Spring training is in full swing for all 30 Major League Baseball teams as they prepare for the start of the 2011 regular season in early April. While at this point every team can still dream about representing their league in this year’s World Series, there are only a handful of teams that have a legitimate shot at actually getting there.
The following is a brief preview of the top contenders in the National League and their current odds to win the NL Pennant as provided by Sports Interaction
Philadelphia Phillies +162
The Phillies have been a perennial contender to win it all over the past few seasons with three consecutive NL East titles, two NL Pennants, and one World Series Championship. The offseason acquisition of free-agent pitcher Cliff Lee from Texas sealed Philadelphia as the odds-on-favorite to add another NL championship to this list this season. He will join 2010 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels to form possibly one of the best starting rotations ever. The only significant loss from last season’s team was outfielder Jayson Werth, who signed with Washington, so Philadelphia will still be one of the best hitting teams in the NL as well. While there is no such thing as a lock considering the long 162-game schedule, it is hard to find any reason to bet against this team from winning the National League this year.
San Francisco Giants +600
The defending World Series Champions will try and catch lightning in a bottle for the second straight season after shocking the world with their dramatic run through the postseason in2010. The Giants’ roster remains basically intact so there is no reason to believe it could not happen again. The primary strength of this team is a tremendous balance between its offense and defense. San Francisco ended the 2010 regular season with a solid .257 team batting average and the lowest team ERA in the NL at 3.36. With Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain once again leading the rotation, San Francisco should easily win at least 90 games which should be more than enough to end up on top of a suddenly weak NL West; putting it in perfect position to make another run at the NL Pennant.
Cincinnati Reds +900
Last season’s NL Central champion Reds are this season’s pick to come out of the Central Division especially after St. Louis lost 20-game winner Adam Wainwright for the season due to an injury that required Tommy John surgery. There is little doubt that Cincinnati has one of the most intimidating lineups in the league led by last year’s NL MVP Joey Votto. The Reds led the NL last season in runs scored, with 790 and a .272 team batting average. The main question mark on this team is with a pitching staff that was ranked seventh in the league with an overall ERA of 4.01. Bank on the Red’s bats leading them to the top of the division, but look for another early exit from the postseason behind a thin starting rotation.
Milwaukee Brewers +1500
Milwaukee finished third in the NL Central last season with a record of 77-85, but its offseason acquisitions could easily add 10-15 wins. That should be enough to lock-up a wildcard spot or even nose Cincinnati out of the top spot in the division. Most importantly the Brewers improved a pitching staff that was ranked near the bottom of the NL with a 4.58 team ERA with the addition of Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum. If Milwaukee’s hitting matches last season’s totals and its pitching holds up, it could be the best value pick in the NL at +1500.