Who’s On Base?: Play Ball! National League Preview

By John A. Poole
Updated: November 20, 2007

Barry BondsGLEN BURNIE, MARYLAND — In 1999, we had the pleasure of watching a man become a baseball icon with just 70 swings of his bat. In 2000, we were spectators to one of the greatest hitting performances in over 15 years. Now, in 2001, with the incredible amount of money that has been dished out to free agents during the contract signing frenzy, you have to wonder, what could possibly happen this year?

Well, we have already seen Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks kill a dove with a 95 mph fastball during spring training. There has already been a bench-clearing brawl. And major names are expected to miss a good portion of April with injuries. Ken Griffey, Jr. (hamstring) and Greg Maddux (toe) are just two who will not be present for opening day, but that will not stop the games from being played or the records from being broken.

So, who will be the next team to walk away with the NL pennant this year? It is hard to pick a champion at the beginning of April, but it’s easy to see who has the talent that could lead them into October.

One can’t overlook the Atlanta Braves when speaking about the better teams of the league. Atlanta has had one of the best starting pitching staffs in all of baseball, which is headlined by future Hall of Fame pitcher, Greg Maddux. Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine have been the anchors of a pitching staff that has dominated the NL for several years. Along with the pitching staff, Atlanta has a couple of the best players in the league in 1999 MVP Chipper Jones and CF Andruw Jones. The player who may have the biggest impact on the Braves may be P John Rocker. At one point, Rocker was as dominating a closer as anybody in the league, but, because of his pitching control and media relations problems from last year, Rocker’s ability has been questioned. If Rocker can return to his 1999 form, the Braves could go a long way this year.

The St Louis Cardinals, who are led by captain Mark McGuire, will have their eye on the playoffs and maybe even the World Series in 2001. “Big Mac,” as McGuire is known around the league, was injured for the most of the second half of last season, missing 73 games — and the Cardinals were still able to make it to the playoffs before rookie P Rick Ankiel physically imploded against the Braves in Game 7 of the NLCS (National League Championship Series). Offensively, the Cardinals will be fine with CF Jim Edmonds, 1B Mark McGuire, LF Ray Lankford and RF J.D. Drew. Edmonds led the Cardinals in almost every offensive category with McGuire injured, and Drew and Lankford contributed greatly down the stretch. If the Cardinals can overcome a free-agent-depleted pitching rotation, they should be back in the NLCS again.

Last year’s NL pennant winners, the New York Mets, have not forgotten what it takes to get to the big game. The only question is whether they have enough people to get them back to the World Series. Last year’s playoff hero, Mike Hampton, decided to test the free agency market and landed in Tampa Bay as a Devil Ray. The starting pitching core in New York is very suspect with Al Leiter as their only proven veteran. The Mets do have one of the best teams of middle relievers and maybe the most dominating closer in baseball, Armando Benitez — and that should be a huge help to the entire team and could catapult them into a second straight World Series.

Another team that will be looking to play more than 162 games this year are the Cincinnati Reds, led by All World CF Ken Griffey, Jr. Griffey was accused of having a bad season last year but still hit 40 HR and drove in 118 RBI’s. For most people, this is a career year, but when you are speaking about Griffey, it’s considered a slump. Including Sean Casey and Barry Larkin in the lineup, the Reds will try to make it into October for the playoffs, but it’s a good chance that Griffey and the Reds will be looking at a 3rd place finish at best.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, who have the second best pitcher in the league, Randy Johnson, or the “Big Unit,” whose nickname is self-explanatory, also are pleading their case as potential World Series candidates. Along with Curt Schilling and Brian Anderson, Johnson and the Diamondbacks will have a great starting three, but that is about all they will have. There is an outside chance for the Diamondbacks to make the playoffs, but reality is most likely a very long winter break.

There are 30 teams that will be shooting for the same goal this year and only 1 title can be won. This means there will be a whole lot more disappointment than excitement, but it sure will be fun watching to see who will surprise and who will disappoint in this coming season.

Please continue to check back as we will have continuous updates throughout the entire baseball season.