National League season preview

MIKE GANTER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

FLORIDA MARLINS

2005: 83-79

3rd in NL East

CHANGES: Easier to go with what didn't change. Miguel Cabrera returns and moves over to third base while Dontrelle Willis returns to anchor a rotation that got a lot younger and certainly not any better. Among the newcomers, Hanley Ramirez should create the most excitement. Ramirez, who came over in the Josh Beckett trade with Boston, has starting job handed to him, something that never would have happened in Boston.

OUTLOOK: If this team manages to lose less than 100 games, the season would have to be looked upon as a success. There are going to be plenty of growing pains but then what would you expect for $19-million.

ROTATION

LH Dontrelle Willis

RH Brian Moehler

LH Jason Vargas

RH Sergio Mitre

LH Scott Olson

Closer

RH Joe Borowski

LINEUP

SS Hanley Ramirez

RF Jeremy Hermida

3B Miguel Cabrera

1B Mike Jacobs

C Josh Willingham

2B Dan Uggla

CF Chris Aguila

LF E.Reed/ R.Abercrombie

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

2005: 81-81

5th in NL East

CHANGES: Biggest and most controversial was the deal that sent Brad Wilkerson to Texas for Alfonso Soriano. The latter initially balked at moving to the outfield but when it became apparent management wasn't going to budge, he made the switch. A full season of Ryan Zimmerman who is not even a year removed from being the fourth overall draft pick should have baseball fans excited.

OUTLOOK: As much as it pains us to say it, loss of Esteban Loaiza with no replacement is probably going to mean a step backwards for the pitching staff. Offensively they should be better with Zimmerman and Soriano, but not enough to contend for post-season berth.

ROTATION

RH Livan Hernandez

RH John Patterson

RH Ramon Ortiz

RH Tony Armas Jr.

RH Pedro Astacio

Closer

RH Chad Cordero

LINEUP

CF Brandon Watson

2B Jose Vidro

RF Jose Guillen

1B Nick Johnson

LF Alfonso Soriano

3B Ryan Zimmerman

SS Royce Clayton

C Brian Schneider

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2005: 88-74

2nd in NL East

CHANGES: Biggest change might begin at top where former Blue Jays GM and World Series builder Pat Gillick now resides. Gillick immediately made changes bringing in Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome and thereby opening up first base for slugger Ryan Howard. Also brought in Tom Gordon to close after losing Billy Wagner to free agency.

OUTLOOK: Were they in the West, the Phillies would be looking at a potential division-winning season, but in the East they probably don't have enough pitching to push either the Mets or Braves. Bullpen not as strong as 2005 and rotation lacks at least one more arm.

ROTATION

RH Jon Lieber

RH Brett Myers

RH Cory Lidle

RH Gavin Floyd

RH Ryan Madson

Closer

RH Tom Gordon

LINEUP

SS Jimmy Rollins

CF Aaron Rowand

RF Bobby Abreu

LF Pat Burrell

2B Chase Utley

1B Ryan Howard

C Mike Lieberthal

3B David Bell/A. Nunez

ATLANTA BRAVES

2005: 90-72

1st in NL East

CHANGES: Biggest change is at short where the ever-steady Rafael Furcal has flown the coop and is replaced by Edgar Renteria who is back in the NL after a 31-error season with the Red Sox. Interesting to see if the loss of pitching coach Leo Mazzone to Baltimore has any impact on the Atlanta tradition of out-pitching just about everyone they play. Will miss lefty Mike Hampton out with elbow surgery

OUTLOOK: Tough to bet against a team that wins year in and year out even in seasons like last year when they had no business winning. Have a serious challenger in the Mets looking to end that winning streak.

ROTATION

RH John Smoltz

RH Tim Hudson

RH Jorge Sosa

RH Horacio Ramirez

RH John Thomson

Closer

RH Chris Reitsma

LINEUP

2B Marcus Giles

SS Edgar Renteria

3B Chipper Jones

CF Andruw Jones

1B Adam LaRoche

RF Jeff Francoeur

LF Ryan Langerhans

C Brian McCann

NEW YORK METS

2005: 83-79

4th in NL East

CHANGES: Added their second slugging Carlos in consecutive years, this one the former Jay Carlos Delgado who immediately makes the middle of that lineup much more dangerous. Kaz Matsui, wonderboy of a year ago, loses his job to Anderson Hernandez at second. Paul Lo Duca arrives to take over the catching duties from Florida. Lights out closer in Billy Wagner with Jorge Julio to set up makes bullpen much better.

OUTLOOK: GM Omar Minaya has set this club up to win. If Pedro Martinez can remain healthy and Tom Glavine returns to his old form, the Braves reign could be over.

ROTATION

LH Tom Glavine

RH Victor Zambrano

RH Pedro Martinez

RH Steve Trachsel

RH Brian Bannister

Closer

LH Billy Wagner

LINEUP

SS Jose Reyes

CF Carlos Beltran

1B Carlos Delgado

3B David Wright

LF Cliff Floyd

RF Xavier Nady

C Paul Lo Duca

2B Anderson Hernandez

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

2005: 67-95

6th in NL Central

CHANGES: Went out and acquired a necessary big bat in first baseman Sean Casey but had to give up valuable pitching depth in Dave Williams to do so. Veteran Joe Randa arrives to provide some leadership while Jeromy Burnitz provides added pop in the outfield while making Craig Wilson available to address further needs down the road.

OUTLOOK: Very young, very left-handed rotation is going to determine how this club fares. Lefties Zach Duke, Oliver Perez and Paul Maholm are all capable but all young and proven in only limited doses. With so many if's a 14th consecutive losing season appears likely.

ROTATION

LH Zach Duke

LH Oliver Perez

LH Paul Maholm

RH Ian Snell

RH Victor Santos

Closer

LH Mike Gonzalez

LINEUP

CF Chris Duffy

SS Jack Wilson

1B Sean Casey

LF Jason Bay

RF Jeromy Burnitz

3B Joe Randa

2B Jose Castillo

C Ryan Doumit

CHICAGO CUBS

2005: 79-83

4th in NL Central

CHANGES: Upgraded middle relief with additions of lefty Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry. Jacques Jones is another key addition in the outfield coming over from Minnesota. Juan Pierre gives the Cubs a bona fide speedster at the top of their lineup but none of it will matter if the pitching staff can't get healthy.

OUTLOOK: It can't be good for a club when their top two starters both begin the season on the disabled list as Mark Prior and Kerry Wood do this year. Both injury-prone, the Cubs won't go anywhere without both of them healthy for a better part of the season. Newcomer Wade Miller joins that pair on the DL to start the year.

ROTATION

RH Carlos Zambrano

RH Greg Maddux

LH Jerome Williams

LH Glendon Rusch

LH Sean Marshall

Closer

RH Ryan Dempster

LINEUP

CF Juan Pierre

2B Jerry Hairston Jr.

1B Derek Lee

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Jacques Jones

LF Matt Murton

C Michael Barrett

SS Ronny Cedeno

HOUSTON ASTROS

2005: 89-73

2nd in NL Central

CHANGES: Not too many and not near enough if they hope to return to the big stage next fall. Added Preston Wilson to the outfield and lefty Trever Miller to a very good bullpen. If Clemens doesn't return, who eats up those 200-plus innings he's good for every year?

OUTLOOK: This club made it to the World Series last year on the strength of their starting pitching. If Roger Clemens does not re-sign with the club in May when he is eligible, the Houston Chronicle can go ahead and dig up that tombstone front cover they printed midway through last season because this team's post-season hopes will be dead.

ROTATION

RH Roy Oswalt

LH Andy Pettitte

RH Brandon Backe

LH Wandy Rodriguez

LH Taylor Buchholz

Closer

RH Brad Lidge

LINEUP

CF Willy Taveras

2B Craig Biggio

1B Lance Berkman

3B Morgan Ensberg

LF Preston Wilson

RF Jason Lane

C Brad Ausmus

SS Adam Everett

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

2005: 81-81

3rd in NL Central

CHANGES: Plenty of former Jays for Gord Ash to reminisce with. Leaving Toronto for Milwaukee are third baseman Corey Koskie, right-hander Dave Bush and outfielder Gabe Gross although Gross is listed as the fourth outfielder. Rookie Prince Fielder, son of Cecil, takes over first base from Lyle Overbay who is now a Jay.

OUTLOOK: An improving team that got a bit better in the off-season with their moves. Overbay will be missed but Fielder provides more home run power. If Sheets doesn't miss extensive playing time (he'll miss at least his first start), the Brewers should be able to build on that .500 finish last season.

ROTATION

RH Ben Sheets

LH Doug Davis

LH Chris Capuano

RH Tomo Ohka

RH Dave Bush

Closer

RH Derrick Turnbow

LINEUP

CF Brady Clark

2B Rickie Weeks

RF Geoff Jenkins

LF Carlos Lee

1B Prince Fielder

3B Corey Koskie/Bill Hall

C Damian Miller

SS J.J. Hardy

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

2005: 100-62

1st in NL Central

CHANGES: Junior Spivey replaces Mark Gurdzielanek at second base. Juan Encarnacion takes over in right field. Biggest quesiton among additions is problem-child Sidney Ponson who rounds out a very good rotation. Larry Bigbie, another off-season acquisition, begins the year on the disabled list with So Taguchi filling in until he returns.

OUTLOOK: Easily the class of the division, the Cardinals need to find a way to take the next step which is finishing off a playoff run. Retirement of Larry Walker and loss of Reggie Sanders could hurt offensively, but they have more than enough to get back to the post-season.

ROTATION

RH Chris Carpenter

LH Mark Mulder

RH Jason Marquis

RH Jeff Suppan

RH Sidney Ponson

Closer

RH Jason Isringhausen

LINEUP

SS David Eckstein

LF So Taguchi

1B Albert Pujols

CF Jim Edmonds

3B Scott Rolen

RF Juan Encarnacion

C Yadier Molina

2B J. Spivey / A. Miles

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

COLORADO ROCKIES

2005: 67-95

5th in NL West

CHANGES: Not as many as you would expect from a team that lost 95 games, but apparently the Rockies are counting on the experience of another year under their belts to improve their chances. Bullpen was upgraded with additions of Jose Mesa and Ray King, but other than that Rockies pretty much stood pat.

OUTLOOK: Were they playing in any other division, the Rockies would have zero hope, but playing in the NL West they have a slim, very slim chance. Need a comeback year from slugger Todd Helton who managed just 20 homers and 79 RBIs and have to get something out of the 4-5 spots in the rotation.

ROTATION

RH Jason Jennings

RH Aaron Cook

LH Jeff Francis

RH Zach Day

LH Josh Fogg

Closer

LH Brian Fuentes

LINEUP

CF Cory Sullivan

SS Clint Barmes

1B Todd Helton

LF Matt Holliday

3B Garrett Atkins

RF Brad Hawpe

2B Luis Gonzalez

C Danny Ardoin

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

2005: 77-85

2nd in NL West

CHANGES: Another club with a decided Blue Jay-like look. Miguel Batista, last year's closer in Toronto returns to the starting rotation in Arizona. Orlando Hudson solidifies second base taking his gold glove to the National League. Moving Troy Glaus to Toronto allows Chad Tracy to move back to third where he belongs and opens a spot for young slugger Conor Jackson at first. Orlando Hernandez brings World Series ring from Chicago.

OUTLOOK: Could be an interesting year for D'Backs depending on what they get out of Hernandez and Batista. Ortiz, after a dismal 5-11 season, has to rebound.

ROTATION

RH Brandon Webb

RH Orlando Hernandez

RH Miguel Batista

RH Russ Ortiz

RH Claudio Vargas

Closer

RH Jose Valverde

LINEUP

SS Craig Counsell

2B Orlando Hudson

3B Chad Tracy

LF Luis Gonzalez

1B Conor Jackson

RF Shawn Green

C Johnny Estrada

CF Eric Byrnes

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2005: 75-87

3rd in NL West

CHANGES: Rotation got an upgrade with signing of free-agent Matt Morris. Rookie Matt Cain gets his first full shot after a decent showing last fall and Jamey Wright comes over from Colorado and should see his numbers improve. Bullpen was tweaked as reliable lefty Scott Eyre bolted for Chicago. Giants responded getting Tim Worrell back after a stint in Philadelphia.

OUTLOOK: All bets are off until Bonds health and potential suspension issues are resolved. Team will only succeed if Bonds plays 100-120 games and rotation bounces back from a poor showing last year.

ROTATION

RH Jason Schmidt

RH Matt Morris

LH Noah Lowry

RH Matt Cain

RH Jamey Wright

Closer

RH Armando Benitez

LINEUP

CF Randy Winn

SS Omar Vizquel

2B Ray Durham

LF Barry Bonds

RF Moises Alou

3B Pedro Feliz

1B Lance Niekro

C Mike Matheny

SAN DIEGO PADRES

2005: 82-80

1st in NL West

CHANGES: Plenty of new faces for the defending division champs and that's not good news for Padres fans. Mike Piazza, nearing the end of his career his being asked to come in and catch full time not to mention hit clean up. Towering lefty Chris Young joins the rotation after a decent rookie year in Texas. Josh Barfield, son of former Jay Jesse Barfield, beat out Mark Bellhorn for the starting job at second with a strong spring.

OUTLOOK: A lot of questions about the pitching staff should make a repeat division win tough. Young struggled in the spring while bullpen, behind Hoffman, has been a huge disappointment.

ROTATION

RH Jake Peavy

LH Shawn Estes

LH Chris Young

RH Dewon Brazelton

RH W.Williams / ChanHo Park

Closer

RH Trevor Hoffman

LINEUP

LF Dave Roberts

CF Mike Cameron

RF Brian Giles

C Mike Piazza

1B R. Klesko (A. Gonzalez)

3B Vinny Castilla

SS Khalil Greene

2B Josh Barfield

L.A. DODGERS

2005: 71-91

4th in NL West

CHANGES: Huge overhaul at the highest levles with Ned Colletti coming in as GM and Grady Little taking over as manager. Little shouldn't be out of place with former Red Sox Nomar Garciaparra (now at first), third baseman Bill Mueller and Derek Lowe here. Rafael Furcal left the Braves to join the Dodgers with Cesar Izturis out half the season following Tommy John. Kenny Lofton takes over in centre field.

OUTLOOK: With a healthy Eric Gagne closing and some stability in the form of Colletti back in the front office, the Dodgers, with any luck, could go from fourth to first in the division.

Rotation

RH Derek Lowe

RH Brad Penny

LH Odalis Perez

RH Brett Tomko

RH Jae Seo

Closer

RH Eric Gagne

LINEUP

SS Rafael Furcal

CF Kenny Lofton

RF J.D. Drew

2B Jeff Kent

1B Nomar Garciaparra

3B Bill Mueller

LF Jose Cruz

C Dioner Navarro


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