BASEBALL 2002 NL WEST

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Arizona Diamondbacks

Manager: Bob Brenly

2001 record: 92-70 (first)

What's new in 2002: This is a clear case of if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The Diamondbacks are the reigning world champions, so it should come as no surprise that they made relatively few changes in the roster that got their first title. They did add former Texas Rangers pitching ace Rick Helling, who should help flesh out a strong rotation, and fourth outfielder Jose Guillen, who has been vying for more playing time with a strong spring performance.

On the spot: The man on the spot might be manager Bob Brenly, who found himself under a microscope during the postseason last year - until the D'backs staged a stunning comeback in the final two games of the World Series against the New York Yankees. His club is supposed to win, but the loss of power-hitting outfielder Reggie Sanders (33 home runs) to the rival Giants and a severe spring injury to third baseman Matt Williams has leveled the divisional playing field.

Where they'll be in October: Barring an injury to one of their cornerstone pitching aces, the Diamondbacks should make it back to the playoffs.

Colorado Rockies

Manager: Buddy Bell

2001 record: 73-89 (fifth)

What's new in 2002: Everything. General manager Dan O'Dowd has a penchant for broad off-season strokes, and last winter was no exception. The Rockies have 11 players on the 40-man roster who finished the 2001 season in other organizations. O'Dowd picked up former New York Mets third baseman Todd Zeile and outfielder Benny Agbayani. He also picked up pitchers Dennys Reyes, Todd Jones and Rick White and catcher Tony Eusebio. It wasn't quite the overhaul that O'Dowd pulled off in his first off-season here, but it was enough to make the Rockies an unknown quantity in the NL West.

On the spot: Big leads regularly disappear into the thin air at Coors Field, making it difficult for quality pitchers to live up to their advance billing. Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle earn a combined $25 million a year, and they were a combined two games over .500 last season.

Where they'll be in October: Larry Walker and Todd Helton give them a puncher's chance to compete for a wild-card berth, but don't hold your breath.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Manager: Jim Tracy

2001 record: 86-76 (third)

What's new in 2002: There was a new atmosphere at Dodgertown this spring following several years of controversy at both the field and front office level. The Dodgers are trying to reclaim their winning legacy after struggling through the volatile Kevin Malone era and putting up with the various mood swings of superstar Gary Sheffield. Outfielder Brian Jordan and pitcher Odalis Perez were acquired for Sheffield, which means that the club will have less firepower and more pitching depth. If they ever get all their starting pitchers healthy at the same time, they'll be dangerous.

On the spot: Big-money starter Kevin Brown, who is coming off surgery and probably will not be 100 percent on Opening Day - though he's still scheduled to be the Opening Day starter. He was limited to just 20 starts by elbow soreness last year, but still proved to be overpowering (10-4, 2.65). The Dodgers will need a strong wire-to-wire performance from Brown to contend.

Where they'll be in October: If the rotation is sound, the Dodgers should be good for a playoff round.

San Diego Padres

Manager: Bruce Bochy

2001 record: 79-83 (fourth)

What's new in 2002: The Padres made one big deal during the off-season, acquiring pitcher Brett Tomko, infielder Ramon Vasquez and catcher Tom Lampkin from the Seattle Mariners for catcher Ben Davis, infielder Alex Arias and pitching prospect Wascar Serrano. Tomko adds some depth to a so-so starting rotation and Vasquez is a decent prospect, but otherwise, this is largely the same team that finished four games under .500 last year.

On the spot: Manager Bruce Bochy was the best manager you never heard of when he led the Padres to the NL West title in 1998, but the Padres have finished fourth or fifth in each of the past three seasons. No one is delivering any ultimatums, but his job won't be safe if the Padres head any further south, which is a distinct possibility with their thin roster.

Where they'll be in October: Come playoff time, the Padres almost certainly will be able to give their full attention to their NFL Rotisserie teams.

San Francisco Giants

Manager: Dusty Baker

2001 record: 90-72 (second)

What's new in 2002: The Giants snatched 33 home runs out of the lineup of the defending world champion Diamondbacks when they signed power-hitting outfielder Reggie Sanders. He had 33 homers and 90 RBIs in just 441 at-bats last season, offensive numbers that will look pretty good in a Giants lineup that already includes home run king Barry Bonds and - as soon as his wrist heals - former MVP Jeff Kent. The Giants also added infielder David Bell and Japanese outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo, along with relievers Manny Aybar and Jay Witasick.

On the spot: Kent, whose broken wrist apparently was the result of a motorcycle accident instead of a freak car-washing fall. The injury and apparent deception could hurt his standing with the organization, but he figures to return quickly and reassume his usual role as the second-best hitter in the Giants' lineup.

Where they'll be in October: If Kent and closer Robb Nen come back quickly from their spring injuries and Bonds doesn't fall off the planet after last year's record-breaking home run total, the Giants should take the Diamondbacks to the wire.

The staffs

D'backs

Rotation rank: 1

Bullpen rank: 2

Skinny: The first two guys in the rotation are almost a lock to combine for 40 wins, which is quite a head start on the rest of the division. The bullpen is solid, too, if closer Byung-Hyun Kim can ever forget the World Series.

Giants

Rotation rank: 3

Bullpen rank: 1

Skinny: The rotation is solid, despite the trade that sent Shawn Estes to Mets. Big issue is in the bullpen, where closer Robb Nen has been hampered by a spring ankle sprain.

Dodgers

Rotation rank: 2

Bullpen rank: 4

Skinny: The Dodgers figure to have a starter surplus if everyone ever gets healthy, but the closer situation figures to be an on-going experiment.

Padres

Rotation rank: 4

Bullpen rank: 3

Skinny: The winningest starter last year - Kevin Jarvis - was 12-11, but the rotation is not without potential. Look out for Adam Eaton. Bullpen depth isn't a big strength, but at least the Padres have a healthy, productive closer.

Rockies

Rotation rank: 5

Bullpen rank: 5

Skinny: This might be an better-than-average pitching staff in expansive Comerica Field, but not in Denver. The Rockies buffed up the bullpen with Todd Jones, who is about to find out that pitching statistics really are relative. -Peter Schmuck

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