In the National League, East-leading Atlanta, with starters Tom Glavine and Maddux back on track, will remain the class of the field while other contenders scramble for pitching. Bullpen-challenged Arizona strengthened itself last Friday by adding closer Matt Mantei in a trade with the Florida Marlins, but the San Francisco Giants' bullpen depth will give them an edge in the West.
In the Central, Houston will be a much stronger second-half team with the return from injuries of leftfielder Alou and third baseman Ken Caminiti. That will leave the Reds to battle the Diamondbacks, Mets and Phillies for the wild card. Philadelphia will end a streak of five-straight losing seasons since winning the pennant, a skid exceeded only by the 1919 to '33 Red Sox and the 1915 to '24 Philadelphia Athletics. The Mets, who must play their nemesis, Atlanta, six times in their final 12 games, will find for a third straight year that 88 wins aren't enough. The wild card will fall to the team with the best starting pitching, which will be Arizona, once Todd Stottlemyre returns from a shoulder injury.
Our crystal ball has been known to get opaque at times, making forecasting as difficult as figuring out what One Hour Martinizing actually is. Picking against pitching, though, is a clear mistake. In the World Series, the Braves are armed well enough to shut down even the mighty Indians in seven games.