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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Braves Gunning for NL East Title

Pitching-rich Atlanta is the class of the new National League East while blue-collar Philadelphia and Montreal will battle for second place and probably the wild-card playoff berth. The Mets and Marlins will bring up the rear. Here is the National League East (in predicted order of finish):


Atlanta Braves


Manager: Bobby Cox.


1993 record: 104-58.


Finish: First in NL West.


No other team, now or in the last 10 years, could survive losing its left fielder (Ron Gant, 117 runs batted in) and his most promising rookie/successor (Chipper Jones) and still enter the season as a strong favorite to win a championship.


The Braves are so deep, and their starting pitching -- Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Steve Avery, John Smoltz -- is far superior to that of any other team, they will still prosper.


However, there are uncertainties, including:


?Center fielder Deion Sanders. How will he perform without a net, aka Otis Nixon?


?Catcher Javier Lopez. There seems to be no specific question about his readiness. But until he has played a full season, no one knows. Charlie O'Brien is an excellent understudy.


?The lack of right-handed power without Gant: Tony Tarasco and Ryan Klesko bat left-handed.


Montreal Expos


Manager: Felipe Alou.


1993 record: 94-68.


Finish: Second in NL East, three games behind.


The player most critical to the Expos' season again is a Martinez. Not departed Dennis, but Pedro, the right-handed starting pitcher imported from Los Angeles at great cost -- Delino DeShields.


The projected rotation made only 64 starts last season. So the middle relievers are accustomed to work. The Expos starters had the fourth-lowest ERA, 3.61, in the league last season. If that can be duplicated, the first National League wild-card team will be from Canada.


Their outfield, once Moises Alou is 100 percent again, is as good as any offensively and defensively.


Philadelphia Phillies


Manager: Jim Fregosi.


1993 record: 97-65.


Finish: First in NL East.


Wait till next month. Or maybe June. Not till then will we know enough about the Phillies. By then, Wes Chamberlain and Larry Andersen should be back from arthroscopic knee surgeries and John Kruk should have recovered fully and had time to polish his skills.


The bigger question will be Norm Charlton. If his shoulder allows him to pitch effectively, the Phillies have a chance to compete with the Braves and Expos. If Doug Jones and ex-Yank Bobby Munoz are the closers, well, they may actually miss the Wild Thing in Philly -- and the wild-card, too.


New York Mets


Manager: Dallas Green.


1993 record: 59-103.


Finish: Seventh, 38 games behind.


While losing 103 games last season, the Mets did almost everything poorly. They enter this season with no discernible strength except for possibly outfield defense and second base. But, recent deals for surehanded infielders David Segui at first and Jose Vizcaino at short immeasurably improve the infield defense and the top of the batting order.


The rotation is the second most experienced in the division. The rest of the bullpen is liable to be a liability.


Florida Marlins


Manager: Rene Lachemann.


1993 record: 64-98.


Finish: Sixth, 33 games behind.


One day short of the first anniversary of Florida baseball, the Marlins appear to be only slightly better than the team that debuted last April. They have two dominant players in Gary Sheffield, now a right fielder and closer Bryan Harvey.


But their starting pitching still is painfully thin, the bullpen is thinner (after Harvey) and their best defensive player of a year ago, shortstop Walt Weiss, is gone, leaving the most critical infield position to rookie Kurt Abbott.


(Newsday, LAT)