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Spring Training
March 6, 2003

Spring Training is under way and The Commish has a few thoughts on what lies ahead:

- While the AL Central may produce the best divisional race between the Twins and the White Sox, neither team will compete in the playoffs.  There are too many holes in both squads to be taken seriously as a pennant winner.

- With much of the NL East improving in the offseason, the losses are going to have to come from somewhere.  Look for Montreal (Puerto Rico?) to fall by the wayside earlier than normal and go from 2nd to last in the division.

- With Texas improving in the A.L. West, the Yankees should have no problem securing the American League's best record while the A.L. West winner (my pick:  Oakland) will fall a few games short simply because of tougher divisional competition.  Baltimore and Tampa Bay make 100 wins not just a goal for the Yankees, but an expectation.

- The Braves may have to extend Maddux a little later in games this year compared to 2002 because of a weakened bullpen.  Last year, Cox had the luxury of removing Maddux as early as the 6th inning even in his good outings so he could rest his nagging injuries.  With the loss of Remlinger, Hammond, Spooneybarger, etc., Maddux will be counted on to finish the 7th inning a few more times this year before Roberto Hernandez (or another setup man) hands it over to Smoltz.

- The Dan Patrick Show recently discussed the Cubs' chances this year and Rob Dibble was predicting between 90 - 100 wins, but then retracted slightly and said that they wouldn't reach 95 victories.  This is a team that LOST 95 games last year, and there doesn't seem to be much change in the N.L. Central except a slight decline in the Cardinals but a slight improvement in Houston.  Even at 90 wins, that would be a 23 win jump from last year.  What did the Cubs do in the offseason to gain 23 wins?  They improved their bullpen and changed managers.  Every other move they made was offset by an equally useless move.  They dumped McGriff and Hundley but added Grudzielanek and Karros.  They lost Jason Bere and Jon Lieber through injuries and free agency but added Shawn Estes, a lefty starter who posted a 5.10 ERA last year with a 5-12 record.  Damian Miller will help behind the plate, but he faded down the stretch with an aggravated back.  A good bullpen and a smart catcher might earn them a few extra victories this year, but I find it hard to believe that Dusty Baker and or any acquisition can make up the other 20 wins necessary for a 90 win season.  Pencil them in for 75-80 wins, just shy of the .500 mark.