Alright, Chuck – turnabout is fair play and now I’ll take a crack at the National League… For those new to the process, Cory will pick the leading number in major statistical categories and the league leader... and you'll tear me to shreds (in italics) and set me straight.
Despite the presence of the Nationals while we were both living in D.C., I think both of us see the Senior Circuit less than we do the Junior, but, as you so astutely pointed out, we’ll bet on anything, so here we go!
Batting Average: Despite the batting title by Freddy Sanchez last year – a nice thing to see in the year that Pittsburgh hosted the All-Star game, I still think the contest for best pure hitter in the NL comes down to two names: Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. Amazingly Cabrera is still only 23 on Opening Day 2007 and has improved in most major categories every year. He hit .339 last year, which might be his peak, so I see a slight decline but still a win – Miguel Cabrera at .337 takes the title.
Wow, a good number right off the bat. And good guesses as to the leaders. I'll take the other top candidate, Pujols, and I think he'll edge just a bit over your number -- let's say .340.
Home Runs: I have absolutely no reason for this, but I just cannot see Ryan Howard pushing 60 homers again this year. That being said, only Pujols and Berkman hit more than 45, so how could you bet against him? Therefore, I think the number is the thing and I see a modest slip… Ryan Howard with 52. For good measure and extra credit, I’ll put Barry Bonds at 31 for the season with a broken record by the All-Star game and 40+ days on the DL after.
I'm tempted to call for another Cardinals triple crown (did you know they have three of the NL's four -- can you name them?), but I say Pujols just misses out and Howard takes the HR title. He doesn't quite reach your number, though -- call it 50 on the nose.
I think Rogers Hornsby won two, and I know Mike Schmidt won one, so I wonder if there are two or one additional Cardinals (checking online would be cheating). I don’t think Musial won a Triple Crown and, just going through my memory of the the ridiculous number of Cardinals in the Hall of Fame I’ll guess Medwick? If there’s another I have no clue – Mordecai Three Fingers Brown? I digress…
RBI’s: Like Papi, Ryan Howard won the HR and RBI title last year and, like I said with Ortiz, I don’t believe it will happen this year. Assuming good health, I see a slight slip in Pujols’ average at age 27, but a slight uptick in his run production. I’ll think he’ll push 50 HR (and 300 career) and 150 RBI’s, although I don’t think he’ll get there. Albert Pujols will get 141, however, and that will take the league crown.
I'll take Pujols as well for this crown. I think that the Cards offense will be a little down this year, though -- injuries and age catch up with them, and there are fewer guys on base for King Albert. I think he fails to crack 140 -- give him 138, and put me down for the under.
Runs: Last year was all about the Mets and Phillies when it came to runs. Chase Utley, Carlos Beltran, Jimmy Rollins, and Jose Reyes. That’s an impressive group and I believe the winner will come from that list again. The Phils have upgraded their pitching and may challenge the Mets, but I still have to go with the Amazin’s in terms of offensive firepower. If Reyes continues to shoot up the charts in terms of OBP (.271 to .300 to .354 the last three seasons), he’ll be on base close to 250 times with a lot of hitting behind him. Therefore, I have to give it to Jose Reyes and put the number pretty high at 128.
Its been a while since the league run total was won that low -- 2002, to be exact. And that leader, Sammy Sosa, is now out of baseball (wait, you say he's not?!!? They must be drinking the kool-aid (or, more likely, eating the Mezcal worm) down there in Arlington this year). I'm going over, at 130. Who wins it? I think the Mets will take a slight turn downward offensively, and I'm not sold that Reyes gets on base quite so much this year. So let me call Chase Utley to repeat atop the Senior Circuit in the runs category this year.
Steals: Unlike the AL, there was no problem reaching 50 in the Senior Circuit. At the risk of sweating Jose Reyes a bit, especially considering he still has plenty of flaws in game, he has swiped 60 in back to back seasons and he clearly has 70 in him with his current success rate of nearly 80%. Is he the modern day Rickey Henderson, at least once he’s on the base paths? Well not quite, and I peg him back a bit because the Mets won’t want him running out of innings, but 62 seems fair for Jose Reyes with Hanley Ramirez a half-dozen or so back.
If you had pegged it at 60, I'd have a real dilemma, but I think 62 is high. As I said before, I think Reyes has somewhat fewer chances this year. Reyes probably will take the title, but I'll be contrary and choose otherwise-sucky Juan Pierre to win, at 59.
Juan Pierre? Will you buy me dinner if Pierre fails to get on base 59 times? ;-)
Charles is an estate planning lawyer in Chevy Chase, Maryland who is quite confident Justin Morneau's heirs will survive despite talks breaking down on a multiyear deal.
Cory is an immigration lawyer in San Diego who is less confident that Sidney Ponson will pitch well enough to get his visa renewed.