Saturday, July 28, 2001

A Look at the NL--Can Barry Bonds Be Stopped? by Steve Reynolds

The Phillies are in first place.

Okay, take a deep breath and let that sentence sink in.

In fact, maybe you should sit down before you faint.

Yes friends, as of May 31st, 2001, the Phillies have the best record in the senior circuit, and lead the Braves—yes, the ATLANTA BRAVES—by six and a half games. The Phillies lead the NL Champion Mets by 12 games. Perhaps the apocalypse is upon us. Can anyone remember the last time the Phils led their division by this much? (Okay, its 1993, I looked it up.) Why are the perennial underachievers winning this year? Could new manager Larry Bowa be this much of a factor? To quote the magic eight ball, all signs point to yes. Bowa was a scrapper (and a dick) as a player, and these Phils seem to have taken on his personality, always finding a way to win. The Curt Shilling trade, which looked like one of the best steals in recent memory, has evened out. Schilling is thriving in Arizona, while Omar Daal has returned to his 1999 Arizona 16-game winner form.

So how does this sudden turnaround bode for the rest of this season? Let’s grab the magic eight ball and look.

NL East: PhilliesWhy would I believe in this team to win the division? Because it seems the Braves and the Mets have reached the inevitable decline that playoff-bound teams must endure. The Braves decline is traced to one factor—they’re now officially owned by AOL, which cancels out Ted Turner’s magic tomahawk voodoo. The Mets just seem to have gotten really old really fast. Sure Mike Piazza will end up with his 35 home runs and 100 RBI by the end of the season, but Todd Zeile and Edgardo Alfonzo seem to playing with sandbags around their legs. (And the words Steve Trachsel make me fly off the handle. The biggest loser in the big leagues gets sent to the minors, and pitches a seven inning no hitter. And this jackass has the balls to say he was keeping the game ball because, “I don’t care what level you’re at, it’s still something a lot of guys haven’t done.” Well Steve, if it had been a nine-inning game, I bet you would have given up a couple of home runs before it was over.) Only Rick Reed and Tsuyoshi Shinjo are playing at a high level. I admit, I hope I am very, very wrong and that the Mets turn it around and blow past the Phillies and Braves, but it’s a difficult task when a third of the season has gone by and you’re nine games under .500. As for the Expos, they only play well against the Mets, but only 17 wins in a season will get you so far. (And got Felipe Alou fired.)

The hard luck guy of the year is ex-Marlins manager John Boles. Saddled with expectations for the season that were just way too high for the kids he had on the team, Boles got burned after Dan “I have a right to complain even though I’m 0 and 5” Miceli ripped the coaching staff. “They don't make the right moves in the right situations. From the pitching coach to the manager to the assistant manager,” Miceli said. He added, “There are grown men in this locker room who have worked their whole lives to get to the big leagues, and they're not getting the right type of instruction from the staff. Stupid moves.” We don’t count Miceli as one of the grown men.

NL Central: Cardinals, Cubs (wildcard)

Again, I am jumping out on a limb by saying the Cubs will go this far. But I just have the gut feeling that the Cubs are going to make the post-season again. Don Baylor is not a loser, and the team made some nice pick-ups during the off season to fill gaps. The pitching seems to have solidified, and the team isn’t relying on Sammy Sosa to hit a home run every game. The Cards have won without Mark McGwire so far this year, so his return should give the team an emotional and power lift to easily take this division. The Astros and Pittsburgh have their new ballparks, but don’t have the talent this year to stay above the .500 mark. And the Reds are just awful, even worse than the Mets this year, which is saying a lot. All the “homecoming” money they poured into Ken Griffey Jr. has got them nothing but a mediocre club, even when a third of the roster wasn’t on the DL.

NL West: Giants

To quote ESPN’s Dan Patrick, Barry Bonds is “en fuego.” 28 home runs in 53 games is a pace that he probably won’t keep up, but won’t it be fun to watch him try? Jeff Kent won the MVP last year when the Giants won their division—this year Bonds will win his fourth MVP when the Giants repeat.

My favorite quote about the Dodgers:

"If Karros was in a race with a pregnant girl, he'd finish third." —Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner after slow-footed Dodgers OF Eric Karros legged out a double in a game.

The Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Padres and Rockies have all been surprises this year—because all of them are winning. This could be the most exciting divisional race in years. But in the end, the Giants should outclass this division pretty easily.

NL Champion:

The Cards and Giants both have the talent to go to the series, but I’ll go with the Cards due to their solid pitching depth. In either case, they’ll lose to this year’s juggernaut, the Mariners.

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