Last week, I wrote a brief overview of all fourteen American League teams. This week, I’ll turn my attention to the National League, with 16 team capsules previewing the upcoming campaign.
The Philadelphia Phillies won 102 games last year, best in the majors by five games over the Yankees and by six games over the Brewers. Despite that tremendous season, the Phillies weren’t a monster moneymaker for their supporters in 2011, and ¾ of their profits came on the road. Their 52 home wins barely netted three units of profit. In a betting marketplace dominated by starting pitching, the Phillies staff of aces left them routinely overpriced; a continuing problem heading into the new campaign. With a weaker than average everyday lineup as long as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard remain hurt, taking +1.5 on the run line betting against the Phillies cashed in all three games in their season opening series against the Pirates, a potential harbinger of profits to come.
The Atlanta Braves had an 8.5 game lead in the Wild Card race with 23 games remaining last September, prior to their complete late season meltdown. Even in an 89 win season, Braves backers lost money in 2011, thanks to that late season collapse and the high prices bettors were asked to lay betting on Atlanta. This veteran team already has injury concerns, with Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson opening the campaign on the DL. And the Braves bullpen – a truly dominant unit last year – will be hard pressed to match their 2011 numbers, when Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty combined for an ERA under 2.00.
The Washington Nationals won 80 games last year, yet they finished the season only one unit of profit behind the 102 win Phillies; a clear example of how price is the single most important factor for season long baseball bettors. The Nats enter 2012 with something they haven’t had since they moved to Washington prior to the start of 2005 – playoff expectations. Their starting staff is loaded, with solid veterans Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson joining promising youngsters Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman. And with four big boppers in the middle of the lineup (Jason Werth, Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse & Ryan Zimmerman), Washington’s optimism seems fully justified to this bettor.
The New York Mets were consistently awful at CitiField last year, 34-47 while losing almost 19 units for their supporters. However, if you backed the Mets away from home, you were rewarded with their 43-38 (+17.5 unit) mark. Their 92 Overs were the most in all of baseball, thanks to an underachieving pitching staff and lots of low totals. Expect the Mets totals to be a notch or two higher this year, now that they’ve moved the fences in. Let’s not forget that management is trying to spur some excitement (and some ticket sales) in an environment where the owners are in serious financial trouble, looking to shed salary at every reasonable opportunity between now and the trading deadline.
The Miami Marlins old ballpark was a house of horrors for the home team last year. The Marlins won just 32 home games, losing 22 units in the process. Judging by their opening night performance to open up their new ballpark against Kyle Lohse and the Cardinals, there’s no rush to get to the betting window in support of the Marlins at home in 2012 either. And given the ballpark dimensions (extremely spacious) and the weather conditions (most games will be played in air conditioning with the roof closed), the first team to score three runs has the potential to win plenty of games in Miami this year.
The Milwaukee Brewers were the second most profitable team in all of baseball to support last year, but they were money losers on the highway: 57-24 at Miller Park, but just 39-42 away from home. The Brewers enjoyed a winning record against all three NL Divisions, and they routinely crushed opposing righties: 30 games above .500 against right handed starters, but just a .500 team against southpaws. That success against righties may be a thing of the past without Prince Fielder, and Ryan Braun will be hard pressed to repeat his MVP numbers from last year without Fielder’s protection in the lineup.
No team in the majors suffered bigger offseason losses than the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals. Let’s not forget that the Cards were a significant money loser prior to their 23-9 run to close out the regular season, and their impressive playoff push to their World Series title (underdogs in 12 of their 18 postseason games). Without Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa, longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan and the premier NL hitter over the past decade, Albert Pujols, an aging lineup and question mark riddled pitching staff have their work cut out for them if they are going to return to the postseason in 2012.
The Cincinnati Reds were big money losers last year, finishing the season ranked #24 out of 30 MLB teams in profitability. That’s been fairly typical for the Reds throughout the Dusty Baker era – lots of talent on paper, but consistently underachieving results. The Reds look like the team to beat in this division on paper again in 2012 – a lineup loaded with speed and power; a decent starting staff and a solid bullpen, even without injured closer Ryan Madson. But Baker enters the season with lame duck status unless his contract gets extended – something that probably won’t happen unless Cinci gets off to a hot start.
The Pittsburgh Pirates finished 18 games under .500 last year, but they were right in the middle of the pack (#15) in terms of profitability – if this team plays anywhere near .500 level baseball, bettors will have opportunities to cash in. Let’s not forget that the Pirates were in first place in late July before their season collapsed. With a professional sports record 19 consecutive years under the .500 mark, it’s going to take more than decent pitching to end that dismal run. Unfortunately, the Pirates anemic lineup – the entire bottom half of their batting order couldn’t reach a .250 batting average last year – doesn’t offer much upside.
First year Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum stressed fundamentals throughout spring training. So what happened when Chicago broke camp and headed up north for their opening weekend series against the Cubs? Bad defense, blown saves, poor base running and missed opportunities. Despite three consecutive quality starts from a solid front half of the rotation (Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija), the Cubs managed only one victory for the series, a potential harbinger of things to come for this rebuilding team.
No team in baseball cost their backers more money than the Houston Astros did last year, when they finished 50 games under.500 and minus more than 33 units for the season. The bullpen had a 25-save to 25-blown-save ratio, and gave up a higher batting average than any other bullpen in the majors, two very bad signs. A 13-38 record in day games shows us clearly that this last place squad had their attention focused on off-field concerns far too often. With a new owner, a new team president and a new general manager, there is absolutely no urgency for the rebuilding Astros to win now, virtually ensuring another bottom tier season in 2012.
The Arizona Diamondbacks were the single most profitable team to support in all of baseball last year, and their opening weekend series against the Giants – three tight one run wins including a rally in the finale to erase a six run deficit – clearly shows that this team was not a one year wonder. But the betting markets don’t necessarily agree with that assessment. Arizona had the fewest player games lost to injury of any NL team last year. They went 28-16 in one run games and 84-0 when leading after the eighth inning. Traditionally, those type of stats are difficult to repeat; hence the tepid support for Arizona in early season betting this year.
The 2011 San Francisco Giants wasted great pitching from their starting staff and their bullpen all season long. Unlike the healthy D-backs, San Fran lost a whopping 866 player games to injury last year, with 24 separate trips for Giants players to the DL. If Buster Posey can return to form and if Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt can live up to their promise, the Giants should be able to score more runs this year (last year’s 570 was, by far, the fewest runs scored in the NL). But Tim Lincecum’s strikeout-to-walk ratio has been in gradual decline and last year’s sensation, Ryan Vogelsong, is unlikely to repeat last year’s impressive numbers. It’s going to take a major offensive turnaround to get this team back to the playoffs.
Despite all kinds of off-field turmoil surrounding the team’s ownership last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers played well down the stretch and finished the season with a winning record. This team has plenty of star power, with Matt Kemp keying the everyday lineup and Clayton Kershaw pitching at a Cy Young level. But will the back end of the pitching rotation – tired veterans Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano – eat up enough innings to mask LA’s continued offensive deficiencies?
The Colorado Rockies ranked #29 out of 30 MLB teams in profitability last year, a disaster for their fans and supporters. But this team is not in rebuilding mode by any stretch of the imagination – management is anticipating a major turnaround in 2012. Colorado’s offseason moves involved lots of veteran additions, acquiring journeymen Casey Blake, Michael Cuddyer and Marco Scutaro. Those are ‘win now’ acquisitions. But can their rebuilt rotation (Jeremy Guthrie and Jamie Moyer are the new 1-2) survive in this pitching rich division?
The San Diego Padres have the best ballpark in the majors for a ‘speed and defense’ type of team. So what did management do in the offseason? They brought in traditional slugger Carlos Quentin, whose long fly balls that flew out of the park in Chicago are likely to die at the warning track here. San Diego lacks a legitimate #1 starter. Their bullpen will be hard pressed to match last year’s dominance without closer Heath Bell in the mix anymore. This Padres squad has ‘last place’ written all over them, just like they did last year.