NL East

April 04, 1999

Braves

That was then: Brave new world? Not last year. Atlanta won a franchise-record 106 games and a seventh straight division title, swept the Cubs in the Division Series, then suffered another postseason collapse, losing to the Padres in the Championship Series.

This is now: The Braves are heavy favorites in the East, where amazingly no team finished within nine games of any other in 1998, but they must play without clubhouse leader and 44-home-run hitter Andres Galarraga, who has lymphoma.

Upside: Brian Jordan (Milford Mill) and Bret Boone fill the right-handed-hitting void. Jordan and Otis Nixon add speed to a three-run-homer offense. Chipper Jones hit .500 this spring.

Downside: Kerry Ligtenberg, the majors' first rookie since 1986 to save 30 games, is gone with a torn elbow ligament. The new closer? 1998 flop Mark Wohlers.

Inside pitch: Expect another blockbuster from Turner's pitchers. The Braves have six Cy Young Awards (Greg Maddux four; Tom Glavine two) in the 1990s, two more than any other team in any decade. Is John Smoltz next?

Outside chance: The league might be catching up to Maddux. Sure, he has a 2.15 ERA since 1992, but the four-time Cy Young winner was just 6-7 after the All-Star break.

Coming distractions: The burden of postseason failings. During the past 10 seasons, Atlanta has 58 more wins than the next closest team, the Yankees, but just one World Series title.

Now playing: "The Reign of Turner," "Cy Warrior"

Mets

That was then: Needing to win only one of its final five games to force a wild-card tie, New York lost them all, scoring a total of 10 runs.

This is now: The Mets have mortgaged their future for today's back-page headlines. The team re-signed Mike Piazza, on pace to become the best-hitting catcher ever, and 17-game winner Al Leiter, then added Orel Hershiser, Robin Ventura, Rickey Henderson and Bobby Bonilla. Senior Circuit, indeed.

Upside: Henderson stole 66 bases for Oakland, four more than the Mets' entire 1998 roster. Ventura gives the Mets the game's best infield defense.

Downside: Masato Yoshii won just two of his last 20 starts. Who's the closer, 0-8 John Franco or combustible Armando Benitez?

Inside pitch: Superstitious Turk Wendell, who wears No. 99, has a contract worth $1,200,000.99 with bonuses of $4,999 if he pitches in 67, 68 and 69 games in '99. Who negotiated his contract -- Agent 99?

Outside chance: Thirty years later, might we see the Miracle Part II? To wake up the echoes, the team has brought back favorite son Tom Seaver as pitching consultant and broadcaster.

Coming distractions: Welcome to the Queens Zoo. Bobby Valentine, who has 1,541 games without a playoff appearance, the most at the start of a career by any manager in 40 years, fights the perception he undermined Todd Hundley last season and orchestrated announcer Tim McCarver's ouster this past winter.

Now playing: "The Mysterious Mr. Valentine," "Queens Logic"

Expos

That was then: Remove losing streaks of seven, seven, eight and nine games from the schedule and Montreal still wouldn't have had a winning record. No wonder attendance was a major-league-low 914,717.

This is now: The team's best off-season move was keeping the Dodgers from stealing Felipe Alou, who brings along pitchers as well as anyone in the game. The best off-season move next year will be to Washington or Charlotte, N.C.

Upside: Just 24, Vladimir Guerrero already owns the club's single-season records for home runs, total bases and extra-base hits. He might have the game's best outfield arm. Ugueth Urbina converted his last 18 save tries. Third baseman Michael Barrett is a Rookie of the Year candidate.

Downside: The team continues to rush not-ready-for-prime-time prospects, such as Javier Vazquez, 22, who went 5-15 last season with a 6.06 ERA. Montreal led the majors in errors.

Inside pitch: The impatient Expos were last in on-base average and runs scored. Only 55 runners were aboard for the team's 147 homers.

Outside chance: Pitcher Miguel Batista might get a base hit. He's 0-for-40 with 26 strikeouts to start his career, one hitless at-bat from tying Randy Tate for the worst start to a batting career.

Coming distractions: Quebec is making a final bid, but management is expected to get the OK soon to meet with potential buyers who would relocate the franchise. Remember how poorly the Browns played after the move to Baltimore was announced?

Now playing: "Au Revoir les Enfants," "The Out-of-Towners"

Phillies

That was then: The Fightin' Phillies, who won 40 games that they had trailed, appeared ready to post an above-.500 record for just the second time since 1986, but they ran out of comebacks, losing 23 of their final 33.

This is now: Philadelphia, the only team in baseball not to sign a foreign free agent who has made the major leagues this decade, has revamped its scouting and farm system and committed money to a core group of talented young major-leaguers: Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu and Doug Glanville.

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