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Bigger but not better, the National League still divides easily into contenders and also rans. Centrifuging out at the bottom are the Phillies. For four years they were building and finished in the collar. So at last `they've traded some young hopefuls for the fat, faded, Roy Sievers. If Art Mahaffey's capricious arm goes, the record of 33 straight losses which they struggled to establish last summer is in jeopardy.
The Houston Colt Abe should run out of ammunition pretty fast. Star Bobby Shants' arm is stamped reject, and even their slugger, Ramon Mejias, ain't what he used to be. And what was he?
The Mets, who should win their share of ballgames in June and July (just after the team jells and just before they disintegrate from age), will leave the Polo Grounds for a new stadium in Flushing next year. At that time their name will be changed to the Toilet.
For seventh, the Cubs have Ernie Banks, and there's considerable evidence to prove that he's not enough. As for the defending National League Champions, their pitching staff can hardly repeat its 1961 performance. Oilman Joey Jay is out of shape, Bob Purkey isn't getting younger and Jim O'Tools was just lucky. The infield of Cardenas, Blasingame and Kasko looks sick.
Milwaukee's days are over and the Braves should settle for fifth. Age has withered Herr Warren Spahn, and custom not only staled his infinite variety but deprived him of his fastball. The Braves opened the season with no one in left or right, and it is very difficult for Hank Aaron to cover the whole outfield expanse.
Most observers pick the Dodgers to win, but I think Walt Alston is capable of of keeping his multi-million dollar crew out of the running. Alston has a remarkable knack for platting young ballplayers who need to play regularly. Unless he is replaced by Durocher when the old Bums flounder in July, he may single-handedly keep Frank Howard and Willie Davis from becoming major league stars.
No amount of mismanaging could hamper Ron Fairly and Tommy Davis, who should battle each other for the batting crown some year; but until L.A. develops a star of Anron's or Mays' stature (no, Wally Moon doesn't rate), their attack is too diffuse to mean much. The L.A. staff, too, is full of huriers who have been potential greats for a suspiciously long period: Drysdale, Koufax, Williams, Podres, Sherry . . . all deliberate speed and much unintentional wildness.
The Pirates, on the other hand, have some reliability, Roughly the same team that won in '60, Pittsburgh sorely feels the demise of Vern Law. But good relievers and second-line hurlers should help considerably. Roberto Clemente is a good bet to win the batting crown, while Groat and Maseroski still make the best keystone combination in the business. Rookie Don Clendenon may move Bob Skinner to the bench this year.
Steady though they may be, the Pirates can hardly hope to keep pace with the Cards, who should lead until the end of August when Stan Musial wilts in the heat. With speed at short and second (Julio Gotay and Julio Javier), and power at first and third (Bill White and Ken Boyer), the Card infield is well anchored. The outfield of Musial, Curt Flood and the recently acquired Minnie Minoso should hit a collective .300. Good front line pitching from Ernie Broglio, Lindy MacDaniel and Larry Jackson is indispensable, however.
Baseball writers have offered the horrible winds of Candlestick Park as the reason that the Giants will lose ... Don't bet on it. Orlando Cepeda has been belting 400 foot shots into the wind, and Willie Mays hardly feels the draft. With Cepeda back at first Harvey Kuenin and Felipe Alou (say it fast and you know a great Jamaican curse) flanking Mays in the outfield, the Giants have Matty Alou (same to you) and Willy McCovey on the bench. For the first time in three years the Giant hopes don't rest on the erratic shoulders of McCovey, and they couldn't look better.
Baseball is a dying sport: television, automobiles and urbanization have helped kill the minor leagues, and the watered-down majors are in real trouble. But if the National League limps through another season, it should be in this order: Giants, Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers, Braves, Reds, Cubs, Mets, Colt 45s, and Phillies
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