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Wedneday, January 11
Columbus Buckeyes

2001 record:
89-73 (.549); 3rd place in NL Central
Lost NL Wild Card series to Fleetwood in 5 games

Major additions:
1B John Olerud, 2B Ray Durham, RHP Kevin Tapani, OF Tony Gwynn, C Benito Santiago, RHP Sean Lowe, OF Jeremy Giambi

Major loses:
DH Brad Fullmer, RHP Mike Timlin, OF Stan Javier, 2B Ron Belliard, OF Brian Jordan, SS Ricky Gutierrez, OF Daryl Ward

2001 Review:
Things clicked for the Columbus Buckeyes in 2001. Both its offense (955 runs, 4th in NL) and its pitching (4.38 team ERA, 3rd in NL) were among the best the National League had to offer. This balanced attack earned Columbus a post-season berth in only its third season since its inception. Although it lost to division rival Fleetwood in the NL playoffs, the season was certainly an unqualified success.

Key performers for Columbus were OF Bobby Higginson (.312, 30 HR, 116 RBI), OF Richard Hidalgo (.288, 33 HR, 121 RBI) and especially LHP Randy Wolf (19-7, 3.79 ERA), who earned the NL Rookie of the Year Award with his amazing season.

2002 Outlook:
Due to a variety of reasons, the 2002 version of the Columbus Buckeyes will look a good deal different than last year’s playoff team. Gone are key players such as DH Brad Fullmer (.305, 23 HR, 78 HR with Columbus and North Georgia), SS Ricky Gutierrez (.275, 64 R, 11 HR) and RHP Mike Timlin (58 IP, 2.48 ERA, 31 SV).

New additions, though, are proven veterans like 1B John Olerud (.266, 10 HR, 82 RBI), 2B Ray Durham (.255, 14 HR, 29 SB) and OF Tony Gwynn (.302, 14 2B in only 129 AB). Columbus will count on all of them to bounce back from sub-par seasons in 2001, with only Gwynn being a large question mark due to his age and leg injuries. Should he be unable to play regularly, though, recent acquisition OF Jeremy Giambi is on hand to pick up the slack.

When these players are combined with Higginson, Hidalgo and 3B Scott Rolen (.310, 24 HR, 97 RBI), Columbus should have no problem scoring runs. Furthermore, young players like OF Carlos Beltran (.267, 11 HR, 46 RBI) and SS Jimmy Rollins (.367 in 49 AB) will inject enthusiasm into the otherwise veteran lineup.

Unfortunately, however, the Columbus pitching staff may be hard pressed to match its 2001 success. Bad luck has hit this off-season, as both LHP Jim Parque (14-9, 4.09 ERA) and LHP Mike Sirotka (8-13, 4.96 ERA) will miss the entire 2002 campaign due to shoulder injuries. In fact, it appears that only ace Randy Wolf will return from last year’s strong rotation.

On hand to help, though, are newly acquired pitchers such as RHP Kevin Tapani (20-6, 3.78 ERA), LHP Denny Neagle (12-8, 5.15 ERA), and RHP Masato Yoshii (5-12, 5.43 ERA). The Buckeyes will need both Tapani and Neagle to perform well again to replace the losses of Parque and Sirotka. Another key may be RHP Jeff Nelson (9-5, 3.20 ERA), who will likely be called upon to replace Mike Timlin as the team’s closer.

With its strong lineup, anything less than another playoff berth will be a disappointment for Columbus. To earn a spot in the BRASSball postseason, however, the Buckeyes will need its revamped pitching staff to once again approach its 2001 numbers.

Projected lineup
2B Ray Durham
CF Carlos Beltran
LF Bobby Higginson
3B Scott Rolen
1B John Olerud
RF Richard Hidalgo
DH Tony Gwynn
C Benito Santiago
SS Jimmy Rollins

Randy Wolf
Kevin Tapani
Denny Neagle
Masato Yoshii
Sean Lowe

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