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Who’s Going to Steal Our National League Pennant?

One of the charms of being a sports fan in this wonderful city of ours is the expectation that our teams should win the pennant every season: We spend the most money, after all! The New York Mets attempted to address their major concerns (bullpen … um, bullpen) in the off-season, but the rest of the National League likes to win too. Who’s most likely to swipe our pennant from its rightful owner (us)? Here’s a team-by-team look at the National League, with odds from on each team’s likelihood of stealing the National League pennant … and whether it’s worth putting down $100 on that happening.

Chicago Cubs: 3 to 1. We live in a universe in which the team that’s the class and envy of the National League is … the Chicago Cubs. The Small Bears have won two consecutive National League Central titles, but it hasn’t done them much good in the postseason: They’ve been swept in the first round twice in a row, by the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, respectively. More than any other team, the Cubs are going all-in: They brought in Milton Bradley, Aaron Miles, Kevin Gregg, and former Met Aaron Heilman to a team that already didn’t have any major holes. Still, the team is aging quickly (Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, and Carlos Zambrano are on the downside of their careers), and they’re counting a lot on guys like Bradley and Rich Harden whose bodies tend to crumble when faced with a particularly gusty wind. The Cubs have little depth, and if injuries conspire against them, Cubs fans won’t have to worry about having their hearts broken in October again this year — they won’t make it that far. Good bet? No.

Philadelphia Phillies: 5 to 1. Last year the question we’d always wondered was answered: If the Phillies won the World Series, famously self-loathing Philadelphians would not lament losing their status as Angry Scary Fans and simply enjoy the title instead. The Phillies didn’t change their World Series–winning lineup much, swapping out Pat Burrell for Raul Ibanez and hoping the goodwill and talent from last year carries over. There are some question marks — Chase Utley and Cole Hamels aren’t 100 percent healthy, and the rotation outside of Hamels and Brett Myers isn’t exactly overpowering — but this is a team that looks a lot like the Mets: A core of superstars (Utley, Hamels, Brad Lidge, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins), little bench depth, a potentially shaky rotation, and a solid bullpen. The main difference is that the Phillies are coming off a World Series title, and the Mets are coming off … well, you know. Good bet? Yes.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 7 to 1. The Dodgers were already slight favorites to win the National League West before they wrapped up Manny Ramirez for two seasons. Now they might run away with the division. The rotation has some potentially weak spots, and the bullpen roles aren’t yet settled, but this lineup is stacked, top to bottom. If Manny decides he cares this year, he could knock in 150 runs, even in that ballpark. The Dodgers could deal for a pitcher or two if they decide they need one, but right now, this team looks like the best one in the National League. And Joe Torre surely finds his new home a lot more relaxing than the Bronx. Good bet? Yes.

Arizona Diamondbacks: 8 to 1. All the young guys are growing up, and though the D-Backs aren’t stacked at every position like some had projected, this is still a team that has no major holes and a packed top-three rotation of Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, and Max Scherzer. They just don’t have any real superstars in the lineup — Justin Upton will be there someday, but not yet. While they ultimately seem to fall a couple of notches below the Dodgers, they may well be the team the Mets will be watching come September. They also have a hot tub and a pool beyond the outfield fence, which isn’t something we can say for either of our new stadiums. Good bet? No.

Atlanta Braves: 10 to 1. The Phillies have usurped the Braves’ spot as the Mets’ rival du jour; other than Chipper Jones, Bobby Cox, and Tom Glavine, it’s difficult to find any familiar faces from the rivalry’s halcyon glory days. Because they’re the Braves, many are bullish on the team this year even after some rough seasons, but it’s difficult to see why. The rotation has some innings-eaters but no stars, the bullpen is very shaky, and the lineup is a mix of the elderly (Garrett Anderson) and disappointing youth (Jeff Francoeur). If the Mets and Phillies face a challenge from within the division, it won’t be from here. Get your “LAR-RY! LAR-RY!” chants toward Chipper Jones in while you can. Good bet? No.

St. Louis Cardinals: 10 to 1. This could be Tony LaRussa’s last year in St. Louis — though it seems like they say that every year — and, like always, it’s Albert Pujols plus everybody else. That “everybody else” is more formidable than people think, though: Ryan Ludwick led all outfielders in slugging last year, Rick Ankiel has serious power and hasn’t killed anyone with an errant throw from center yet, and super prospect Colby Rasmus should finally be ready. The Cardinals will rise and fall on the arm of Chris Carpenter, though; if the former Cy Young winner can throw 200 innings at anything close to his peak level, St. Louis potentially has two aces (with Adam Wainwright). If the Cardinals can piece together a bullpen from young flamethrowers Jason Motte and Chris Perez (and resident fat guy Dennys Reyes), they could give the Cubs a serious run in the Central. (Note: Your author, a Cardinals fan, is completely biased.) Good bet? Yes.

Milwaukee Brewers: 17 to 1. Aces CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets are gone — and considering they led the team to their first postseason since 1982, it was worth having them around — but the Brewers still have Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, and Yovani Gallardo. It’ll be impossible to replace Sabathia and Sheets, but the Brewers have tons of young hitting talent, a new manager in Ken Macha, and general good vibes from last season. They’ll take a step back, but they’re at least the third-best team in their division and could surprise some people. Oh, and pick the chorizo in the sausage race. Good bet? Yes.

San Francisco Giants: 18 to 1. If the Giants had been a little more daring (and had a little more money), they could have made a run at Manny Ramirez and given this team a legitimate shot at the pennant. They certainly have the pitching: Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Randy Johnson, Jonathan Sanchez, and Barry Zito make up the best rotation in the league. Unfortunately, the Giants have nearly zilch in the lineup. Those five pitchers will keep them in every game, though, and if they can sneak into the playoffs, those hurlers would be terrifying for anyone to face. They just need some bats, or at least one halfway decent one. Manny might be off the market, but hey: Barry Bonds is available! Good bet? Yes.

Florida Marlins: 25 to 1. They have a new stadium coming in a few years, they have a treasure trove of young pitching, and they locked up superstar shortstop Hanley Ramirez for the next six years. The Marlins are coming, kids, and with the presumed payroll increases the new ballpark should provide, they’re going to be a pain for the rest of the NL East for the next few years. Give them until next year, though. When they’re called the Miami Marlins in a couple of years, maybe they’ll finally change the hideous colors on those uniforms. Good bet? No.

Cincinnati Reds: 30 to 1. Baseball is always a little better when the Reds are good; they’re a classic franchise, and Cincinnati is a baseball town desperate for something to cheer about. They’re not there yet, but the Reds are on their way, with young talent both on the mound and at the plate. Still, you have to wonder what that bandbox of a stadium is going to do to young pitchers Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey, who still has whiplash from his brief time in the big leagues last year. Plus, old-school manager Dusty Baker — famous for his “too many base runners clog up the bases” line — is a disaster waiting to happen. But keep an eye on these guys just in case. Good bet? Yes.

Colorado Rockies: 30 to 1. It has only been a year and a half since this team made its mad dash to the World Series, only to be summarily executed by the Red Sox in four games. It seems a lot longer because there’s not much left to be excited about here. And ever since they starting putting the baseballs in a humidor to cut down on all the home runs (slightly), it’s not even as much fun to watch games in this pinball machine anymore. Good bet? No.

Houston Astros: 40 to 1. Every year, the Astros batten down the hatches and make One Last Run with their veteran core, and every year they fall short. With a desperately thin farm system and no rotation outside of the graying Roy Oswalt, the next Last Run will be to stave off the Reds for fourth place in the NL Central. Exciting! Good bet? No.

San Diego Padres: 50 to 1. When billionaire former owner John Moores and his wife split up, the California nuptial laws meant that his assets were cut in half. One of those assets was the Padres, which is why the team slashed costs and is still trying to trade ace Jake Peavy. They have a new owner now, but it won’t be in time. Treat your spouses right, owners. Good bet? No.

Washington Nationals: 65 to 1. The Nats are improved — new first baseman Adam Dunn seems destined to break Mets fans’ hearts with a ninth-inning homer at Citi Field at some point this year — but they still have a long, long way to go. Plus, for a team that just came to town and therefore was starting fresh, they seem to have no fans. It’s still pretty cool when mascots representing presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln race each other around the stadium (Roosevelt never wins). Good bet? No.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 75 to 1. The last time the Pirates finished a regular season with a winning record, Bill Clinton was about to be elected to his first term as president and the country was still reeling from Sinead O’Connor ripping up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. People born on that day in Pittsburgh now have their driver’s licenses. This year will extend recent history. Thank God this crazy planet has at least one constant. Good bet? No.

Division Predictions
National League East:
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. New York Mets
3. Florida Marlins
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Washington Nationals

National League Central:
1. Chicago Cubs
2. St. Louis Cardinals (wild card)
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

National League West:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres

Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis Cardinals
Philadelphia Phillies over Chicago Cubs

Los Angeles Dodgers over Philadelphia Phillies

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