Wall, Rick Croushore, the other Bobby Jones, Dennis Cook, Tom Martin. Proven talent and depth.

Errors: 118
Unearned runs allowed: 68
Opponents SB pct.: 74

The Mets went from 20 unearned runs in 1999 to 68 last season. There is a middle ground, especially with Ordonez back and Ventura healthy. The outfield is a concern and so is the knee and throwing of Piazza. The infield is very good, but Kevin Appier's GB/FB ratio is 0.93, Trachsel 1.13, so it's not that big an advantage for the new guys.

Ballpark factors, 1998-2000
Runs per game: 12th in NL
Home runs per at-bat: 13th in NL

Spring training questions
Can Phillips get a quality starter and an outfielder? Are Ordonez and Ventura back to their old form? How good is Shinjo? How does the outfield shape out?

2001 team song: "Put Down That Weapon (Or We'll All Be Dead)"

Florida Marlins

2000: 79-82, 3rd place, 15½ games back

Offseason transactions: Signed FA C Charles Johnson. Acquired OF Chad Mottola from Toronto. Acquired OF Jeff Abbott from Chicago (AL) for OF Julio Ramirez. Lost RHP Brian Edmondson, IF Chris Clapinski and OF Mark Smith (refused assignment).

Rookies and other strangers: Inf Pablo Ozuna (.308, 35 SB, AA). RHP Brad Penny (2-1, A-AA). RHP Jason Grilli (1-4, AAA). LHP Geoff Goetz (7-4, A-AA). RHP Josh Beckett (2-3, 2.12, A).

Runs scored/allowed: 731-797, -66

Runs: 731
Slugging/On-base pct.: .409/.331
OPS: .740
Home runs: 160
BB/K: 540/1184
SB/CS: 168/35
1-2-3 OBP: .402/.317/.367

Even if Charles Johnson only hits 20 or 25 home runs, consider the difference in the lineup -- the Marlins got two home runs from their catchers all last season. The way they viewed this team last year was that they put a young team in the field and got very close to .500. Now, with a year's experience for Preston Wilson, they want to see what cutting down his 187 strikeouts will do for his 69 extra-base hits. Or now that Derrek Lee has hit 28 homers, can he develop further discipline and become a 100-RBI guy? Can Clifford Floyd stay on the field for 153 games, as he did in '99? Can Mark Kotsay go from 31 doubles and 12 homers to 45 doubles and 16-18 homers? With Luis Castillo's ability to get on base and score runs and the potential of 25-plus homers from their catcher, first baseman, third baseman, left and center fielders, the production could be pretty good. Next question is whether or not they can find a way to get Alex Gonzalez back and playing well. Jeff Abbott is a nice pure hitter to give Kotsay and Floyd rest at times.

Runs allowed/ERA: 797/4.59
OPS: .777
Groundball/flyball ratio: 1.19
Starters: 48-62, 4.80
Starters' innings pitched: 972
Quality starts: 75
Bullpen: 20-48, 4.56
Saves-opportunities: 48-68
Appearances/innings: 429/459.2

If they get the positives they think they can out of their everyday players, the next question is whether or not Brad Penny and A.J. Burnett can make the kind of leap that Ryan Dempster did when he went from seven to 14 wins and All-Star status last year. Both Burnett and Penny have No. 1 starter stuff, but they also won just 11 games between them. 31-year old Chuck Smith did a nice job in 16 starts, and Jesus Sanchez has a lot better stuff than his 9-12, 5.34 inconsistencies indicate. Ricky Bones and Manny Aybar can fill in, but on the horizon are several more young pitchers -- Jason Grilli, Vladimir Nunez, Wes Anderson, Geoff Goetz, Josh Beckett. With all this youth, Johnson is a very important addition.

For nearly four months, the bullpen held a young, scrambling starting staff in tow. Eventually, they wore down, but with Antonio Alfonseca and his 45 saves set up by Dan Miceli, fireballer Braden Looper, Bones and lefties Vic Darensbourg and Armando Almanza, the potential is there to be one of the league's best pens if the starters get over the 1,000-inning mark.

Errors: 125
Unearned runs allowed: 68
Opponents' SB pct.: 65

With a year behind them, the acrobatics of Castillo and Gonzalez should get better and Lee is a potential Gold Glover. Johnson is one, and Mike Lowell is a solid third baseman. The potential is there for a good, quick defensive team if Gonzalez plays up to his ability.

Ballpark factors, 1998-2000
Runs per game: 13th in NL
Home runs per at-bat: 16th in NL

Spring training questions
Are Penny and Burnett ready to step in as 30-start horses? Can Sanchez harness his ability? Is Gonzalez maturing? Can they get Lee, Wilson, Kotsay, et al headed off to upper echelon seasons? Lee can be a 40-homer, 120-RBI, Gold Glove monster. They need a positive spring to re-enforce their improved self-image because everyone else believes that if they come down Route 95 flying, they can be enormous factors in the division and make a legitimate run at the wild card. Then a new ballpark?

2001 team song: "I'm a Junk Bond King Playing Seminole Bingo"

Philadelphia Phillies
2000: 65-97, 5th place, 30 games back

Offseason transactions: Fired Terry Francona and replaced him with Larry Bowa. Signed FA Rels. Jose Mesa, Rheal Cormier and Ricky Bottalico. Signed FAs 1B Brian Hunter and OF Brian Hunter. Lost FA RHP Kent Bottenfield, IF Alex Arias, RHP Jeff Brantley. Signed FA 3B Kevin Orie.

Rookies and other strangers: RHP David Coggin (7-7, A-AA-AAA). RHP Brandon Duckworth (13-7, AA). RHP Nelson Figueroa (13-7, AAA). RH Rel. Doug Nickle (2.44 ERA, 16 Sv, AA). SS Jimmy Rollins (.274, 26 SB, AAA). Util David Newhan (.254, AAA). CF Reggie Taylor (.275, 15 HR, AAA).

Runs scorwed/allowed: 708-830, -122

Runs: 708
Slugging/On-base pct.: .400/.329
OPS: .729
Home runs: 144
BB/K: 611/1117
SB/CS: 102/30
1-2-3 OBP: .326/.319/.383

A lot of things didn't go right for the Phillies last season as they dropped to a .329 on-base percentage and .400 slugging percentage from .351 and .431 in 1999. OK, Doug Glanville had an off year, and family illness played a part. But this guy is still a good player, and if he gets on base 37-40 percent of the time and either the offensively talented Jimmy Rollins or Marlon Anderson can hit in the two-hole, they can be a good offensive team. The new grass surface should keep Scott Rolen in the lineup more often, and they are a far, far better team when he plays. Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal give the Phillies a solid middle order, but Travis Lee has to prove that he's better than he was last season. Hey, he batted .237 with one home run and 14 RBI after the All-Star break. It may take time for Rollins, but scouts love his talent. Anderson? This is his make-or-break season.

There's not much depth, but more important, this is the year they have to make Rolen, Lieberthal, et al believe they want to play a long time in Philadelphia.

Runs allowed/ERA: 830/4.77
OPS: .791
Groundball/flyball ratio: 1.05
Starters: 44-60, 4.39
Starters' innings pitched: 1004.1
Quality starts: 87
Bullpen: 21-37, 5.66
Saves-opportunities: 27-48
Appearances/innings: 414/434.1

Even with Curt Schilling gone, look at the starters' numbers and they weren't that bad. They weren't far behind the Braves and Mets in starters' ERA, and they compiled more innings than the Mets. Of course, they were left in because Terry Francona lived in mortal fear of any of his relievers. Now, how good are they? Look at Robert Person's numbers: 173.1 innings, 144 hits allowed, 164 strikeouts. Bruce Chen pitched well when given the chance and he's a self-confidence problem waiting to blossom. Omar Daal pitched this winter in hopes of avoiding another disaster in 2001. Randy Wolf won 11 games in his first full season. Then there are Amaury Telemaco, Cliff Politte, Brandon Duckworth, Nelson Figueroa (love those Brandeis pitchers), Chris Brock.

But that bullpen? It got the manager fired and created a ton of other misfortunes. Hence, the money spent to bring in someone, anyone who can finish a game -- Jose Mesa, Ricky Bottalico, Rheal Cormier. Mesa gives Vicente Padilla time to develop and Wayne Gomes gets another chance to live in the majors. They had to get bodies, even if Mesa's deal is the shock of the winter.

Errors: 100
Unearned runs allowed: 67
Opponents SB pct.: 64

The key will be how Rollins and Anderson play in the middle of the infield. They can be very good. As a whole, the Phillies made only 100 errors and allowed fewer unearned runs than the Mets.

Ballpark factors, 1998-2000
Runs Per game: 3rd in NL
Home runs per at-bat: 6th in NL

Spring training questions
Are Rollins and Anderson working? Is Lee alive and interested in baseball? Can the starters all be in line and headed forward when the season opens? Can Larry Bowa find some depth?

2001 team song: "As Soon as the Tide Comes In"

Montreal Expos
2000: 67-95, 4th place, 28 games back

Offseason transactions: Traded RHP Dustin Hermanson and LH Rel. Steve Kline to St. Louis for 3B Fernando Tatis and RHP Britt Reames. Traded RHP Jorge Julio to Baltimore for 3B Ryan Minor. Signed OFs Tim Raines and Curtis Pride and RHP Bob Scanlan.

Rookies and other strangers: RHP Donnie Bridges (11-7, 2.39, AA). RHP T.J. Tucker (2-1, AA). OF Brad Wilkerson (.336, 6 HR, AA).

Runs scored/allowed: 738-902, -164

Runs: 738
Slugging/On-base pct.: .432/.326
OPS: .758
Home runs: 178
BB/K: 476/1048
SB/CS: 58/48
1-2-3 OBP: .306/.354/.335

Peter Bergeron is a small-town, confidence guy and after a season's experience and a very impressive winter in Puerto Rico the Expos think he can go from a .320 on-base leadoff hitter to .380-.400. They think Jose Vidro, Vladimir Guerrero and Fernando Tatis in the 3-4-5 slots will produce, and throw Lee Stevens and Michael Barrett in there and they have a much better offense than last season. Geoff Blum, who played well at third, will get a shot in left field, although when Milton Bradley settles in, he can be a very good player. Orlando Cabrera is a spunky player who had 13 homers, 25 walks and 28 strikeouts. Go figure.

One question: Why does this team never walk or take pitches? This may be a serious institutional problem.

Runs allowed/ERA: 902/5.13
OPS: .802
Groundball/flyball ratio: 1/38
Starters: 47-72, 5.12
Starters' innings pitched: 908
Quality starts: 73
Bullpen: 20-23, 5.14
Saves-opportunities: 39-59
Appearances/innings: 452/516.2

What happens to the Expos depends on the health and development of the starters with Dustin Hermanson gone. Carl Pavano and Hideki Irabu made 26 starts between them last year; they need to make 26-32 apiece this season. Tony Armas Jr. has No. 1 starter stuff, Javier Vazquez is a proven 218-inning horse and they think Donnie Bridges can be a star. In the wings, Scott Downs is healthy and a serious candidate. Britt Rheames can start as well.

The big bullpen question is Ugueth Urbina, who they think will be healthy, but pitched very little this winter. Steve Kline is gone, Graeme Lloyd is healthy. The rest will be sorted out with Scott Strickland, Guillermo Mota, Matt Blank (if he doesn't start).

Errors: 132
Unearned runs allowed: 90
Opponents SB pct.: 76

Their defensive inconsistencies have been a major problem, as evidenced by the 90 unearned runs. Theoretically, they should be better, but they need to settle in. If Tatis takes to manager Felipe Alou, then they have a chance. Bradley would be a big help if he arrives.

Ballpark factors, 1998-2000
Runs per game: 10th in NL
Home runs per at-bat: 11th in NL

Spring training questions
Urbina, Pavano and Irabu are big keys. Bergeron and Bradley are, as well. Alou has to decide on his No. 4 and 5 starting spots, his bullpen depth and who will play left and center field. The physical talent is there. But are the pieces?

2001 team song: "If You Won't Leave Me, I'll Find Someone Who Will"

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