Though the Boys of Summer are still a few months from spring training we take a look at three NL teams who could surprise and earn their backers big bucks in their MLB picks come October.
NL Pennant Longshots
1. San Francisco Giants (12-1 in MLB Odds) - Ironically it was pitching that propelled the Giants to greatness in 2010 and 2012 but it was the lack of said pitching that decimated their dreams and sank them to the bottom tier of the National League last season. But this year should be different as we look for a new and improved effort from San Francisco.
Here's what we've got and why we're inclined to look through our rose-colored glasses. The Giants ace Madison Bumgarner is a premium pitcher who will undoubtedly, barring injury, return to form and head the rotation.
Matt Cain, the number two man, is just one of the guys who fell woefully short of expectations as his inexplicable proclivity to surrender homerun balls pretty much buried him and his team last season. He’s a proven commodity and will bounce back.
Tim Hudson has been signed to a two-year-deal that will bolster the Giants pitching staff unto itself while also setting them free of the big money, under-producing albatross that is Barry Zito. In the fourth spot is a former two-time NL Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum who lowered his ERA in 2013 almost a full point from his disastrous 2012 campaign. He’s still only 29-years-old and his ceiling is limitless. Finally, Ryan Vogelsong threw a career high in terms of innings in ’12 and then started ’13 out by pitching in the WBC. His command struggled and his arm was clearly spent. Better things in store this season for him and the Giants in your MLB picks.
2. Colorado Rockies (30-1 in MLB Odds) – The Rockies started out impressively last season but unfortunately they dipped out of contention shortly thereafter. In the offseason the Rocks went out and added pitching depth, trading for Jordan Lyles and Brett Anderson. Now those two names won’t trigger any crotchety old baseball guy to get misty-eyed, reminiscing of the days when Mike Maddux and Randy Johnson struck fear into the hearts of opposing batters but they add much needed depth and both should crack the rotation that features Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge de la Rosa at the top.
The Rockies also boast a hot prospect in Corey Dickerson who will be ensconced in centerfield now that Dexter Fowler has been dealt. Nolan Arenado is another intriguing prospect plying his trade in the hot corner. In addition you have one of the biggest guns in the game in Carlos Gonzalez surrounded by All-Star Troy Tulowitzki and a group of solid bats which makes the Rockies an interesting possibility to capture the NL pennant at 30-1 odds and higher at many offshore shops.
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3. Atlanta Braves (9-1 in MLB Odds) – So maybe the Braves are not the proverbial dark horse candidate but at 9-1 the return on investment might make them worth a wager or two. Yes, we know the Bravos lost Brian McCann to those damn Yankees in free agency and Tim Hudson headed for greener (and I do mean greener) pastures when he decided to switch jerseys and ply his craft with the Giants. However, there are a few pitchers who started rough for Atlanta and ended brilliantly.
Kris Medlen went 8-2 with a 2.00 ERA and a .094 WHIP over his last 11 games. Julio Teheran followed suit as he heated up after a rocky beginning, posting a 2.81 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in his last 27 games. It might just be the springboard Atlanta needs to not only reclaim the NL East title but make it to the World Series.