by Robert Ferringo - 03/27/2006
Being a Mets fan in Atlanta is a little like being a Muslim in Alabama or a Republican in San Francisco. At least, that's how it would be if the people of Atlanta actually cared about the Braves.
I'm serious. If you can't shoot it, drive it or deep-fry it these people don't get off the rocking chair. And even though you could make the argument that you could do all three of those things to Bobby Cox, I still don't think the Braves are going to get the respect around here that they deserve.
I mean, they've won 14 straight National League East titles. That's absurd. And given the current labor and finance situations in the sport, what they've done is unprecedented. Because of that, they have to remain the favorites to win the division.
This brings me back to my life as a Mets fan. My boys are the trendy pick to win it all this season. While I do feel they've upgraded considerably, they're still the Mets. And I'm a skeptic until they prove that they can unseat their nemesis.
Here's a quick look at the NL East:
NATIONAL LEAGUE EASTATLANTA BRAVES
2005 Record: 90-72 (first)
Odds to win NL Pennant: 7/1
Odds to win World Series: 20/1
Wins Over/Under: 88.5
Strengths: The front of the Braves rotation is still top-notch. Also, the core of the Jones boys and Marcus Giles is still intact. Mix in the experience and talent of Edgar Renteria, and the precocious energy of some of their youngsters and Atlanta is still a force.
Weaknesses: Sophomore slump? Guys like Jeff Francoeur and Wilson Betemit were out of their heads for most of 2005. Can they repeat that performance? Also, expect the closer situation to flare up by mid-May.
Outlook: I don't care who the Mets picked up, the Braves are still the favorites in the East. However, their odds to win the NL Pennant or World Series should be somewhere closer to 1000/1 since they just can't win in October.
NEW YORK METS
2005 Record: 83-79 (third)
Odds to win NL Pennant: 3/1
Odds to win World Series: 8/1
Wins Over/Under: 91.5
Strengths: The Mets took advantage of the Marlins like they were a sophomore girl at a senior prom. New York landed Carlos Delgado (a year late) and Paul Lo Duca from Florida. They also scored closer Billy Wagner and setup man Jorge Julio and outfielder Xavier Nady. These money men fill in the blanks around the solid young nucleus. The pieces appear in place to make a serious run.
Weaknesses: They're geriatrics. Pedro's gimpy toe is already acting up, Glavine is 40, and Trachsel is, well, Trachsel. It's not just the health of the pitchers that concerns me. Floyd, Delgado, Reyes and Lo Duca all have injury issues.
Outlook: Look, I'm a Mets fan so I refuse to blindly accept that New York is the best team in the East. They're still the Mets. Also, how many times do we see a team go out and spend a ton of money bringing in "star" players, only to have them not gel and flame out? All the time.
2005 Record: 88-74 (second)
Odds to win NL Pennant: 16/1
Odds to win World Series: 40/1
Wins Over/Under: 82.5
Strengths: More than any team in the East, the Phillies feature a lineup with a plethora of speed and power. Guys like Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, Aaron Roward and Chase Utley can put one in the stands or leg out an extra base. Utley and 1B Ryan Howard will benefit from a full 162 and not having to look over their shoulder. All in all, they have the best lineup in the division.
Weaknesses: At one point they had Wagner, Ugueth Urbina and Ryan Madson in a stacked pen. Now Urbina is dodging malaria and anal probes in a Venezuelan prison and Tom Gordon is closing. Not good.
Outlook: All of the focus was on the players they lost (Thome and Wagner), but the position guys that they kept are still tough. I expect some inconsistent stretches as a result of their shaky pitching, but they are definitely a dark horse contender to steal this division.
2005 Record: 81-81 (fifth)
Odds to win NL Pennant: 55/1
Odds to win World Series: 100/1
Wins Over/Under: 76.5
Strengths: For the first time in years there's a sense of continuity with this organization. The addition of Alfonso Soriano gives the National a franchise player to build around - even though he doesn't want to play for them. The pitching staff was a huge plus last year, and actually improved with the acquisition of Ramon Ortiz and Brian Lawrence.
Weaknesses: They're putting a lot of faith in rookie third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. The Nats don't have any depth in their position players, and still lack a legit 30-homer threat. In fact, their offense hasn't improved much from last year, where Nick Johnson led the team with a .289 average. That's not going to get it done.
Outlook: Last year the Nationals were astounding in one-run games. Some of that is clutch, but plenty of it was luck. This year, they're lucky that the Marlins are horrible because that's the only thing keeping them out of the cellar.
2005 Record: 83-79 (fourth)
Odds to win NL Pennant: 150/1
Odds to win World Series: 300/1
Wins Over/Under: 65.5
Strengths: They're not the Devil Rays.
Weaknesses: Everything else.
Outlook: These guys suck. I'm sorry, but the Marlins are going to lose nearly 100 games. I think the safest way to play this is to bet them to lose every game that Dontrelle Willis doesn't start.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's baseball picks service.