The Austin Chronicle

A Very National League Preview

By John Razook, April 5, 2007, 3:23pm, The Score

Hey, smell that? That funk drifting through the air, equal parts stale beer, peanuts, leather, and Beech Nut chewing tobacco?

Yeah, me too.

It's baseball season, sports fans, and I'm ready. Let's forget, just for a moment (and I know it's hard, Shawn Badgley), that the St. Louis Cardinals are the reigning world champions, wrapping up their 10th title some 58 years or so before the Houston Astros get their first one. It's a new season, and just like that astute observer of the game Mark Fagan noted: Everyone's tied for first. Well, close enough. After opening week, both the Astros and Cardinals are sitting at 0-3, a dubious start for sure.

Never mind the records just yet. When the dust clears, you can bet your hard-earned dollars that the Cardinals will once again win the embarrassingly weak National League Central division. The reason? Albert Pujols. Those two words are all I need to rest my case. You want two words why the Astros won't win? OK, fair enough: Brad Lidge. If I'm not mistaken, Mr. Lidge has already blown a save, and that's without having faced the man who makes him squirm like a college sophomore after a keg party. Everyone's talking about the Milwaukee Brewers – as in "ooh, look out, the Brewers could be for real this year." Sure they could. And so could the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. That's not exactly fair, I know, but I'll believe in the Brewers when they give me some kind of reason. Of course, the same thing could have been said about the Detroit Tigers last year or of the Florida Marlins in '03 … but at least the Tigers had Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, and Kiss going for them. Not to mention the fact that Magnum P.I. wore a Tigers' hat. No one, to my knowledge, has ever worn a Brewers' cap, outside of Milwaukee.

I'll lay off the Cubs for now. Let's just see how long it takes Lou Pinella to dig first base out of the ground and throw it, prompting the ghost of Harry Carey to order another round at the bar in heaven.

Here are my picks for the NL:

NL Central:

1) Cards
2) Cubs
3) Brewers
4) Astros
5) Pirates

Now then, westward, ho! The NL West will be fun this year, as it looks to be totally up for grabs. The L.A. Dodgers are the trendy pick, and I love trends. The Dodgers should win, though they'll face a stiff challenge from both the Colorado Rockies (gasp!) and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Luckily for everyone who loves the game of baseball, the San Francisco Giants will finish in last place and Barry Bonds will walk away from the game as a known cheater who still couldn't win a championship. He'll get the home-run record and an asterisk to go with it.

NL West:

1) Dodgers
2) Rockies
3) Diamondbacks
4) Padres
5) Giants

The NL East has changed, finally. Sorry, Ted Turner, but the days of the Atlanta Braves dominating the division are over. The New York Mets are now the team to beat. Hotlanta could reclaim their place at the top of the East, but beating the Mets will be tough. New York is hungry to finish the business they started last season, when they cruised to their first division title since grunge. The Philadelphia Phillies will once again have people talking – and their own fans booing. The Florida Marlins and the Washington Nationals will serve as fodder for the New York sporting press.

NL East:

1) Mets
2) Braves (NL wild card)
3) Phillies
4) Marlins
5) Nationals

NL Division Series:
Dodgers over Braves
Mets over Cardinals

Mets over Dodgers

The Mets will earn a spot in the World Series, where they will either beat the Angels or lose to whoever comes out of the AL Central.

NL MVP: Albert Pujols. I'm calling it right now: Triple Crown. Why the hell not? Somebody's got to do it sooner or later. Might as well be Pujols. How do .336, 54 HRs, and 178 RBIs sound? Sounds like the MVP to me.

NL Cy Young: Ben Sheets. Only if the Brewers prove me a dummy. He'll need to stay healthy and get at least 35 starts.

NL Manager of the Year: Apologies to Tony La Russa (I love a good fell-asleep-at-the-wheel-after-a-night-of-boozing story and the redemption that follows), but I'm giving it to Willie Randolph.

So there you have it, friends. My thoughts on the upcoming season in the only real league in professional baseball – the National League. No designated hitters here, folks. You want to throw at someone, Roger Clemens? You'll have to get in the batter's box. Look how well that turned out. Now the word on the grim streets of Houston is that the Rocket, all 40-however-many years of him, sea-shell necklaces, frosted-tipped hair and all, is heading back to the AL. Good riddance, say I. Bring a championship to Texas? Better learn how to play a different game, Roger.

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