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     Baseball '04

National League West

San Francisco Giants  |  Los Angeles Dodgers
Arizona Diamondbacks  |  San Diego Padres  |  Colorado Rockies

The Washington Post
Friday, April 2, 2004; Page D6

Team Capsules

National League

American League

1. San Fransciso Giants
2003 Finish: 100-61, 1st place.
Manager: Felipe Alou (12th season overall, 791-778).
Ace: RHP Jason Schmidt (17-5, 2.34, 208 Ks), the NL's All-Star Game starter and Cy Young runner-up, may start the season on the DL because of soreness in his right shoulder. LHP Kirk Rueter (10-5, 4.53) or RHP Brett Tomko (13-9, 5.28 with Cardinals) will start the opener.
Best Young Arm: RHP Jerome Williams (7-5, 3.30). With shoulder ailments clouding the start of the season, Giants need 22-year-old to reprise his rookie campaign.
Closer: RHP Robb Nen (43 saves, 2.20 in '02) is a sore spot, literally. Nen has yet to pitch in a game this spring after missing last season to have surgery on his right shoulder. Tim Worrell, who saved 38 games last season filling in for Nen, is in Philadelphia, leaving RHP Matt Herges (11 career saves) as Nen's stand-in.
Key Acquisition: C A.J. Pierzynski (.312, 11 HR, 74 RBI -- all career highs), who came in a trade with Minnesota, is younger and better than Benito Santiago.
Core Question: You can pencil Barry Bonds in for a big year, but what about the bullpen?
Projected Finish: First. This season marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise's most recent World Series title. Don't look for Alou's troops to end that streak, win 100 games or run away with the division. But they should have enough to reach the postseason for the fourth time in five years.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers
2003 Finish: 85-77, 2nd place.
Manager: Jim Tracy (fourth season, 263-223).
Ace: RHP Hideo Nomo (16-13, 3.09). The former NL rookie of the year has been rock solid in his second go-around in L.A., with back-to-back seasons of 16 wins, 200-plus innings.
Best Young Arm: RHP Edwin Jackson (2-1, 2.45, 22 IP) is 20 and made the jump from Class AA last season. In his major league debut, he beat Randy Johnson.
Closer: RHP Eric Gagne (55 saves, 1.20). How can the NL Cy Young winner possibly improve on last season? By not blowing the All-Star Game.
Key Acquisition: RHP Jeff Weaver (7-9, 5.99) is a one-time hot property who has a chance to prove that trade sending Kevin Brown (14-9, 2.39) to Yankees was more than a salary dump.
Core Question: Can the Dodgers buy a big hit until management buys a big hitter?
Projected finish: Second. Only nine teams have longer playoff droughts than the large-market Dodgers, who last qualified for postseason play in 1996 and last won a playoff game in 1988. With solid starting pitching backed by an exemplary relief corps, expect L.A.'s new owner and GM to be aggressive in finding offense.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks
2003 Finish: 84-78, 3rd place.
Manager: Bob Brenly (fourth season, 274-212).
Ace: LHP Randy Johnson (6-8, 4.26, 125 Ks, 114 IP). Curt Schilling has gone east, and the question is whether Johnson's career is heading south after right knee surgery. But the 40-year-old has been great this spring, allowing only five earned runs in four starts.
Best Young Arm: RHP Brandon Webb (10-9, 2.84, 172 Ks) is a 24-year-old who moves into Schilling's No. 2 spot in the rotation after a third-place finish in the NL rookie voting. Opponents batted .212 against him, third in the league.
Closer: RHP Matt Mantei (29 saves, 2.62) has battled injuries in his career, but the D-Backs have a viable Plan B in RHP Jose Valverde (10 saves, 2.15).
Key Acquisition: 2B Roberto Alomar (.258, 5 HR, 39 RBI with Mets, White Sox). The D-Backs are hoping that the 36-year-old Alomar's sparkling spring is an indication that last year's abysmal showing was a hiccup in an otherwise Hall of Fame career.
Core Question: Can a starter other than Johnson come up big on that unit?
Projected Finish: Third. Arizona has holes in its rotation the size of the hole in Richie Sexson's bat. It's one of the oldest teams in baseball, and key players have injury concerns. But if the flesh is willing, the division is weak.

4. San Diego Padres
2003 Finish: 64-98, 5th place.
Manager: Bruce Bochy (10th season, 694-746).
Ace: LHP David Wells (15-7, 4.14). Outspoken 40-year-old brings Yankees swagger to his home town, boldly predicting a winning season for a team that has finished in basement three of the past four years. He's scheduled to pitch first game at new Petco Park.
Best Young Arm: RHP Jake Peavy (12-11, 4.11) was Padres '03 leader in victories and strikeouts (156) and is only 22.
Closer: RHP Trevor Hoffman (38 saves, 2.73 in '02) is fifth on career saves list (352), but pitched just nine innings last season because of shoulder troubles. Last year's closer, Rod Beck (20 saves), is sidelined for undisclosed personal reasons.
Key Acquisition: C Ramon Hernandez (.273, 21 HR, 78 RBI with Athletics) brings stability behind the plate; five Padres catchers last season combined for seven HRs, 75 RBI.
Core Question: Can the Padres' top dogs do enough to stave off the inevitable Petco jokes?
Projected Finish: Fourth. Wells's mom ran with the Hells Angels. Hoffman enters to "Hells Bells." But hell hath no fury like fans watching a loser in a publicly financed stadium.

5. Colorado Rockies
2003 Finish: 74-88, 4th place.
Manager: Clint Hurdle (third season, 141-161).
Ace: RHP Jason Jennings (12-13, 5.11). LHP Shawn Estes (8-11, 5.73 with Cubs) gets the Opening Day start, but the ace nod goes to the 25-year-old Jennings, the NL rookie of the year in 2002 who has an impressive .739 winning percentage at Coors Field.
Best Young Arm: RHP Chin-hui Tsao (3-3, 6.02 in nine games) is considered one of the top prospects in baseball and, at 22, is in a battle for the No. 5 spot in rotation.
Closer: RHP Shawn Chacon (11-8, 4.60). Rockies have their fingers crossed that this starter-turned-closer, an NL all-star last year, is the next Gagne or Smoltz.
Key Acquisition: 2B Aaron Miles. The Rockies think enough of this career minor leaguer, acquired in a trade with the White Sox, that they cut veteran infielder Damian Jackson. Miles will bat leadoff.
Core Question: Can new blood on the pitching staff revitalize a listless franchise?
Projected Finish: Fifth. The Rockies last finished as high as third in 1997. Attendance is down and their ERA is way up -- otherwise the team seems to lack direction.

-- Steve Lewis

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