National League East

Spring Training 2003

February 13, 2003|By Peter Schmuck

Atlanta Braves

Manager: Bobby Cox

2002 finish: 101-59, first place

Story line: No divisional rival has finished ahead of the Braves in a full season since 1990, but that could change this year with a dramatic change in the makeup of their starting rotation, which has been the cornerstone of the organization's long-term success.

Changing faces: Two-time Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine has jumped to the Mets and solid No. 3 starter Kevin Millwood was traded to the Phillies. Newcomers Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz and Paul Byrd join Greg Maddux in a revamped rotation. There also has been turnover in the bullpen with the departures of Kerry Ligtenberg, Mike Remlinger, Chris Hammond and Tim Spooneybarger.

Burning question: What happens when a major change in team chemistry collides with the significant improvement of two divisional rivals? Answer: The Braves will be in for the fight of their lives.

Montreal Expos

Manager: Frank Robinson

2002 finish: 83-79, second place

Story line: It's the same old song and dance, but with a new Latin beat. The Expos will play part of the season in Puerto Rico to add spice to an otherwise hopeless season.

Changing faces: More budget problems forced general manager Omar Minaya to trade 20-game winner Bartolo Colon to the White Sox and allow pitcher Matt Herges to leave as a free agent. The Expos tempered the loss of Colon with the acquisition of Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez from the Yankees. The club is surprisingly intact after months of trade speculation, but there could be more deals in the next six weeks.

Burning question: Now that we know where the Expos will be playing their home games this year - Montreal and San Juan - the only question is where they will be playing in 2004. The answer could come in the next couple of months.

Philadelphia Phillies

Manager: Larry Bowa

2002 finish: 80-81, third place

Story line: The Phillies appear to be the most improved team in either league with the big-money acquisitions of 50-homer threat Jim Thome, third baseman David Bell and pitcher Kevin Millwood. It should be an interesting final season at the Vet, if frustrated Eagles fans didn't uproot too many prime seats.

Changing faces: See above. Perhaps one of the most important - but least publicized - new additions is pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, who had great success in Boston before being miscast as a manager.

Burning question: Will Bowa take advantage of this seemingly golden opportunity to prove he can win? There will be no room for excuses if the Phillies aren't in the race.

Florida Marlins

Manager: Jeff Torborg

2002 finish: 79-83, fourth place

Story line: One of baseball's most nondescript teams searches for relevance in a division that has become far tougher during the past four months. Stay tuned for an exciting battle with the Expos for fourth place.

Changing faces: In a shocking display of shortsightedness, the Marlins committed about $10 million to sign elite free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who basically took the deal out of spite because the Orioles wouldn't bid against themselves on a three-year deal.

Burning question: Does anyone in South Florida even care? The Marlins drew 813,111 last year when the team had a chance to finish second in the division. This year, they'll be lucky to stay out of the cellar.

New York Mets

Manager: Art Howe

2002 finish: 75-86, fifth place

Story line: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Mets have brought in easygoing former Athletics manager Howe to do the same job mild-mannered Joe Torre did when he took over the Yankees. They also stabilized their starting rotation with steady veteran Tom Glavine. That should be enough to pick them up off the floor in the NL East.

Changing faces: The other big offseason acquisitions were outfielder Cliff Floyd and left-handed reliever Mike Stanton. The Mets also picked up Rey Sanchez to replace departed shortstop Rey Ordonez.

Burning question: Will the Mets respond to Howe's low-key approach and rise to the challenge of a three-team battle with the Braves and Phillies? Yes!

Teams are listed in order of last year's finish.

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