MLB Betting: 2009 NL East Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/06/2009
Despite much ado about this division over the last two years, the National League East has been a pretty stable bet through the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Philadelphia is the top dog with the Mets being one of the more overrated contenders in the National League. The Braves and Marlins are there to serve as spoilers and fight over third place, with the Nationals solidly pulling up the rear, and one of those three "second tier" clubs will end the season as one of the most profitable surprises in the National League.
Entering the 2009 season I don't see anything to make me think that this division is going to be settled any differently than in the past two years. As much as I see prognosticators picking the Mets to unseat the Phillies atop the East, I can only say that mode of those predictions has made the Mets an incredibly poor wager over the past two seasons. I think we'll know early which team out of the Braves and Marlins is going to be the "sneaky contender that turns a profit on the season" and the Nationals are, well, the Nationals.
Here is Doc's Sports 2009 National League East preview:
2008 Record: 92-70 (+405)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 88.5
Odds To Win 2009 NL East: 2-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 NL Pennant: 4-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 8.5-to-1
The Phillies capped a fantastic, emotional two-year run with a World Series in October and are now the frontrunners to again represent the National League in the Fall Classic. Their postseason march was dominating and was certainly not a fluke. Their +119 run differential was the third highest in the Majors last season and the Phils might be even better this season.
Philadelphia is a very emotional team and I think that the confidence and calm that comes from having already won a World Series is really going to make a difference for this team. And because they are in the city of Philadelphia - perhaps the toughest sports town in the country - you know the fan base won't let them lose their edge. But as the two-time division champ it's clear that the Phils have the swagger of a team that knows everyone is chasing them.
I'm still not thrilled about the Phillies rotation. But the fact that, other than Cole Hamels, they trot out some pretty pedestrian arms helps keep the juice low on this team and creates a very value-plus situation for Phils backers. Their bullpen remains intact and is one of the best in baseball, which means that they lock up games that they should and they are given a lot of opportunities for comeback victories.
Philadelphia will be a major factor in the National League. And although no NL team has repeated as champions since the mid-70s I think that this group has as strong a chance as anyone to pull it off.
New York Mets
2008 Record: 89-73 (-540)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 90.5
Odds To Win 2009 NL East: 7-to-5
Odds To Win 2009 NL Pennant: 5-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 10-to-1
What the hell can these guys do for an encore to the encore of the encore. Three straight years the Mets have lost their last game of the season and that 'L' has prevented them from playing on. In 2006 it was a home loss in Game 7 of the NLCS. And then each of the last two years they have been beaten by the Marlins on the last day of the regular season to keep them from going to the playoffs. So what type of horrific, soul-crushing way will the Mets finish off their season this year?
I'm still pretty torn on this team. On the one hand, they are just three games away from three straight playoff appearances and a likely World Series title. On the other, they are just a team that has missed the postseason in back-to-back seasons despite having one of the best rosters and highest payrolls in baseball.
The Mets blew a stunning 29 saves last year and just crippled their backers. They obviously shored up the back end of the bullpen by getting J.J. Putz and K-Rod. But I still have some questions about the middle relievers. And there are definitely issues with their starters. Johan Santana has a mystery elbow injury. John Maine is coming off an injury and I have him pegged for a down year. After that are awful Olly Perez, promising Mike Pelfrey, and a bunch of journeymen.
Another troubling sign for this Mets team is the financial crisis surrounding its owners (The Wilpons lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the Bernie Madoff scandal, and sponsor Citi Bank is a mess.) That could keep them from going out and making a move that could put them over the hump. If everything goes right with the pitching then this team will compete. But you just can't underestimate the huge dark cloud that is hanging over this club's head from their three collapses. And until they prove that they are mentally tough enough to break through that then you can't consider this group as a legitimate title contender.
2008 Record: 72-90 (-2315)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 84.5
Odds To Win 2009 NL East: 3-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 NL Pennant: 18-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 35-to-1
The Braves are the X-Factor in the N.L. East. After a decade-and-a-half of dominance this organization has become "just another team".
One major plus for this team is that it might have the best starting rotation in the division. And while their bullpen is a distant third to the Phils and Mets, if some guys stay healthy it has the potential to be a team strength. Derek Lowe gives them an ace with big game experience, Javy Vasquez remains one of the more underrated wagers in the game, and when Tom Glavine is going to matched up with the opposing team's No. 5 starter I would say that there could be some very strong wager situations for this team.
The problem for this team is that their everyday lineup is still a work in progress. They are relying heavily on future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. But Jones has shown that he can't stay healthy. And even with him hitting .400 last year they still weren't very competitive. Besides Jones, All Star Brian McCann, and up-and-comer Yunel Escobar there just aren't any proven sticks in this lineup. They have some guys that I like - Casey Kotchman, Matt Diaz, and Brandon Jones - but no one that you can pencil in for production.
Atlanta was one of the worst road teams in all of baseball last year. A lot of that is just mental toughness, and their 29-52 mark away from home really highlights the team's inconsistencies. They are a couple bats away from being a real threat in this division. But they will be much better (last year they were the fifth-worst wager in baseball) but shouldn't be anything more than a spoiler in this division.
2008 Record: 84-77 (+2005)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 75.5
Odds To Win 2009 NL East: 9-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 NL Pennant: 20-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 40-to-1
Besides the Tampa Bay Rays, the Marlins were THE surprise team in baseball. The squad was picked to finish a distant fourth in the preseason rankings but managed to stay in the division title hunt into the last month of the year while posting the fourth-most profitable season of any team.
The Marlins underwent the normal turnover in the offseason, wheeling and dealing nine veterans while bringing in more prospects. And with Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu they still have one of the best young cores in the league. Also, Cody Ross - one of the best clutch players and one of my favorite guys in the league - will get more time, and that can only mean good things. Also, the best situation to play this squad is intradivisional games. They were a solid 40-31 against non-East teams last year, winning most of those games as underdogs.
Pitching is still an issue up and down this staff. They moved their best two relievers, including closer Kevin Gregg, as well as three of their starters. However, there is some potential here in the starting rotation. Ricky Nolasco was a revelation last year and Josh Johnson looked great coming off several injury-riddled seasons. Mix in some young guys with upside (Volstad, Sanchez and Miller) and if things broke the right way they could end up with a nice up-and-coming staff. However, these guys have one-quarter of the experience of some of the other staffs in the league.
The Marlins had a great run last year. But I think they lost too many key pieces to muster another run. You can never count this team out because of their youthful exuberance. But even if they get off to another fast start that's only going to drive up numbers on them. And when it gets to be Money Time they just don't have the talent or experience to come through.
2008 Record: 59-102 (-2340)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 73.5
Odds To Win 2009 NL East: 25-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 NL Pennant: 60-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 125-to-1
They have an expensive new ballpark, terrible attendance, even worse television ratings and have consistently been one of the worst teams in baseball. So why did they move from Montreal again?
The Nationals were a team that I thought could post a solid (think 74 wins) season last year. I thought they had good depth and a decent staff, with an emphasis on the bullpen. However, injuries ravaged their pitching staff and things got real ugly on the way to a 102-loss season. And in my opinion they haven't addressed these issues enough to hope for anything better than a 90-loss season this year. Their starting pitching is nothing but question marks and their bullpen has been gutted in questionable trades.
Washington's lineup should be good enough to muck up the works for some of their division rivals. I hate to be a broken record, but injuries sabotaged what had the makings of a strong everyday lineup. Their cornerstones are the corner infielders - Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson - and both struggled while being banged up last season. If they can stay healthy, if Lastings Milledge can keep improving, and if Christian Guzman and Elijah Dukes can follow up their solid seasons last year than this could be a beautiful 'over' team.
Can Washington get people out? I don't think that they can. This team is going to score some runs, but they are going to give up more. I think that the organization is trying to follow the runs = fun equation in order to build a fan base. But when it comes to winning I don't see this team even sniffing .500. They were the third most profitable NL team in 2007 and one of the worst bets on the board in 2008. I think they find the middle ground this year.