Time to Face the Music - NL East

Atlanta Braves
What I got right - Had it not been for Chipper Jones' MVP season and Kevin Millwood's unbelievable dominance, this year might have been disastrous for John Schuerholz.  Newcomer Brian Jordan, while productive, was as injury prone as ever, fighting through injuries for much of the second half of the season.  Bret Boone wasn't much more productive than Keith Lockhart, both having roughly the same OPS and Boones' defense was only marginally better.  It should be noted that Boone nearly duplicated his second half numbers from last year offensively.  The Braves traded Denny Neagle in order to make room for Bruce Chen, who didn't even make the team out of spring training.  Andres Galarraga's leadership and production was missed, although it's scary to think how many runs the Braves might have scored with him in there.  But what it boiled down to was that Atlanta still had Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and the Jones', which was enough, along with Millwood and Rocker to get them back to the postseason in spite of the Braves management.

What I got wrong - When they made the deal for Remlinger, I really couldn't see where the Braves would use Remlinger.  However, he played an important role as swingman and vultured 10 wins in the process.   Mark Wohlers never made it back from his pectoral injury and the accompanying psycholigical problems that occasionally come with changing ones delivery.  However, John Rocker filled in quite capably as the closer.  Ryan Klesko did not finally produce the numbers expected of him since his phenom days in AAA.  It's a very distinct possibility that he's just not that good.  And George Lombard did not assert himself into the Braves outfield.  Instead he was mired in a year long slump in AAA Richmond.  The Braves were fortunate that Gerald Williams decided to have a career year in left.

Outlook for next year - The Braves will be the Braves at least for a couple more years, in that they play in a fairly uncompetitve division, much like the Cleveland Indians.  The New York Mets made great strides this year narrow the gap and the Phillies have turned in the right direction, but both still have a ways to go.  If the Expos move to Northern Virgina, a move which is looking less and less likely, then they also might be competitve in a couple of years.  The Marlins look like a long term project.  Regardless, the Braves can probably do little or nothing this offseason and still remain the favorite to win the division.  Galarraga promises to be back next year, although how much he has left remains to be seen.  Brett Butler went through a similar ordeal at about the same age and had nothing when he came back.. The Braves still have Raphael Furcal and Marcus Giles on the way, but their talent pipeline will probably not be as fruitful as talent appraiser extraordinaire Paul Snyder retired this year.

New York Mets
What I got right - Steve Phillips did a brilliant job as GM this year, bringing in Rickey Henderson.  Henderson was huge as a savvy tutor to young speedster Roger Cedeno.  Edgardo Alfonso was the best second baseman in the league and Robin Ventura was a huge addition at third.  Trading for Kenny Rogers in mid-season was also brilliant, bringing in an extreme groundball pitcher to take full advantage of a great infield defense.  The trade that brought Cedeno and Armando Benitez for Todd Hundley will likely go down as the most lopsided trade since the Mets shipped off Nolan Ryan in a package for Jim Fregosi.  The Mets bullpen did a remarkable job, considering that no starter threw a complete game until late August.  The Mets survived despite irrational outbursts, personal attacks and depressive pronouncements from manager BobbyValentine.  Valentine nearly cost his team their post season berth when he lost all decorum and and panicked in the final two weeks.  Only when he stopped trying to manage did the team reassert itself and show it's true ability.  They may yet have a chance to unseat the Braves.

What I got wrong - The trade that brought Bobby Bonilla was a huge bust.  Well, since it only cost them Mel Rojas, it probably wasn't that big of a bust, but Bonilla proved to be nothing but a distrastion both on and off the field..  Rickey Henderson forgot how old he was and once again acted like the greatest leadoff hitter ever.  Jermaine Allensworth never made a significant contribution.  Allen Watson was so good, they waived him.  Paul Wilson did not return... apparently Dallas Green did ruin him.  Nomo didn't last with the Mets, although he was quite good with the Brewers and Yoshii did more than just fill in.  Over the last month and a half he was arguably their best starter.

Outlook for next year - The Mets have a nice core of young players, but are faced with some big decisions this offseason.  Do they re-sign John Olerud and/or Darryl Hamilton?  The Mets outfield defense was one of the worst in the National League.  How do they upgrade the outfield with Henderson signed for a couple more years.  Agbayani is an adequate fielder, but not the bopper most teams like to have in right.  Roger Cedeno should be fine in center but will have to shade toward left as Henderson is not as strong as fielder as he once was.  And none of them have particularly strong arms.  Jay Payton is close in AAA but he is quite injury prone and questions remain about his arm also.  Alex Escobar might be the solution, but he's still a couple of years away.  How much longer can Mike Piazza stay behind the plate?  Can the Mets keep Kenny Rogers?  Will John Franco accept a role as a set-up man to Armando Benitez?  And possibly most importantly, can the Mets endure another stormy season under Bobby Valentine?  Steve Phillips may have to match his brilliance from this year to keep the Mets within earshot of the Braves next year.

Philadelphia Phillies
What I got right - The Phillies made a game effort for the first 4 months of this season, but just ran out of bullets.  When Curt Schilling went down with injuries, so did their remote playoff hopes.  New addition Ron Gant did not help matters, playing surprisingly anemic defense.  He was bad enough to warrant supersub Rob Ducey taking at bats away from him later in the season  Rookie second baseman Marlon Anderson struggled with the strikezone but did show decent speed.  Whether it was enough to keep his \starting job, though is doubtful.  The Phillies did struggle to keep their pitching healthy as every starter out of spring training but Paul Byrd spent time on the DL, even Schilling.  Speaking of Byrd, he showed that last September was not a fluke and pitched well all year.  Lefty Randy Wolf was called up and was decent although he got roughed up enough for the Phillies to consider starting him in AAA next year.  Jeff Brantley won the closing job out of spring training and then got injured three weeks into the season. Wayne Gomes took over the closing duties but didn't fare particularly well, leaving the job open for next year.

What I got wrong - As bad as Gant was defensively, he wasn't much better on offense.  He didn't come near the expected 30 homers or 100 RBI plateaus.  Likewise he didn't threaten 150 strikeouts either, so it wasn't a total loss.  Marlon Anderson didn't play very good defense or show much power as was expected.  In fact, several sources within the Phillies organization hinted he might not be everyday material.  Neither Chad Ogea or Carlton Loewer proved much of anything this year other than they need another year of experience.

Outlook for next year - The Phillies hopes for the postseason depend largely on the health of their starters.  If Schilling is healthy, he can get them part of the way there.  If Byrd continues to pitch well, they could be close.  They'll still need at least one more quality starter and a more effective bullpen if they hope to apply any pressure to the Braves.  Robert Person looked strong down the stretch and there are plenty of indications that the Phillies will try to pry Andy Pettitte from the Yankees.  If they are successful, they should have enough pitching depth to keep them in contention.  Their offense will benefit with the arrival of superb hitting prospect Pat Burrell.  He will take over in left for Gant.  If Rolen can stay healthy, the Phillies could have one of the better offensive teams in the NL.

Montreal Expos
What I got right - Michael Barrett had a solid rookie season splitting time between catching and third base.  He'll probably improve on his numbers slightly next year and breakout in 2001.  OF Fernando Seguignol did show good power, but no knowledge of the strikezone.  Winterball hero Jose Vidro ousted Wilton Guerrero from his starting second base job and had a very nice year.  He has Edgardo Alfonzo type ability on offense.   Defense is another story.  The bullpen still boasts the coolest name in baseball, closer Ugueth Urtain Urbina.  Urbina cut down his walks and entered the ranks of the elite closers.  Guillermo  Mota was solid as a setup guy, although he didn't post the strikeout numbers that were expected.  Vladimir Guerrero was again as good as could be expected, breaking Expo records for homers and RBI in a season.

What I got wrong - It looks like the Expos will stay in baseball hell, thanks to Jeffery Luria.  Unless the owners don't approve the sale, which is unlikely considering Bud Selig is adamant about keeping the Washington DC market as a bargaining chip for anyone who wants a new stadium.  Orlando Cabrera was less than stellar at short.  The starting rotation did not live up to expectation, but some of that may be due to youth and inexperience.  The sooner the Expos pick up a veteran starter, even if he's not that good, the sooner theseguys are gonna get very good.  The problem is they don't have an experienced peer they can talk strategy with.  Even Dustin Hermansen struggled, although he caught fire in late August early September to finish strongly.  Carl Pavano didn't develop as hoped, although he did have a few good outings early.  Javier Vasquez was simply inconsistent but did show some signs of improvement towards the end of the season.

Outlook for next year - The Expos still aren't near what they were in 1994, but they're headed in the right direction.  If they move to Northern Virginia, look for them to get very good very fast, contending for the NL East as soon as 2001.  If they end up staying, the process could take much longer.  Much depends on whether they'll be able to keep Dustin Hermansen and Ugueth Urbina as they reach arbitration eligibility.  If they are able to hold on to them for a couple more years and perhaps get some quality in return for Rondell White, who's ripe for trade, they could be pretty good fairly soon.  They have All-Star quality talent at first (Brad Fullmer), second (Vidro), third (Barrett), center (AA star Milton Bradley) and right (Guerrero) and the makings of a solid rotation and bullpen.  Everything depends on how much money gets infused into this franchise.

Florida Marlins
What I got right - Alex Gonzales was a good shortstop, both offensively and defensively, even though he had some run ins with manager John Boles concerning his attitude.  His low walk/ high strikeout totals still remain a concern.  Kevin Orie did get the 3rd base job out of spring training, but only until he was injured and slumped.  Mike Lowell emerged late in the year as the long term solution.  Alex Fernandez was solid when he wasn't ailing.  Livan Hernandez was pretty brutal, although it's hard to say if that was due to Leyland's 2 years of abuse, the Marlins's woeful defense or the lack of limelight than Hernandez so craves.  Jesus Sanchez, however, was just plain bad.  Mantei was a very good closer, who simply didn't get many opportunuties until he was traded to the D-backs.  AJ Burnett was called up and pitched reasonably well his first time through the league.  It remains to be seen how he will do next year once opposing scouts and players have a better idea what he can do.

What I got wrong - The Marlins did trade away a veteran player, although he was only 26 - closer Matt Mantei.  Cliff Floyd wasn't a bargain, but it was largely due to injuries.  Prorating his numbers for a whole season (600 ABs) he'd have produced 26 homers and 117 RBI.  At some point, look for either the Marlins or Floyd to employ a special trainer whose sole job is to keep him healthy.  Jorge Fabregas was just another in the parade of catchers since the trade of Charles Johnson.  The Marlins staff showed no improvement with him behind the plate.  The set-up man/come closer was not Braden lopper but Antonio Alfonseca, the six fingered man.  Vic Darensbourg, who was brilliant last year as a left handed specialist, was pretty brutal this year.  However, as with most of the Marlins, he's still young.

Outlook for next year - The Marlins minor league talent is just now beginning to make an impact.  Preston Wilson had a huge year, but his strikezone judgement does not bode well for continued success.  Look for his career to more closely resemble that of Ron Gant without the steals.  Mark Kotsay recovered from a brutal start and showed some promise in the last couple of months.  Look for him to nail down a permanent spot in right field next spring.  Supertools prospects Julio Ramirez and Pablo Ozuna are probably still another year or two away from contributing.  The Marlins rotation should get a boost from ex-D-back Brad Penny sometime next year.  Once he and Burnett mature, the Marlins will have an imposing starting staff.  With a few vets to help lead the way, the Marlins could pose a serious threat to the Braves as soon as 2001.

1) Atlanta
2) New York
3) Philadelphia
4) Montreal
5) Florida

Right on, baby, but then again, how tough was this one to pick.