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4. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H15

So, let's say the Diamondbacks catch fire.

Let's say their winter of overspending on free agents pays off (and that ownership is able to meet payroll every month). Let's say Troy Glaus bashes NL pitching, and Russ Ortiz slops his way to 15-18 wins. Let's say the Diamondbacks improve by 10 games this season. No, wait, let's say they really pull off something amazing and improve by 20 games.

Well, folks, that's still a 91-loss season, good for no better than fourth place in this division.

_____ Breakdown _____
 baseball
Lineup
CF Jose Cruz Jr.
2B Craig Counsell
LF Luis Gonzalez
3B Troy Glaus
RF Shawn Green
1B Chad Tracy
C Koyie Hill
SS Royce Clayton
Rotation
RHP Javier Vazquez
RHP Russ Ortiz
RHP Brandon Webb
LHP Shawn Estes
LHP Brad Halsey
Closer
RHP Greg Aquino

Best move: Spinning off C Dioner Navarro, part of their bounty from the Randy Johnson trade, to Los Angeles for RF Shawn Green.
Biggest loss: Big guy, 'bout 6-foot-10. Used to have a killer mullet. Name of Johnson. Randy Johnson.
Top rival: Los Angeles Dodgers.

___ Team Capsules ___
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
NL East
NL Central
NL West
1. Cubs
4. Mets
4. Reds
   
 
AL East
AL Central
AL West
 


Indeed, Arizona is starting from a tough position. Losers of 111 games in 2004, they were forced over the winter to trade ace Randy Johnson -- who, along with Curt Schilling, once gave the Diamondbacks the best 1-2 punch in the game. While Johnson goes after a championship and a Cy Young in the Bronx -- and Schilling does the same in Boston -- the Diamondbacks are just trying to get out of the NL West cellar.

Despite having almost no leverage, the Diamondbacks at least managed to get a credible number one starter -- Javier Vazquez -- out of the Johnson deal. Back in the NL and away from the New York crucible, Vazquez is capable of a huge comeback season.

But beyond that, there's little cause for optimism here. Both Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez have seen the last of their 40- and 50-homer days, respectively. Greg Aquino, with all of half a season of big league experience, is penciled in as closer. And the bottom half of the rotation is a crapshoot.

They won't lose 111 games again, but triple digits is not out of the question.


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