2005-04-08 / Sports

Cardinals Look For Repeat In National League Preview

By Denis Gorman Sports Columnist

By Denis Gorman
Sports Columnist

The grass is freshly cut. The pitchers’ mound is in place. White chalk runs from home plate to the outfield walls. The infield dirt hasn’t been trampled by very large men running at a high rate of speed yet.

It’s time for baseball.

Following one of the most incredible post seasons ever witnessed, the 2005 season will debut under the specter of steroids. Who’s taking? Who has stopped taking? Has Jason Giambi lost a lot of weight?

But, that’s not all. Will the formerly cursed Boston Red Sox repeat as World Series champions? Can the Yankees find a way to shrug off their monumental collapse in the American League Championship Series?

Where will the New Mets of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez finally overthrow the Atlanta Braves and win their first division title since 1988?

We here at The Wave think we have an idea how the 2005 season will play out, and we’ve decided to share it with you, our dear readers. Without any further ado:

National League:

N.L. East: The division has been the Braves playpen for the last 13 years. And, as has been the been the case during the Bobby Cox/John Schuerholz regime, Atlanta was active in the off-season, trading for pitchers Tim Hudson and Danny Kolb. In most years, that would be enough to cede the division to Ted Turner’s team.

However, the rest of the division has improved. The Marlins signed slugger Carlos Delgado and left-handed starter Al Leiter as free agents, adding to Team Sport Fishing’s collection of talent. The Mets made the biggest splash, signing outfielder Carlos Beltran and legendary right-hander Pedro Martinez, along with trading for 1B Doug Mientkiewicz. Ed Wade did the only thing he could when he fired Larry Bowa. That alone should make the underachieving Phillies better. The former Expos moved to Washington, which was their best move. RFK Stadium will be a better pitchers’ park than Olympic Stadium.

Our pick: This is the best division in baseball, bar none. Four of the five teams can make legitimate argument as to why they should be division champs. That said, we feel that the “New Mets” will mesh quickly behind Carlos Beltran’s all-around brilliance and Pedro Martinez’s right arm. The Braves, for the first time in their history, will be a Wild Card team.

N.L. Central: Going into last season, most experts thought Houston and the Cubs would battle for the division, with the Cardinals on their heels. However, someone forgot to let the Cards know, as they ran away with the division, winning it by 13 games.

After the Cards’ lack of pitching was exposed by the Red Sox in the World Series, GM Walt Jocketty quickly went out and added a stopper to the rotation, trading for Mark Mulder. That should be enough to guarantee another October for St. Louis.

Our pick : Mark Mulder. Albert Pujols. Scott Rolen. Larry Walker. Jim Edmonds. Tony LaRussa. Jason Isringhausen. It’s the Cards’ division and it won’t be close.

N.L. West: The division that boasts the sport’s best player, best closer and best young team. This will be the most interesting division to watch. Three teams (Giants, Dodgers and Padres) will battle for the division and the last playoff berth in the National League.

With Barry Bonds, the Giants rival the Yankees as baseball’s biggest road show. Without him, they’re a very old team with one very good pitcher (Jason Schmidt) and not much else. And the Giants will be without Bonds for (at the very least) the first half of the season. If he comes back in June, he could power San Francisco to the top of the division. If he takes the year off, they’ll battle Colorado and Arizona to stay out of the division basement.

There’s no better closer in baseball that Eric Gagne. There’s no worse offense in baseball than the Dodgers. Somehow, they scraped enough runs together to win the division by two games last year.

San Diego has everything a team could wish for. Great pitching. Speed. Defense. Solid hitting. Their only drawback is their youth. Can they overcome teams that have playoff experience?

Our pick: San Diego. It’s their time.

National League award winners:

Champion: St. Louis Cardinals

MVP: Scott Rolen, Cardinals

Cy Young: Pedro Martinez, Mets

Rookie of the Year: Gavin Floyd, Phillies.

Manager of the Year: Willie Randolph, Mets

Our American League preview will be out next week.

National League Predictions

National League East

Mets: 99-63

Braves: 97-65 (Wild Card)

Marlins: 95-67

Phillies: 90-72

Nationals: 80-82

National League Central:

Cardinals: 102-60

Cubs: 90-62

Astros: 88-64

Reds: 85-67

Pirates: 82-80

Brewers: 74-88

National League West:

Padres: 93-69

Giants: 90-72

Dodgers: 89-73

Rockies: 70-92

Diamondbacks: 65-97

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