At least those are the expectations according to the current MLB futures odds heading into 2014, the teams carrying the lowest odds very similar to those going into the 2013 campaign. That list includes the same two squads at the top of the chart as a season ago, along with the eventual pennant winners. Let's start out west with the overall favorites to claim the Senior Circuit title.
We turn our sights to the National League and examine the current betting odds on offer before we lock in our MLB picks.
Dodgers Lead Way In NL West
It's essentially the same team manager Don Mattingly had at his disposal last year when the Los Angeles Dodgers were 3/1 to win the NL on Opening Day. Only this time, LA is an even stronger 5/2 choice on the NL futures odds.
The biggest money spent during the winter was to lock up 2-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw to a record contract. He'll lead a very stout rotation that also includes Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Josh Beckett and one new addition, free agent Dan Haren. The Dodgers also beefed up the 'pen with Chris Perez to team with Brian Wilson setting up closer Kenley Jansen.
Two questions exist in the batting order, starting with when Matt Kemp is ready to play following another injury-marred season that ended with ankle surgery. The other unknown is at second base where Los Angeles signed Cuban star Alex Guerrero. If he can't cut it during spring training, the job could go to speedy midfielder Dee Gordon.
Los Angeles' chief competition in the NL West is expected to come from the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants, 10/1 and 12/1 pennant wagers, respectively. The D-backs added punch to the lineup by trading for Mark Trumbo from the Angels, and brought in closer Addison Reed in the same 3-team trade from the White Sox. The Giants opted for the free agent market where they purchased slugger Mike Morse and righthander Tim Hudson.
The Colorado Rockies (30/1) and San Diego Padres (35/1) figure to bring up the rear of the division.
Nats Coming Off Disappointing '13
Just as they were last April, the Washington Nationals are second to the Dodgers on the NL futures odds chart, currently commanding 7/2 pennant odds. A slow start plus injuries to young stars Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were too much to overcome, leaving the Nationals a distant 10-games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East at season's end.
One of the biggest changes Washington made was at manager where Matt Williams takes over for Davey Johnson. Strasburg and Harper are supposed to be 100% for spring training, and Doug Fister was acquired to make for a very strong rotation that also includes Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez.
The Braves are once again expected to battle for another division league flag. Atlanta is priced at 8/1 to win the NL despite losing both Hudson to the Giants and Brian McCann to the Yankees. Manager Fredi Gonzalez will lean heavily on young arms Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, along with both 2B Dan Uggla and BJ Upton bouncing back from sub-.200 batting averages in 2013.
An aging lineup may be finally catching up to the Philadelphia Phillies who are 20/1 choices on the NL futures odds. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins all seem in decline, but the top of the rotation is solid with lefties Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.
The New York Mets (50/1) and Miami Marlins (60/1) finish off the division.
Redbirds Aim For 5th NL Title In 11 Seasons
Last year at this time, the St. Louis Cardinals were running second to the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central on to the baseball betting odds, and fifth among all Senior Circuit squads. All they did was appear in their ninth NLCS since 2000, claiming a fourth pennant in the process. The season ended with a second World Series loss in 10 seasons to the Red Sox, but the Cards are once again a solid 9/2 choice to return to the Fall Classic.
St. Louis waved so long to Carlos Beltran, David Freese and Edward Mujica, and the two biggest additions were Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos. But as they always seem to do, the Cardinals have young talent ready to step in, such as Michael Wacha, Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras.
This time it's Cincinnati's turn to play second fiddle on the MLB odds to St. Louis. The Reds are 8/1 to win the NL after Bryan Price was hired as manager Dusty Baker's replacement, and it could be fun to watch Billy Hamilton at the top of the order in his first full big-league season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were a feel-good story in 2013 as they broke a string of 20-straight losing seasons with a 94-win campaign and first playoff appearance since 1992. There is some skepticism in their chances of making the playoffs again as the Bucs are 12/1 to win the NL.
Closing out the division are a pair of 30/1 squads, the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers.