Ah, the National League; the ugly stepdaughter of Major League Baseball. Growing up in Minnesota and cheering for the Twins my entire life has made me an American League guy. I know the teams better, I know the players better, and I care more about both. Because of this, along with the NL’s lack of talent over the last 5-10 years, I don’t know as much about these teams as I should. Deal with it. Without further ado, I present to you the teams vying to lose in the 2008 World Series.
The Favorite—Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs have a chance to have the most dominant starting rotation in the National League. They already had the very underrated Brandon Webb, traded for Oakland ace Dan Haren, and could possibly have a healthy, motivated Randy Johnson (13 wins away from 300). They also have a very terrible lineup (worst batting average in the NL last year), with only Chris Young as a legitimate hitting threat. For me, the questions surrounding Johnson, the bullpen, and the lack of run production are too big to ignore and I have Arizona being a non-factor this year.
The Forgotten Team—Colorado Rockies. They won 21 of their last 22 games (including that dramatic play-in game) to improbably make it to the World Series. They have an extremely potent lineup (Tulowitzki, Helton, Holliday, Hawpe, Atkins) that, thanks to some spending by management this winter, is locked up for the foreseeable future. At the very least, their pitching is average with the potential to get much better with young arms like Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales, and super closer Manny Corpas. Yet the press keeps passing them over to fawn about Arizona or LA. Not me. I think the Rockies win this division going away and have a chance to make a post season run again.
At Least They Have A Nice Ballpark—San Diego Padres. From everything that I’ve seen and heard, Petco Park is one of the best stadiums to watch a baseball game in. It’s just too bad the local fans have to watch the Padres every night. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure getting to watch Jake Peavy throw every 4th or 5th game is just as exciting as it was from Twins fans to watch Johan Santana over the last few years. The problem is the rest of their team, including that anemic offense (actually, that sounds A LOT like the Twins). With the high number of quality pitchers in this division, it’s going to be very hard for Adrian Gonzalez and company to score enough runs for San Diego to become a serious threat.
A Couple Years Away—Los Angeles Dodgers. Bad news: Andruw Jones is not the answer. I know LA is very much a “win now” kind of town, but Jones was a colossal waste of money. Good news: Joe Torre is the answer. This guy just has the look of a winner and is going to bring that attitude to the Dodger organization—just not yet. They have a bunch of young talent (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Clayton Kershaw on the way) that could get them there soon, but they’re just not ready yet. The sooner they get rid of the dead weight (Jones, Juan Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra) and add one more arm and one more bat, they will be a force in the NL.
The Worst Team In Baseball—San Francisco Giants. Quick, name a Giants player other than Barry Zito (if you could even name him)…Nope, Barry Bonds isn’t there anymore. Sorry, Jeff Kent is in LA. Will Clark hasn’t been there in years. Can’t do it, can you? This is, by far, the worst team in Major League Baseball. Their best hitters are Aaron Rowand, Randy Winn, and Benji Molina. Yuck. Their top pitchers are better, but not by much (Zito, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum), and their closer is something named Brian Wilson (not the Beach Boy). In fact, they’re so bad that I don’t even want to write about them anymore.
The Favorite—Chicago Cubs. No offense to any Cubs fans reading this, but I just don’t get the fascination with this team. Every year, multiple newspaper/magazine columnists, TV talking heads, and other “experts” think they’ll be cute and pick the Cubs to play in and/or win the World Series. Why? Do the recent WS titles by the Red Sox in ’04 (after an 86 year drought) and the White Sox in ’05 (88 years) have everyone honestly convinced that the Cubs are somehow “due”? This is especially perplexing when you look at this year’s team. Yeah, I think the Fukudome kid is going to be awesome, but where’s the pitching? Sure, the Soriano-Lee-Ramirez trio can pack a punch, but what about the rest of their role players? Not it to pick the Cubs to do anything this year.
Q’s Favorite—Milwaukee Brewers. I feel bad for Brewers fans. For 25 years they’ve had to watch truly atrocious baseball. They’ve had to transition from greats like Molitor and Yount to punch lines like Pat Listache and Jeremy Burnitz. Then came 2007. After years and years of suffering, the Brew Crew had finally developed a ton of talent (Sheets, Fielder, Weeks, Braun, Hart, etc.) and were media darlings for most of the year. Then as August turned into September, Milwaukee fizzled down the stretch and eventually missed the playoffs…again. So for the sanity of Brewers fans everywhere (yes, both of you), I’m going to say that the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers will absolutely make the playoffs—if Ben Sheets stays healthy for an entire season.
All Pop, No Pitching—Houston Astros. There seems to be a common theme in the NL Central: get as much mediocre to above average hitting as possible and take your chances with below average to terrible pitching. Literally every one of the teams in this division subscribes to this mantra (except Pittsburgh, who wants nothing to do with any talent whatsoever). The Astros may have pioneered this trend (which is why their ballpark is the size of a Little League field), and have taken it to a new level this year. Their big acquisition for 2008 was Miguel Tejada. This is the same guy who has extremely limited range defensively and might be in the clink at some time soon because he lied to Congress about his knowledge/use of steroids. If they can find a way to have Roy Oswalt pitch every other game, then they have a shot at making the playoffs. If not, they may as well bring back those horrendous jerseys from the 1980’s just to make themselves relevant again.
The Darkhorse—Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are a tough team to figure out. On the surface, they appear to have the prototypical Central-style team with a bunch of big bats and little pitching. But looks may be deceiving for Dusty Baker’s squad. They have two legitimate starters in Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, and signed a big time closer in Francisco Cordero. The runs shouldn’t be hard to come by, thanks to Brandon Phillips, Junior Griffey, and Adam Dunn. If one or both of their newly acquired starters (Josh Fogg and Jeremy Affeldt) can be a reliable number three, and they don’t fall victim to the dreaded injury bug, this could be the surprise team in the division and maybe even the league.
Didn’t You Used To Be The St. Louis Cardinals?—St. Louis Cardinals. How does this happen? The Cardinals won over 100 games in 2004 and 2005, and then followed those seasons with a World Series title in 2006. Now? They have very little hitting outside of Albert Pujols—who may not be around for much of the season because he might need Tommy John surgery (please don’t try to tell me that Chris Duncan and Troy Glaus are legit)—and their best three pitchers are arguably Adam Wainwright, Matt Clement, and Kyle Lohse (though Mark Mulder is due back in May and Chris Carpenter sometime after the All Star break). Um, what? On top of all of that, they have very little up and coming talent to look forward to. All is not good in St. Louey.
Somehow Still A Major League Franchise—Pittsburgh Pirates. Pop quiz hotshot: You are the Pittsburgh Pirates. Your team hasn’t mattered since Sid Bream scored the winning run for Atlanta in the 1992 NLCS. You are the single reason why Major League Baseball adopted the “every team should have an All Star” thing. You’ve had one above average player (Jason Bay) in the last 10-15 years. Last year, you lost 94 games in what is widely considered an inferior league. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO? If you’re General Manager Dave Littlefield, you do…nothing. You make no major trades or free agent acquisitions. You also have no young talent (except maybe Ian Snell) that could develop over the next couple years. It sure must be fun being a Pirates fan.
The Favorite—New York Mets. Look at that picture above. Does it make anyone else nauseous? Which image over the next few months has the potential to cause more pain to Minnesotans: KG winning a title (and possibly MVP) with Boston, or Johan winning a Cy Young and possibly a WS title with the Mets? There is one factor, and one factor alone, that will determine the success of the Mets this year, and that is health. When your team relies on a 41 year old left fielder (Alou) and multiple players who have had injury concerns over the years (Delgado, Castillo, Pedro), you’re always going to be holding your breath slightly, hoping that nothing bad happens. A healthy season gets them a World Series berth. Anything less and all bets are off.
Defending Division Champs—Philadelphia Phillies. The major headlines across the NL East this off-season: the Mets getting Santana, the return of Tom Glavine to Atlanta, the new stadium in Washington, and the super low payroll in Florida. Somehow, everyone has found a way to forget about the defending division champs (I know that it took an historic New York collapse for them to claim that title, but still…) in Philadelphia. As with most teams, the Phillies success this year will depend on their pitching. Everyone knows they have enough hitting to get it done with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins (last year’s MVP—or did you forget that too?), Chase Utley, and Pat Burrell. If their bullpen (cough…Brad Lidge…cough) can manage not to give up too many leads, then the Fightin’ Phils are my pick to win the Wild Card.
Team AARP—Atlanta Braves. Tom Glavine is 42 years old. John Smoltz is 41. Mike Hampton…well, he’ll be hurt as usual, so he’s a non-factor. These are supposed to be three of the top four starters for Atlanta this year. Hell, even Tim Hudson is no spring chicken at 33. Neither is Chipper Jones, their offensive leader and arguably their best hitter, at 36. There should be plenty of runs to go around on this team with a lineup that features Jones, Mark Teixeira, Jeff Francoeur, and Brian McCann. Rafael Soriano is a big time closer, but the problem will be trying to get the ball to him in save situations. Between the high likelihood of one of their starters breaking a hip and a shaky at best bullpen, those odds don’t seem high. Have fun in third place boys.
New Ballpark, Same Dead Arms—Washington Nationals. You gotta give the Nationals props on one thing: they have created a ton of excitement in the DC area. First, there’s that brand spanking new ballpark that got national coverage thanks to ESPN. I’m always glad to see a baseball team get their own park so that they don’t have to play in a football stadium (like the Twins will finally get to do in two years). Second, they’ve brought in some exciting new blood in youngsters Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes. If those two can mature quickly (not likely) and mesh with vets Dimitri Young and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats could surprise some teams. If they act their age (or simply like the idiots they’ve been in the past) and the pitching staff—highlighted by, um, Shawn Hill? (didn’t he use to play for the Vikes?)—struggles as they are expected to, then Washington won’t be setting off too many fire works in that pretty new park.
Team Payroll Less Than A-Rod’s Yearly Salary—Florida Marlins. Their team payroll is roughly $21 million. Total. The second lowest in the league? Pittsburgh at $42 million. That’s twice as much. It’s all part of yet another rebuilding plan in Florida. They do have the best-player-you-haven’t-heard-of in Hanley Ramirez, and they did get two stud prospects from Detroit in Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, however. So maybe all is not lost. I’m not saying they are going to win 90 games or anything, but they seem to know how to tear everything down only to build it back up again in that organization. Most likely scenario involves the Marlins giving up the most runs in baseball, having the occasional highlight reel defensive play and/or homerun, and about 60-65 wins. Go Fish!
If you’re going to Vegas soon, here are some bets that will win you some money: NLDS—New York Mets over Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies over Philadelphia Phillies. NLCS—New York Mets over Colorado Rockies. NL MVP—Matt Holliday. NL Cy Young—Barry Zi…yeah right. Johan Santana.