NL West

April 04, 1999

Dodgers

That was then: With Los Angeles never in contention, Rupert Murdoch's Fox Group spent last season tearing down 50 years of tradition under the O'Malley family. Organ music? Gone. Fan favorites Mike Piazza and Hideo Nomo? Traded. GM Fred Claire and manager Bill Russell? Fired.

This is now: Winless in the postseason since 1988, the club has brought in Davey Johnson, the game's winningest active manager, and paid $105 million for Kevin Brown. They add fire to a contented clubhouse.

Upside: Brown has pitched two teams to the World Series and will thrive at spacious Dodger Stadium.

Downside: Catcher Todd Hundley's surgically repaired elbow might not hold up. Beset by shoulder and child-custody problems, Gary Sheffield has threatened to retire.

Inside pitch: New GM Kevin Malone says he's happy the Yankees got Roger Clemens, adding, we think in jest: "They'll need Roger when they play us in the Fall Classic."

Outside chance: Now, the Dodgers are advertising on outfield walls. They might bring back Ebbets Field's "Hit Sign, Win Suit!" sign. As if that would motivate Sheffield.

Coming distractions: Brown's impulsiveness. Will baseball's first $100 million man again injure himself reaching barehanded for a comebacker? Will he take another bat to a toilet?

Now playing: "Hollywood Shuffle," "Outrageous Fortune"

Rockies

That was then: Expected to contend in 1998, Colorado had losing records in each of the first four months.

This is now: The franchise that Forbes magazine calls the second-most lucrative in pro sports lured manager Jim Leyland with a record $2 million contract.

Upside: Neifi Perez, who put a major-league-high 67 bunts into play, has been Caribbean League Series MVP two years in a row. Todd Helton had no homers in his first 98 at-bats but led major-league rookies with 25; he led in batting average and RBIs, too. Brian Bohanon's changeup is the rare kind of out pitch that can succeed at Coors.

Downside: Cleanup man Dante Bichette has the majors' most hits the past five seasons but managed just five road homers in 1998.

Inside pitch: Who says the Rockies can't pitch? Their 4.23 road ERA was the fourth best in the league. Then again, they didn't play any road games in Denver.

Outside chance: 1997 NL MVP Larry Walker, thrilled to have his elbow healthy and a six-year contract extension signed, might hit .400. He batted .402 the second half of 1998.

Coming distractions: Will Leyland's cigarettes burn slower at 5,280 feet? Will he smoke them faster if Pedro Astacio, Kile and Jamey Wright again finish 1-2-3 in the NL in earned runs allowed?

Now playing: "200 Cigarettes," "High Anxiety"

D'backs

That was then: The first-year expansion team looked like the 1962 Mets in losing 31 of its first 39 games, then went a respectable 48-58 the rest of the way.

This is now: The Diamondbucks spent $118.9 million on free agents or contract revisions, buying three-fifths of their rotation and two-thirds of their outfield. Only three of 12 expansion teams have improved in their second year.

Upside: Randy Johnson made just 11 NL starts but was second in the league with four shutouts. Gregg Olson was fourth in the NL in save percentage. David Dellucci led the NL in triples.

Downside: Matt Williams' 20 homers and 71 RBIs were his lowest totals since 1992; he's back to the open stance he used with the Giants.

Inside pitch: Newly acquired Tony Womack, who returns soon from a broken wrist, can become the first player to lead the NL in steals three straight years since Vince Coleman (1985-1990).

Outside chance: Buck Showalter might take off his warm-up jacket, which he wore during all but six games last season despite managing a desert-based team. Maybe he was chilled by the breeze of the Diamondbacks' major-league-record 1,239 whiffs.

Coming distractions: If games get ugly, fans can redirect their gaze to Bank One Ballpark's swimming pool.

Now playing: "Raising Arizona," "Lust in the Dust"

Giants

That was then: Over-achieving San Francisco has compiled baseball's fourth-best record the past two seasons. But after blowing a 7-0 lead in the final game of the regular season, then losing in a playoff play-in game, the Giants still haven't made back-to-back postseason appearances since 1937.

This is now: The team spent all of $1.35 million on free agents this season, or $243.7 million less than the Dodgers and Diamondbacks combined. The big pickup? Utility man F. P. "Full Price" Santangelo.

Upside: Three-time MVP Barry Bonds hit .340-10-29 in August and .389-7-22 in September. Leadoff man Marvin Benard hit .371 the last two months. The 3.14 bullpen ERA was the league's best.

Downside: Shawn Estes is seeing a sports psychologist after slumping from 19 wins to seven. J. T. Snow gave up switch-hitting after batting .164 from the right side.

Inside pitch: Jeff Kent can become the first second baseman in history to drive in 120 runs three seasons in a row.

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