By David Mullen
It is hard to believe, if you follow the national baseball media, that the American League doesn’t win the World Series every year. The Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and, to a lesser extent, the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians are praised highly and seem infallible.
Now, the bitter truth. The National League has won more World Series crowns than the American League this decade. And the Yankees have not won a world championship since 2000. To put that in perspective, that Yankees team had Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Brosius and Paul O’Neill in the starting lineup and Andy Pettitte and a 37-year-old Roger Clemens as starters.
But for some reason the National League, with the exception of the Los Angeles Dodgers, isn’t the sexy league. There is plenty of eye candy, although no team is without flaws.
In the NL West, the Dodgers are once again the overwhelming favorite. They get back shortstop Corey Seager for a full year, added A.J. Pollock and Justin Turner, and Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson are a year older. Plus they got rid of distractions Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. They will have to rely on Highland Park’s Clayton Kershaw to return to some semblance of his old pitching self and the Dodgers should win the division easily.
The Colorado Rockies, playing at Coors Field where the ball flies out like “Eddie the Eagle,” will contend for a wild card spot. They have Nolan Arenado signed for the long term and look for Irving’s own Trevor Story to play a full season and become an All-Star.
“Say it ain’t so?” How could the Arizona Diamondbacks get rid of their franchise player and leader Paul Goldschmidt? A once potent offense has turned anemic. The San Diego Padres added Manny Machado, are building a contender and will no longer be a patsy. But they are a year away. And the San Francisco Giants come into the season with more questions than “The Riddler.” As a team famous for building great outfielders, how can you break camp without one?
Now the NL Central is a perplexing division. At least three teams could win the crown. The Milwaukee Brewers are the defending champions, based on a one-game playoff win over the Chicago Cubs. They have brawn (I am not talking about Ryan Braun, who has diminishing skills) and the reigning NL MVP in Christian Yelich.
But their starting pitching is thin, and the Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals will look to exploit it.
The Cubs had an off year by their new standards, and I look for them to bounce back. The Cardinals added Goldschmidt and will play sound fundamentally, but must lean too much on aging catcher Yadier Molina and an outfield anomaly in light-hitting Dexter Fowler.
The Cincinnati Reds tout themselves as new and improved. Let’s just say that they are new and different. They added Puig, Kemp and pitcher Sonny Gray to join Joey Votto and Scooter Gennett. But Gennett could be out until mid-season with a groin injury, which is a crushing blow.
In the past year and one-half, the Pittsburgh Pirates dumped stars Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole and Ivan Nova. They have regressed and will finish last in the division. At least fans can enjoy the amenities at PNC Park.
In the NL East, the questions loom: Will the Philadelphia Phillies be that much better with former Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper? And will the Nats be that much worse without Harper? Actually, I like Washington better. They never made the World Series with Harper and can now play unified instead of 24 players plus one. And I think manager Dave Martinez is the right fit to bring the team together. They have great starting pitching, but Sean Doolittle is a little scary as the closer.
How will Harper deal with the Philadelphia fans and the media? He knew what he was getting into when he signed a 13-year, $330 million contract. One thing is certain. He will make first baseman Rhys Hoskins and catcher J.T. Realmuto better hitters. If the Phils start out slowly, manager and former Texas Ranger Gabe Kapler will be sent out faster than a cheesesteak order at Geno’s or Pat’s.
The Atlanta Braves came out of nowhere last season to win the division. They have a mix of youth and veterans, and outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. is a rising star. But as well as things fell in line last year, can they expect the same results this season? I am not sure that their pitching can hold up for the entire season, but they will be fun to watch.
Drink the New York media punch and you would think the Mets will be real contenders. With their starting pitching, they definitely can be. But their starting lineup doesn’t dazzle like the lights on Broadway and Robinson Cano is one year older (like “Phantom of the Opera”). I just don’t see them scoring enough runs. And as for the Miami Marlins, I don’t see them scoring any runs.
I think the Phillies and Brewers will make the wild card game with the cheesesteaks, not the cheeseheads winning out. The Phils will play the Dodgers — Harper finally plays in LA — as the Cubs and the Nationals battle. In the NL championship, Los Angeles will beat the Cubbies and head to the World Series for the third straight year. Next week, you will find out who the Dodgers will play and take a look at the lowly local team playing their last season at Globe Life Park.