As Sam Sees It

The Major League baseball season is not very old, but there are some interesting trends developing. Of course, this is a sport where a team can be hot in April and as cold as a Siberian blizzard in July.

The Arizona Diamondbacks look a lot like a .500 ball club in the early going. In the National League Western Division, that isn't necessarily bad. There is not really a team in that division that looks much better than a .500 team. Not much better than that could net a division title.

The team which has made the biggest improvement over last season's start would be the Colorado Rockies. Except for those I have indoctrinated with articles about Colorado centerfielder Cory Sullivan and his Winslow connections and first baseman Todd Helton, not many of the Rockies are household names. Still, this team dug itself deeply into the cellar during April last season and never recovered. They haven't run away from the rest of the division, but a series sweep in San Diego and a series win in Arizona argue well for that their improvement is real.

The Diamondbacks got quite a bit better pitching in their first several series than was expected, but it will be a surprise if that lasts. The guess here is that Brandon Webb will be a very reliable number one starter. Miguel Batista will also be a very dependable starter and is versatile enough to work some in relief if needed. Claudio Vargas isn't listed as the number three guy, but don't be surprised if he proves he should be. The total absence of a left-hander on the staff is likely to spell trouble, though the bull pen has been a very pleasant surprise.

The team is not hitting anywhere near as well as expected. Craig Counsell, Chad Tracy and Conor Jackson did most of the damage early, though Gonzo (Luis Gonzalez) was hitting the ball better than his average showed. Just as the pitching is likely to level off and not be quite as good as it looked in the first two weeks, the hitting is likely to improve. All in all, that would mean the team could be a contender in a weak division. That is not bad, baseball fans, not bad at all.

This looks like the year the Atlanta Braves don't win the National League Eastern Division. The New York Mets went all out to improve their team and it is already paying dividends. The Philadelphia Phillies could challenge there, too, but my guess is that the Mets will take the East.

The St. Louis Cardinals look like the cream of the National League and not just the Central Division. Houston may have something to say about who wins this division as could the Chicago Cubs. Juan Pierre is one of those players who can ignite a team and don't be surprised if he does just that with the Cubs.

Throw a blanket over the teams in the National League Western Division, though. The Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies are probably all capable of winning this division. Don't expect to see them win a play-off series, though.

Next week, I will take a look at the American League.

Hopefully, Winslow sports fans noticed the article in the April 14 edition of The Arizona Republic on Winslow High School senior softball player Brianna Conatser. Brianna is more than a star athlete. She is an exceptional student who will earn her college scholarship in academics and one who is involved in an amazing variety of activities.

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