Projecting the four best offenses in the National League
The three best offenses in Major League Baseball and perhaps seven of the top 10 reside in the American League.
The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Texas Rangers — you pick the order — are widely predicted to produce the most runs in 2011. All three teams play in hitters’ ballparks and each of them has multiple All-Stars in their lineup.
But even though AL offenses tend to command the most attention, there are plenty of strong run-producing teams in the National League as well. Here is a look at this year’s top five NL offenses:
On opening day, with the Reds trailing the Milwaukee Brewers by three runs in the ninth inning, Brandon Phillips scanned the crowd and couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
"I looked up and saw people leaving, and I was like, 'C'mon, man, you're slipping on us already?'" Phillips told ESPN.com.
Cincinnati promptly scored four runs — capped off by Ramon Hernandez’s three-run walkoff home run — to win the game, 7-6.
Don’t sleep on the Reds, who have the NL’s deepest, most dangerous lineup. The offense, led by NL MVP Joey Votto, remains intact, with outfielders Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce expected to improve on strong 2010 campaigns.
Only one player, Jonny Gomes, figures to regress. The Reds, who had an NL-best 4.87 runs per game and 188 home runs in 2010, should once again be the best offense.
The Reds have played over the total in four of their first five games this season.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel recently lamented the fact that he has had to juggle his lineup card more this year than in previous seasons.
“I don’t know exactly who’s healthy and I’m still looking for some balance in our lineup,” Manuel told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Of particular concern to Manuel are the Phillies’ No. 3 and No. 5 spots, which were occupied last year by Chase Utley, out indefinitely with a knee injury, and Jayson Werth, who signed a free-agent contract with the Washington Nationals in the offseason.
But while Manuel’s concerns are legitimate, the reality is that the Phillies have enough offensive firepower to be productive. They’ve scored 32 runs through five games already, and Ryan Howard — coming off the worst season of his big-league career — is off to a fast start in 2011 and poised to have a bounce-back year.
The over is 4-0-1 entering Thursday’s game against the New York Mets.
The argument can be made that the Braves have a better lineup than the Phillies. Every player is capable of reaching double figures in home runs, and the roster has a good mix of veterans (Chipper Jones, Brian McCann) and rising stars (Jason Heyward, Martin Prado).
Perhaps the most underrated acquisition of the offseason, Dan Uggla, provides the Braves with plenty of pop in the middle of the order.
The big question, and this always seems to be the question with the Braves, is whether or not they can stay healthy. While Jones will surely make his annual trip to the disabled list at some point, the Braves can’t afford to lose guys like Prado and Heyward, who each missed time with injuries in 2010.
The over is just 2-3-1 in Atlanta’s first six games in 2011.
This is where it starts to get ugly, but the Brewers get the nod here because of their two big boppers, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, who should both bounce back from down seasons.
Fielder and Braun combined for 57 home runs and 186 RBIs in 2010, well below their combined totals in 2008 (71 HR, 208 RBIs) and 2009 (78 HR, 255 RBIs). Even so, the Brewers still managed to rank fourth in the NL in runs scored last year and did so by