National League East

April 03, 2005|By Previews by South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Atlanta Braves

Record, finish: 96-66, 1st.

Manager: Bobby Cox, 20th season with Braves, 24th overall.

Payroll: $80 million.

Hot seat: Raul Mondesi. At 34 this could be his last, best chance to reclaim a once-promising career.

Best case: Despite another round of offensive losses, Braves magic holds up for a 14th straight year. ... Rafael Furcal, energized by his potential free-agent status, has a career walk year. ... Tim Hudson, the new long-term rotation anchor, wins 20-plus games and overwhelms NL hitters unfamiliar with him.

Worst case: Chipper Jones' hamstring woes of a year ago return. ... Mondesi and Brian Jordan (Milford Mill) prove once and for all their best days are gone. ... John Smoltz's surgical elbow can't handle the transition back to starting. ... Dan Kolb wilts in the spotlight of a pennant race after thriving under the radar in Milwaukee.

LINEUP

SS Rafael Furcal

2B Marcus Giles

3B Chipper Jones

CF Andruw Jones

RF Raul Mondesi

C Johnny Estrada

1B Adam LaRoche

LF Brian Jordan

ROTATION

RHP John Smoltz

RHP Tim Hudson

LHP Mike Hampton

RHP John Thomson

LHP Horacio Ramirez

BULLPEN

RHP Dan Kolb

RHP Chris Reitsma

RHP Roman Colon

Florida Marlins

Record, finish: 83-79, 3rd.

Manager: Jack McKeon, 3rd season with Marlins, 15th overall.

Payroll: $66 million.

Hot seat: Guillermo Mota. New closer has blown 11 of 16 career save chances and has never been asked to handle the role before.

Best case: Miguel Cabrera continues his dizzying career arc with an MVP-type season thanks to Delgado's lineup protection. ... Al Leiter goes out in style with 15 wins and a profound influence on his fellow starters. ... The revamped bullpen finds ways to shorten games and take pressure off the starters.

Worst case: Carlos Delgado misses any significant time with injuries. ... Paul Lo Duca wears down again in September. ... Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett can't stay healthy and wind up making 50 or fewer combined starts. ... The shoulder woes of Jeff Conine and outfielder Juan Encarnacion flare up again during the season.

LINEUP

CF Juan Pierre

2B Luis Castillo

RF Miguel Cabrera

1B Carlos Delgado

3B Mike Lowell

C Paul Lo Duca

LF Jeff Conine

SS Alex Gonzalez

ROTATION

RHP Josh Beckett

LHP Al Leiter

RHP A.J. Burnett

LHP Dontrelle Willis

RHP Ismael Valdez

BULLPEN

RHP Guillermo Mota

RHP Todd Jones

RHP Antonio Alfonseca

New York Mets

Record, finish: 71-91, 4th.

Manager: Willie Randolph, 1st season with Mets.

Payroll: $105 million.

Hot seat: Carlos Beltran. For $119 million, the Wilpons are going to expect big results.

Best case: Pedro Martinez, pitching angry, makes the Red Sox look bad for letting him go. ... Pitching coach Rick Peterson gets big seasons out of projects such as Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano. ... Shea Stadium starts rocking again come September, and not just because of the air-traffic patterns.

Worst case: Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui disappoint again despite flip-flopping in the middle infield. ... Mike Piazza's bat continues to slow and his move back to full-time catching weakens the pitching and defense further. ... Cliff Floyd's body betrays him again. ... Mike Cameron can't handle the switch to right after struggling in center last year.

LINEUP

SS Jose Reyes

2B Kaz Matsui

CF Carlos Beltran

C Mike Piazza

LF Cliff Floyd

3B David Wright

RF Mike Cameron

1B Doug Mientkiewicz

ROTATION

RHP Pedro Martinez

LHP Tom Glavine

LHP Kaz Ishii

RHP Victor Zambrano

RHP Kris Benson

BULLPEN

RHP Braden Looper

LHP Felix Heredia

RHP Mike DeJean

Philadelphia Phillies

Record, finish: 86-76, 2nd.

Manager: Charlie Manuel, 1st season with Phillies, 4th overall.

Payroll: $96 million.

Hot seat: Pat Burrell has driven in 90-plus runs just once in five seasons.

Best case: Life after Larry Bowa proves blissful and rewarding. ... Jim Thome elevates a dangerous lineup with another MVP-level season. ... Kenny Lofton teams with Jimmy Rollins at the top of the lineup to provide a speed infusion. ... A middling rotation evolves into something like the balanced Cardinals rotation of 2004.

Worst case: David Bell can't recover from another round of nagging back injuries. ... Billy Wagner's shoulder gives out again, weakening a planned team strength. ... Brett Myers underachieves again, and so does right-handed pitcher Gavin Floyd (Mount St. Joseph), the future of the rotation. ... They finish in the mid- to low-80s in wins for the fifth consecutive season.

LINEUP

SS Jimmy Rollins

CF Kenny Lofton

RF Bobby Abreu

LF Pat Burrell

1B Jim Thome

C Mike Lieberthal

2B Chase Utley

3B David Bell

ROTATION

RHP Jon Lieber

RHP Brett Myers

LHP Randy Wolf

RHP Cory Lidle

RHP Gavin Floyd

BULLPEN

LHP Billy Wagner

RHP Tim Worrell

LHP Rheal Cormier

Washington Nationals

Record, finish: 67-95, 5th, as Expos.

Manager: Frank Robinson, 4th season with franchise (formerly Expos), 15th overall.

Payroll: $47 million.

Hot seat: Jose Guillen. After flaming out in Anaheim, he'll need to behave.

Best case: Brad Wilkerson continues to blossom into one of the game's most undervalued players. ... New ownership is announced by midseason and authorizes several deadline acquisitions. ... The District of Columbia floods to RFK Stadium for the greatest revival since Martha Stewart.

Worst case: An unsettled top of the order means the offense has to rely too much on its power hitters. ... Tony Armas, limited to 21 starts the past two seasons by injuries, struggles to recover from a strained groin. ... Nick Johnson can't stay healthy, and his promise continues to fade. ... Vinny Castilla shows again why he's dangerous only in Coors Field. ... The young bullpen collapses.

LINEUP

SS Cristian Guzman

2B Jose Vidro

RF Jose Guillen

LF Brad Wilkerson

3B Vinny Castilla

1B Nick Johnson

CF Ryan Church

C Brian Schneider

ROTATION

RHP Livan Hernandez

RHP Esteban Loaiza

RHP Tomo Ohka

RHP Zach Day

RHP John Patterson

BULLPEN

RHP Chad Cordero

RHP Luis Ayala

LHP Joey Eischen

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