No Asterisks, Please

Handicapping the races in baseball's first full season since 1993.

If the Dodgers falter, look for the Padres to take advantage. Their young rotation might be even better than the Dodgers', if less heralded. Andy Ashby, for example, posted the NL's third-lowest ERA at 2.94, but no one noticed because awful run support saddled Ashby with a 12-10 record. Then there was Joey Hamilton, who really had bad luck. His 3.08 ERA in 31 starts was outstanding, yet Hamilton lost nine games and won only six. He might triple his victory total this year. The outfield of Rickey Henderson, Steve Finley, and Tony Gwynn--assuming Henderson can stay in the lineup--looks pretty impressive on paper. The Padres, by the way, are in a similar situation as the Mariners were a year ago: If they don't win something, it could be their last season in San Diego.

1996 Baseball Myth #1 (with a bullet): The Colorado Rockies are a great-hitting team, but they need to improve their pitching. Sounds logical. After all, the Rockies hit 200 homers and scored 785 runs, both marks topping the National League, and their pitchers finished with a league-worst 4.96 ERA. That, friends, is one of the best examples in history of how much difference a ballpark can make. Coors Field, at least in its first season, looks like perhaps the best park for hitters in major league history. Last season the Colorado pitchers finished with a better road ERA (3.71) than did the vaunted Dodger staff (4.07). In fact, only the Braves had a better road ERA than the Rockies. And of course, it works both ways. Yes, the Rockies hitters were devastating at home, where they hit 134 homers. But on the road they hit only 66, and only the punchless Phillies and Cardinals scored fewer road runs than the Rockies (300). Believe it or not, the pitching is fine. Fact is, the Rockies won't be a consistently winning club until they score even more runs.

It's probably not fair to completely discount the San Francisco Giants, if only because Barry Bonds and Matt Williams are two of the top 10 hitters in the major leagues. But a rotation full of unproved youngsters--albeit ones with good arms--should keep the Giants from contending. It's a real shame, because people seem to already be discounting Bonds, who remains one of the more potent forces in the game. CP

Rob Neyer, a former assistant to Bill James and staffer at STATS INC., now toils on the ESPN website.

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