Nl Preview Orioles '94

April 01, 1994|By Jim Henneman

EAST

ATLANTA BRAVES

1993 record: 104-58 (first, NL West)

Manager: Bobby Cox

Pitching: You don't have to say much more than Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. They combined for 75 victories a year ago. So anything Cox gets out of the No. 5 slot is like found money. Kent Mercker will be the fifth starter. Ex-Oriole Gregg Olson was signed to plug the only supposed weakness, that of a closer, but the Braves hardly lack for depth in the bullpen. Greg McMichael, Mike Stanton and Mark Wohlers provide plenty of options. No staff is deeper or more talented.

Offense: The Braves were third in the NL in runs but don't figure to be as high this season after losing Ron Gant (36 homers, 117 RBIs) and his likely replacement, Chipper Jones. Both are right-handed hitters who could have given balance to a lineup that features left-handed power hitters Fred McGriff and David Justice. Switch-hitting third baseman Terry Pendleton and right-handed hitting shortstop Jeff Blauser provide additional punch. With Otis Nixon gone, Deion Sanders will play center field full time. Rookie left fielders Ryan Klesko, a converted first baseman, and Tony Tarasco also are left-handed hitters.

Defense: The Braves were third in the NL in fielding percentage. They gave up the third-fewest errors and were sixth in double plays. The infield play is adequate.

Outlook: The Braves will be heavy favorites to win the division, but probably wouldn't be if they were still in the NL West. They will be vulnerable to left-handed pitching but should score enough to win a fourth straight title.

FLORIDA MARLINS

1993 record: 64-98 (sixth, NL East)

Manager: Rene Lachemann

Pitching: For a first-year team, the Marlins put together a credible staff, compiling a 4.13 ERA, just slightly above the league norm of 4.04. It will be tough for 46-year-old Charlie Hough, the Opening Day pitcher, to make 34 starts again. The rest of the rotation is young: Ryan Bowen, Pat Rapp, Dave Weathers and Chris Hammond. They have one of the game's best closers, as long as Bryan Harvey isn't traded. Ex-Oriole Richie Lewis proved to be an effective middle reliever.

Offense: All you need to know in this department is that the

Marlins were last in the NL in batting average and runs. They have an igniter in center fielder Chuck Carr, a proven hitter in right fielder Gary Sheffield and a good hitter in left fielder Jeff Conine. It will be easy to pitch around the legitimate threats in the lineup, meaning that scoring will continue to be a problem until some of the young players, such as outfielders Nigel Wilson and Carl Everett, are ready.

Defense: The Marlins were a respectable sixth in the NL in fielding percentage (.980), but they could have difficulty replacing shortstop Walt Weiss. Sheffield's move from third base will help.

Outlook: Both expansion teams avoided last place a year ago. That isn't likely to happen again. The good news for the Marlins:

They can't finish lower than fifth.

MONTREAL EXPOS

1993 record: 94-68 (second, NL East)

Manager: Felipe Alou

Pitching: The primary question is how much, if at all, the Expos will miss Dennis Martinez, their ace the past seven years. A return to form by Ken Hill, restricted to 28 starts last year, would help. So would the emergence of Pedro Martinez, a middle reliever for the Los Angeles Dodgers whose stamina as a starter is questionable. The staff gem could be left-hander Kirk Rueter (8-0, 2.73). John Wetteland is the bullpen workhorse (9-3, 43 saves, 1.37 ERA, 70 games). Montreal ranked fourth in the league in ERA and needs to stay in that range to be competitive.

Offense: The Expos were seventh in the NL in runs, a figure they need to improve. Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom and Moises Alou form a potent outfield. First base phenom Cliff Floyd has power and speed. Replacing second baseman Delino DeShields' production could be a problem.

Defense: The Expos had the third-highest number of errors (159) in the NL, including 33 by rookie shortstop Wil Cordero. The infield is young, but outfielders Walker and Grissom are exceptional.

Outlook: The organization has continually turned out top prospects -- most as the result of good draft choices obtained as compensation for lost free agents. It is one of few routes to success for small-market teams.

NEW YORK METS

1993 record: 59-103 (seventh, NL East)

Manager: Dallas Green

Pitching: Any staff that includes Dwight Gooden and Bret Saberhagen should have a solid nucleus. But Gooden is coming off two down years, and Saberhagen missed most of last year to injury and is on the trade market. Pete Smith was acquired from the Braves. Closer John Franco (10 saves, 5.20 ERA) needs to return to form.

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