Intriguing National League Futures: The Phillies Are Worth a Flier
After providing some thoughts on my recent hatred for the sport of baseball, I gave you some thoughts on the American League yesterday in this space. Today, the National League, where thankfully I don’t have to spend time trying to figure out who wins games between the Royals, White Sox and Tigers when they play each other. As bad as the Marlins are, or even the Reds, at least the awfulness in this league is spread out pretty equally (but not totally equally, as we will discuss later).
Anyway, here are some thoughts on NL props and futures I think are interesting:
Best bet on a team to make the playoffs: Mets +200
I think this season actually breaks pretty well for the Mets in a few ways (which is not something I should really be allowed to write, because you know … it’s the Mets and Mets things are gonna happen).
First off, they play the Marlins. A lot. And that’s kinda neat. I also think Atlanta is going to be terrible, as you’ll see later. That’s a lot of games against two bad teams, if true.
The Mets’ rotation and bullpen are both areas of incredible strength. The starters have been the subject of infinite words over the years because of their ascent and ensuing health problems, but the talent here is far superior to that of any other team competing for a wild-card spot. While Jason Vargas is already hurt (he’ll return early in the season), if you ever get reasonable innings from these guys, you’re in business.
Next, Michael Conforto is sort of a key figure for this offense, because the Mets’ lineup isn’t particularly deep with talent. Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes can still provide some power, but neither can really be relied on at this point to any high degree. The Mets signed Todd Frazier, and he helps a little, too, but Conforto was projected to be the everyday center fielder and major contributor to the offense. He is currently recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. The good news? He’s at least in line to return in May if not earlier, and has avoided setbacks thus far. He projects to be a top-five center fielder if healthy, and this team needs a player like that. Conforto, combined with the relative health of the team’s starters — and combined with an elite bullpen — puts the Mets in a better position than many of the other mid-level NL teams.
Best price on a team to make the playoffs: Phillies +375
There’s a little bit of irrational thought that goes into this selection. Because, on some level, I think it’s just going to be really fun to watch this team and see what happens. There are so many question marks, unknowns, young players who may develop into stars or complete train wrecks. But that’s why this isn’t the best bet, this is the best price. When in doubt, take the unknown!
Let’s start with the reasons why the Phillies are +375. They aren’t as good as the Nationals. So they’re immediately relegated to the wild card in most projections. Although they have Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta, they need some combination of Nick Pivetta, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez to give them quality innings as starters, and that is something none of those three players has proven an ability to do as of yet. FanGraphs projects that their closer, Hector Neris, may revert to more of an average pitcher and less of a dominant reliever.
But who wants to be glass half-empty? Half of their lineup has a crazy-high ceiling, and is made up of prospects with a ton of potential in various areas. Rhys Hoskins you already know, but J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams and Scott Kingery are names you may know, and soon. Or you won’t. That’s what makes this fun. They also signed Carlos Santana, who is the opposite of an unknown, the model of consistency. His production will only help.
The range of possible outcomes with this team is enormous, but at +375, I’ll find a seat on the bandwagon.
Best bet on a team to miss the playoffs (tie): Diamondbacks -150, Rockies -225
Sometimes, it’s just a cruel numbers game. I think it’s highly likely the final two months of the season are going to be brutal for the NL West. The Dodgers may start a little slower than you’d expect with the injury to Justin Turner (Kenley Jansen is a little banged-up, too). The Giants may start with less success because of the injury to Madison Bumgarner. But down the stretch, this is going to be a bloodbath.
We know the Dodgers will be there because they have the most talent, and they have depth. Their success is almost assured. The Giants didn’t spend all that money to be bad again, and their awfulness last season is what led to so many easy wins for the Diamondbacks and Rockies. Both Arizona and Colorado went 12-7 against San Francisco last season. And I think San Diego is slightly better than it was last year, but the point is, the Padres haven’t bottomed out like Miami or the AL Central has. They have strengths. They aren’t losing 100 games.
So if the Dodgers are equally successful (or close to it), and the Giants are never tanking and the Padres are slightly improved, those wins have to come from somebody. I know the Rockies spent all that money on their bullpen, and the Diamondbacks sport a formidable rotation (and apparently a humidor now too), but really the rosters aren’t exemplary enough to power either team through the gauntlet this division may set up to be. Both teams have lineups that are riddled with holes due to injury, age or giant question marks.
Speaking of giant, I am not saying San Francisco will be a good team, but I am saying that the investment the Giants made in their team — and the age and “win-now” make-up of the squad — means they’ll be absolutely pushing for a wild-card spot late in the year. They just won’t get there. And neither will these two teams.
Best price on a team to miss the playoffs: Nationals +475
This category really boxes me in to taking a big number, which basically means one of the Big 3 in this league. For the record, I don’t think the Nationals, Cubs or Dodgers are missing the playoffs. But, the Nationals definitely have the most tenuous grip of the three on their division. Here are some reasons they could miss the playoffs:
- Bryce Harper, while being Bryce Harper, is also incredibly inconsistent, and seems to either have great or terrible seasons.
- Ryan Zimmerman is a prime regression candidate.
- They have poor starting pitching depth if they were to suffer any kind of injury.
- They let Teddy Roosevelt win a Presidents Race, meaning they are too charitable and lack a “killer instinct.”
OK so the Nationals probably make it. But of the large prices on the board, I like this one the most. Let’s move on.
Best Win Total Bet: Braves under 75 +110
I think I’ve said at least one nice thing about each team so far, so I’ll follow suit with Atlanta, and get it out of the way.
I am really excited to watch Ronald Acuna play baseball (eventually). He is going to be awesome (eventually).
The problem, aside from dumb baseball rules that led Atlanta to start Acuna in the minors just to get more eligibility out of him, is that I don’t like much else about Atlanta. The Braves have Freddie Freeman, who is great, and … who else? Think of this like the Harry Potter series:
“Freddie Freeman and the Dumpster Fire Rotation”
“Freddie Freeman and the Completely Ineffective Left Side of the Infield”
“Freddie Freeman and the Shaky Middle Relief”
“Freddie Freeman and the Four Straight Losing Seasons”
“Freddie Freeman and the Deathly Hallows…of SunTrust Park, Part 2”
The pitching staff is built around Julio Teheran, who just completed his worst season since his rookie year, Brandon McCarthy, who is … fine, and Luiz Gohara, who can be effective but now is going to miss about the first six weeks of the season at least. That’s as good as it gets for them.
The offense needs Dansby Swanson, who has yet to prove anything, to be effective, and the Braves still start Johan Camargo and Nick Markakis, who are not replacement-level players.
If I’m pegging the Mets and Phillies to improve, and the Nationals to stay successful, then either the Marlins are going to lose 120 games (which is, I guess, possible?) or some of that needs to affect Atlanta.
Top photo: Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta; credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports