Grand (NL) Central (03/29/00)
Houston Astro GM Gerry Hunsicker has to be satisfied with at least part of the job he's done: his Astros have won the Central division 3 consecutive years. Unfortunately, that satisfaction has to be tainted by the bitter pill of being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for 3 consecutive years as well. This year, the Astros and the Central division will have a significantly new look, as no division in baseball endured more personnel changes than the Central. But will the results be the same? The Astros will once again open as the favorites in the Central, although many pundits think they've lost ground to the rest of the division with all the offseason moves that have been made. I'm not so certain.
St. Louis Cardinals
When all is said and done, it still looks like the Astros are the team to beat. They were without two key offensive players for much of the year, while the Reds got career years from a number of sources. The Astros will have better defense overall and a more productive hitter in right, in addition to the returns of Alou and Caminiti. Cincinnati's bullpen will be hard pressed to duplicate their heroics and both the offense and the rotation have holes. The Cards have improved with the acquisition of Vina, Edmonds and the three starters, but which Vina will show up: the very good leadoff hitter from 1998 or the career .334 OBP hitter (taking out 1998). And which starters will show up: the Cy Young candidates from 3 or 4 years ago, or the .500 pitchers who've been struggling the past 2 years. It may be too much to ask for so many to relive their past glories. The Pirates are better, but still have some weakspots that must be addressed before they can be considered contenders. The Brewers seem to be taking several steps backward in order to move forward, so it may be a while before we see improvement. Even with Kerry Wood fully healthy, it's hard to imagine the Cubs overcoming the glaring weaknesses in the bullpen and in the bottom of the order.
2) St. Louis