This should be the year that the Phillies finally get to the playoffs, the Brewers’ youngster turn into winners and the Dodgers take another step forward.
TAKE: After near misses the last four years, the Phillies break through the
playoff barrier and advance all the way to the World Series.
THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP Brett Myers. With Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley
and Co., the offense is in capable hands. To play in October, Philadelphia needs Myers to pitch like the
frontline starter he can become. Same goes for Cole Hamels.
|2||NEW YORK METS|
TAKE: It’™s hard not to like the lineup, and equally hard not to worry about the
pitching. But the Mets should be able to slug their way to the wild card.
THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP Mike Pelfrey. With Pedro Martinez out for at least half the
season, New York
is building its rotation around a pair of 41-year-olds (Tom Glavine, Orlando
Hernandez) and a bunch of question marks (John Maine, Oliver Perez, Chan Ho
Park). The Mets gave Pelfrey a $5.25 million big league deal as a 2005
first-round pick because he could make a quick impact, and they need that impact
TAKE: The Braves’™ streak of 14 straight playoff berths ended in 2006. While Atlanta won’™t finish with
a losing record again, it won’™t make it back to the postseason.
THE SPOTLIGHT: 1B Scott Thorman. Atlanta
shored up its bullpen by trading Adam LaRoche to the Pirates for Mike Gonzalez
in January. LaRoche hit 32 homers last year, and the Braves think they can get
similar production from Thorman.
TAKE: While the Marlins have an admirable collection of young talent, they
won’™t play over their heads and contend again in 2007.
THE SPOTLIGHT: OF Jeremy Hermida. He was supposed to be Florida’™s best rookie in 2006, but he wound
up hitting .251 with five homers. Now that he has recovered from hip and ankle
injuries, he should break out a year behind schedule.
TAKE: The Nationals have a brighter future now that they have real ownership.
But their current pitching rotation is the worst in recent memory.
THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP John Patterson. Washington’™s
No. 1 starter, he made just eight starts last year because of a nerve problem
in his forearm. He won one game, just three less than the rest of the
Nationals’™ projected rotation.
TAKE: No, this isn’™t a typo. The Brewers will post their first winning season
since 1992 and win their first division title since 1982.
THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP Ben Sheets. Milwaukee
has amassed some rotation depth, so Sheets doesn’™t have to carry as much of a burden
as he has in the past. But he needs to stay fully healthy if the Brewers are
going to contend. The last time he made it through a complete season was in
2004′”when he ranked among the NL leaders in ERA (2.70) and strikeouts (264 in
|2||ST. LOUIS CARDINALS|
TAKE: The Cardinals will win more than 83 games this year, but they won’™t
capture the NL Central, let alone the World Series, this time around.
THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP Anthony Reyes. St.
Louis has a lot of rotation question marks behind
Chris Carpenter. It needs the World Series version of Reyes (eight strong
innings in a Game One victory) to step forward, rather than the regular-season
version (5-8, 5.06). Reyes has the stuff to be a big winner if he can avoid the
injury problems that have dogged him in the past.
TAKE: After having their best season since 2000 in the first year of Bob
Castellini’™s ownership, the Reds now hope to make a run at their first
postseason appearance since 1995.
THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP
Bronson Arroyo. Though he was signed through 2008, Cincinnati gave him a two-year, $25 million
extension this offseason. But was his 2006 performance (14-11, 3.29, 184
strikeouts in 241 innings) truly a step forward or just a career year?
TAKE: The Astros nearly pulled off their third straight miraculous comeback
with a late rush last September, only to finish a game short. The offense was
the main culprit, so Houston
went out and spent $100 million on Carlos Lee.
THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP Roger Clemens, as always. At 42, he led the majors with a 1.87 ERA and
reach its first World Series. At 43, he took the first two months off but was
his usual dominant self afterward. He’™d give the Astros a huge boost’”if he decides
to return at 44, and if he decides to spurn the Red Sox and Yankees.
TAKE: The Cubs moved backward in the NL Central for the third straight year, so
they have a new team president (John McDonough), new manager (Lou Piniella) and
$298 million of new free agents. Yet they still have questions about their
ability to get on base, their defense and their pitching depth.
THE SPOTLIGHT: GM Jim Hendry. If his spending spree doesn’™t produce results, he
may not get another chance to end his club’™s 98-year (and counting)
TAKE: Another year, another losing season. That would make 15 in a row, one shy
of the record held by the 1933-48 Phillies.
THE SPOTLIGHT: GM Dave Littlefield. In his five full seasons running the Pirates,
they’™ve finished an average of 24 games back in the NL Central race. Even
worse, neither the big league club nor the farm system has shown much
improvement since he has taken over.
|1||LOS ANGELES DODGERS|
TAKE: The Dodgers integrated lots of young talent while making the playoffs a
year ago. Look for them to do more of the same in 2007.
THE SPOTLIGHT: C Russell Martin. He received only one rookie of the year vote
in 2006, but don’™t be shocked if he receives stronger support for the MVP award
this season. He’™s a standout offensive and defensively, and he’™s already a team
leader at age 24.
TAKE: The Diamondbacks also integrated lots of young talent last year, and will
continue to do more of the same. They’™ll finish a lot closer to the Dodgers
than 12 games back this season, however.
THE SPOTLIGHT: LHP Randy Johnson. Can he be more than the surly underachiever he was last year
with the Yankees? If he’™s closer to the pitcher who won four straight Cy Young
Awards in Arizona,
defending Cy Young winner Brandon Webb and Johnson will be the NL’™s most
dynamic pitching duo.
|3||SAN DIEGO PADRES|
TAKE: The Padres’™ current streak of three straight winning seasons is the best
in franchise history. They may stretch that to four, and a third consecutive
division title is still a possibility.
THE SPOTLIGHT: 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff. If he’™s really as good as his minor league stats
(.332/.395/.556 in four seasons), San
Diego has filled its third-base void. If he’™s not, the
Padres will regret giving up Josh Barfield to get him.
|4||SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS|
TAKE: After admitting it was time to alter their plan of surrounding Barry
Bonds with older players, the Giants re-signed Bonds . . . and surrounded him
with older players.
THE SPOTLIGHT: The easy choice
would be OF Barry Bonds, for obvious reasons. But another Barry, LHP Zito, just
signed for seven years and $126 million despite all statistical evidence
suggesting that he has leveled off in the last three years.
TAKE: The Rockies can rival the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in terms of impact
youngsters in their organization. They’™re just not as ready to win in the
THE SPOTLIGHT: 1B Todd Helton. There’™s no doubt
that he’™s the greatest player in Colorado history, but he’™s also in decline as
a 33-year-old who turned in career lows in hitting (.302) and homers (15) in
2006. He has five years and $90.1 million remaining on his albatross of a
contract, and if the Rockies can find a way to
trade him, they should.