by Jordan Adams - 03/29/2006
With the monotonous spring training schedule finally coming to a conclusion on April 2, Sunday's nightcap provides the first regular season game, bringing the an American tradition -- the long ball -- front and center. 2006 should provide one of the most intriguing home run races in some time. Not only is the '06 campaign headlined by Barry Bonds' pursuit of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, but also the field for the home run crown could be the deepest ever. Bonds, however, may not be the smartest bet. Bodog lists him as 12/1 odds to capture the home run title.
The steroids controversy and the overwhelming number of walks Bonds receives diminish his chances. He sits behind seven other sluggers as the favorites to capture the title. David Ortiz sits atop the group at 7/1 odds to win the regular season home run race. Following Big Papi are Adam Dunn and Albert Pujols at 8/1 odds. Dunn's swing is very powerful, but his inability to maintain his batting average over .300 could be his downfall. Pujols is arguably baseball's best hitter. He can do everything at the plate. His only disadvantage that he is such a pure hitter, his smooth, beautiful swing keeps the ball in the yard at times and he doesn't always look for the home run.
Last year's runner-up and tops in the AL, Alex Rodriguez, is listed at 9/2 odds. A-Rod has consistently shown he is capable of approaching close to 50 homers every season and with the Yankee line-up as deep as ever, he is a great bet to capture the home run title.
Continuing down the line, Manny Ramirez and last year's home run champ Andruw Jones both are listed at 10/1 odds. Sticking with the Boston Red Sox enhances Ramirez's chances. His bat in the clean-up role behind Ortiz will prove very effective over the course of the season. While Ortiz is known for his clutch homers, Manny is the better hitter. His pure swing is as steady as it gets in the game. Not a bad pick down the line. While Manny has gotten it done year after year, Atlanta's Jones looks to continue his newly found power source in the 2006 season. The only player to eclipse 50 homers in 2005, Jones will need another strong year before bettors will feel comfortable with his ability as a home run hitter. Don't plan on Andruw Jones hitting 40 in '06.
A breakout season in 2005 allowed Rangers' first baseman Mark Teixeira to be labeled as one of the favorites, listed at 11/2 odds to win the home run title. Finishing fourth in the AL last year, Teixeira showed power from both sides of the plate and lowered his strikeout numbers proving his maturity as a hitter. With the Rangers' young, fiery line-up, Teixeira should continue his home run success and perhaps make a run at the title.
Three potential all-stars also fall at 12/1 odds with the likes of Barry Bonds. Anaheim's Vladimir Guerrero, the Cubs' Derek Lee and Philly's youngster Ryan Howard. Guerrero is the best of the group, but his free-swinging bat is tough to bet on. He can hit any ball regardless if it misses the strike zone, but it is quite difficult to go yard consistently with his lack of discipline and patience. The Cubs' Derek Lee had a phenomenal 2005, but the rest of the line-up lacks the ability to protect him so he can see enough good pitches.
Aramis Ramirez is capable, but Lee is more a of singles and doubles hitter who focuses on placing the ball in the gaps and using his speed to his benefit. The wild card of the bunch is the Phillies' Ryan Howard. Granted more playing time after Jim Thome went on the DL last year, he exploded to win NL Rookie of the Year without much competition. Don't look now but he has ten home runs thus far in spring training and a full-time job at first base should create enough plate appearances for him to contend as a true dark horse.
Overall, 37 players are listed on Bodog's sportsbook, but this props bets odds sit with the field: those players who are not listed. Other notables that could put up the numbers include: Gary Sheffield, Ken Griffey Jr., Paul Konerko and Travis Hafner. Sheffield and Konerko have shown they are capable of hitting 40 homers in a year, while Griffey played as well as anyone during the World Baseball Classic, and, if his health is not an issue, he is capable of returning to his old form. Hafner has exceptional power and the rest of his line-up gives him a chance to swing with runners on base.
While Bonds has received all the ink during the off-season and into spring training, this race is wide open. Winning clubs do not always come equipped with the long ball so do not be surprised if your 2006 home run champ makes a Phoenix-like rise after his team's early summer death.