Bonesville: The Authoritative Independent Voice of East Carolina
Daily News & Features from East Carolina, Conference USA and Beyond

Mobile Alpha Roundup Daily Beat Recruiting The Seasons Multimedia Historical Data Pirate Time Machine SportByte™ Weather

SportByte©: "A perfect pitcher is an impossible concept, as long as major league hitters remain capable of hitting perfect pitches." — Bob Gibson, Hall of Fame baseball player — [Archives]

East Carolina Hall of Famer and
former baseball coach Keith LeClair.
 (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

Dig into Keith LeClair's Bonesville archives...

Send Coach LeClair a baseball question...
Send Coach LeClair a personal note...

Editor's note: This feature
coordinated by Denny O'Brien.


From The Dugout

By Keith LeClair

National League Preview

Two weeks ago when I shared my American League picks, I got slammed on a few of my choices, but that's the whole fun of going out on a rope and making some wild predictions. I could just listen to Peter Gammons and follow his picks, but where is the fun in that?

I wonder how many so-called NFL experts picked the Carolina Panthers to be in the Super Bowl this past year, so if I make you upset with any of my picks, wait until the seasons over before you grill me.

Just kidding.

If you disagree, give me your best shot. Actually, I like hearing different view points and opinions. Without that, we would all never learn more than what we think we already know. So, here are my wild and crazy picks for the National League.

NL East

1. Philadelphia Phillies: I have my reservations on this division and who will end in first at the end of September. All the talk is on the Phillies, with the acquisition of closer Billy Wagner from Houston, but I still don't believe their starting pitching is all that great. They have Millwood, Wolfe, Padilla, Milton and Myers, who are all quality, but are still going to give up some runs. With all that said, Pat Burrell will be key to the Phillies' hopes of winning a divisional title. If he can come back and put up the numbers he did two years ago, I think this will give the Phillies a huge boost in winning the division. If not, and they falter at the beginning, Larry Bowa may be replaced by the All-Star break. I really don't see anybody in this division giving them a challenge, except for the Marlins and their young powerful arms.

2. Florida Marlins: They took a blow this off-season, losing Derek Lee, Ivan Rodriguez and their horses out of the pen in Looper and Urbina. With all those losses, they are counting on their pitching staff to carry the load and keep the Marlins in a lot of close games. That will put a lot of pressure on newly acquired closer Amando Benitez, who has a powerful arm that throws in the mid-to-upper nineties, but has been very inconsistent closing out games. Nobody plays better fundamental baseball than the Marlins, and if Miguel Cabrera turns into the superstar everybody believes he will, the Marlins have a shot. If not for the loss of Rodriguez behind the plate, I would have given them the edge over the Phillies.

3. Braves/Mets, take your pick: I will go with the Braves, simply because they have Bobby Cox in their dugout and John Smoltz in the pen. Other than that, it's a toss up. The Braves are in a cost-cutting, rebuilding mode and the reign of the 90s and 2000s I am afraid to say is over. I heard John Scherholtz make an interesting statement. He said, if we can't win championships through division titles, let's try the wild card route. That's what your going to see from the Braves over the next few years and they certainly have the farm system to make it possible. It wouldn't ever shock me to see the Braves make another run at a division title this year, but if that happens, some no-name guys will have to fill some awfully big shoes, now that Sheffield, Lopez, and Maddux are all in different uniforms. Look for names like Adam Laroche, Johnny Estrada and Mark DeRosa to step in and fill the losses, along with acquired right fielder J.D. Drew.

4. New York Mets: The Mets are an improved team over last year, but they still have a long way to go. They have a starting rotation with Glavine, Leiter and Trachsel, but the bad news is they already have hit their prime. I like the move in getting Mike Cameron in the off-season to help improve their defense and give the offense a little added speed. They have moved Mike Piazza to first base, in hopes that he can stay healthy and regain his offensive numbers of a few years back. Taking over at short is Kazuo Matsui, signed out of Japan, who people are sky high on and think is going to be a great player. The Mets are headed in the right direction, especially having Art Howe leading the ship. I will say the Mets will make some noise this year and with a good off-season contend in 2005. Who knows, if Glavine, Leiter and Trachsel put up big numbers and the Mets' defense plays better than the Bad News Bears, maybe — and that is a maybe — they can compete for a division title this year. Sorry Coach Herenda, that was an April Fool's joke.

5. Montreal Expos/whoever wants them: I truly admire their courage and how competitive they have been in the past, but this off-season did me in. Guerrero gone. Vasquez gone. And whomever has the chance to be a solid player, once they become a free agent — gone. With all that said, I give Frank Robinson credit, he gets those guys to play hard and compete year in and year out. I assume the same will be true this year, as every year they just seem to reload with guys brought up through their system. Who knows, if the Phillies get the injury bug and the Marlins stumble on offense, maybe a team slightly over .500 can win this division — like the Expos.

NL Central

1. Houston Astros: I am going with Houston for a couple different reasons: One, I fear that the Cubs' Mark Prior's arm may give him problems and that would be a horrific blow to the them. It's so cold in Chicago during the first part of the season that I truly believe it affects guys in the long run when it comes to tender arms. That's not scientific, just my personal opinion from coaching in the mountains. I know when I was coaching at Western Carolina, our throwing program at times would be dictated on the temperature outside and I had to bring guys along a little more slowly. I bet it is really tough on the staff coming out of Arizona for spring training and then opening up in Chicago, where temps could be below freezing. Two, I like the fact that Pettite and Clemens are coming over from the AL into the NL where guys have not faced them much. This should give them an advantage, especially early in the year. This will be one of the best divisional races in all of baseball this year. If the Astros can replace the loss of Billy Wagner, and Bagwell, Biggio and Berkman can put up solid offensive numbers, I think they will win the division. I just hope the Cubs fans don't egg my house on this pick.

2. Chicago Cubs: The most dangerous team in baseball, especially with acquisitions of Derek Lee and Greg Maddux. But something inside me just thinks they could have some potential arm problems before the season ends. The tenderness in Mark Prior's elbow and shoulder that will keep him out until early May concerns me, even though doctors have given him a clean bill of health. I think if the Cubbies can get through April, May and June with a healthy staff and into the dog days of August and September, watch out, because that's when the power arms begin to take over and dominate. And we all know that the Cubs have the most powerful arms in all of baseball, without question. Another factor to weigh in during this race that very few people mention, is the Cubs have a very good hitting pitching staff, versus the two newcomers from Houston coming over from the AL. With all that said, I truly predict the Astros to win the division in a tight race that will go down to the final days. But Cubs fans, don't get too down, because the wild card is yours and the last three wild card teams won the World Series, so this could be the year we hear Harry Carey ringing out from heaven, "Holy cow the Cubs win, the Cubs win!"

3. St. Louis Cardinals: The sleeper pick if you have any guts, but without pitching I can't see it happening. If the Cardinals can hit their way into contention and some teams fall out of the race early, expect to see the Cardinals go after a couple of frontline arms and push both the Cubs and Astros to the end. This team is scary offensively with Edmonds, Pujols and Rolen back-to-back-to-back in the lineup. If I had to pick one player to start a franchise today, it would be Albert Pujols. The guy can flat out hit, period. Don't be shocked if the men in red put together a great run and knock off one of the favorites and take over the wild card spot. Especially if somehow their pitching can keep them in ball games and just give Tony LaRussa a chance to manage late in games.

4. The last three flip a coin. OK, I will go with Pittsburg because I know their GM Dave Littlefield, and he is a great guy who is a very sharp baseball man. Pittsburg is building from the ground up with its farm system and trades. I personally don't know a lot about their players, other than Jason Kendall, the sausage beater Randall Simon, and Kris Benson, but I do know they have some very talented young guys on the way. Like all young teams, they will hang around a couple of months and tease you, but by September, they will be 20 games back. A fourth place finish would mean a lot to this organization for the future, and I predict in three years Pittsburg will be in the playoffs.

5. Cincinnati Reds: Why, because I was a Big Red Machine fan growing up and loved Sparky Anderson. Unfortunately, they are about the distance from Mars to Earth in becoming another Big Red Machine. I must say with Jerry Narron as their bench coach, I hope they shock the world and win it all.

6. Milwaukee Brewers: Anybody that has sausage races during a game and a mascot who slides down into a giant-sized mug after a home run to entertain fans is my pick to finish last. I have some great news. Bud Selig sold the team and saved a bunch of money switching his car insurance to Geico, so any Brewers fan out their, help is on the way. In all seriousness, the Brewers have done a great job in the draft the past few years and have some exciting new players on the way. In fact, their farm system is supposedly loaded and ready. 2008 is not out of the question.

NL West

1. Arizona Diamondbacks: I can't ever go against one of my former players and Pirate greats in Chad Tracy, who we all are pulling for to make the 25-man roster this spring. Plus, with a healthy Randy Johnson and some talented young arms, this team is primed and ready to go. Add Richie Sexton to the offense and a healthy Louis Gonzalez, and put them in a sub-par division, and there you have it. Not to mention a youngster by the name of Chad Tracy, who is being compared to Wade Boggs by his teammates. Only question I have, and it's a big one: Who will be the closer? Matt Mantei is recovering slowly from surgery and has not had a great spring training, so this leaves the closing role to bullpen by committee, which I am not a big fan of. With question marks about Jason Schmidt and Rob Nen of the Giants, I anticipate the D-backs to bounce back and win the division, even without Curt Schilling, who is playing now for the classy Boston Red Sox.

2. San Francisco Giants: If Schmidt is healthy and Barry can find a new supplier (just kidding) the Giants will repeat as division champions. With Schmidt healthy, it gives the Giants such a different look to their whole pitching staff. You may ask how one guy can do this. Very easy, he is a twenty-game winner and has, in my view, the best stuff in baseball, which allows the rest of your staff to match up accordingly to other teams. Can Barry do it again? Only if he gets some protection in the lineup so teams pitch to him. If not, he will continue to get walked at another record pace. Prediction: No roids, no Schmidt, no division title.

3. San Diego Padres: I like what they did in the off-season, acquiring catcher Roberto Hernandez from Oakland and signing David Wells to surround some good young arms. This is my sleeper pick if closer Trevor Hoffman returns to his old self and can dominate the ninth inning. The offense should be solid with Brian Giles, Ryan Klesko and the young up-and-coming guys Sean Burroughs and former Clemson star Khalil Greene. This is a team to watch, especially if Wells can have a big year for them in the number one role.

4. Colorado and the LA Dodgers: Do I dare pick Colorado? Only because they have Todd Helton and Larry Walker, two of my favorite hitters to watch and the Dodgers can not hit.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers: I am sorry Dodgers fans, but not only can they not hit, their starting pitching is suspect. Hey, don't get too down. A filthy rich owner just bought them out and you have the best closer in the game, with Greg Gagne. So, keep your chins up and be patient, for the Dodgers will be back. As Governor Schwarzenegger says, "I'll be back..," hopefully sooner rather than later.

That's all folks, my eye is getting tired.

If you have a question or comment about the Pirates in particular or baseball in general, fire your best pitch at Ol' Condo: Sound off to Coach LeClair...

Submit baseball questions to:
Send personal messages to:

02.23.07 10:27 AM


©2001-2002-2003-2004-2005-2006-2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012-2013 All rights reserved.
Articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files and other content originated on this site are the proprietary property of
None of the articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files or other content originated on this site may be reproduced without written permission.
This site is not affiliated with East Carolina University. View's Privacy Policy. Advertising contact: 252-349-3280; Editorial contact:; 252-444-1905.