Best NL lineups: Cardinals 2-through-5 devastating
NO. 1 -- CARDINALS
This team could win this award every year, couldn't it? In this millennium, the Cardinals lead the non-Coorsian portion of the NL in runs, hits, extra-base hits, batting average and on-base percentage. They've scored five-plus runs a game in six of the last seven seasons -- and averaged 4.9 a game the year they missed (2002). There were even arguments made last year that Larry Walker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds comprise the best middle of any order in the last half-century. We don't know about that. But the big news is that they're now minus Edgar Renteria and a leadoff man who hit .307 last year (Tony Womack). So it should tell you something that in this poll, they barely edged Florida -- a team they outscored by 137 runs last year.
THE REVIEWS: "No team has a better 2-through-5. Walker, Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds would all hit cleanup for most teams." ... "Walker, Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds is a formidable stretch of power, patience and no real vulnerability to left-handers or right-handers." ... "Weird lineup, with a few stars and a few black holes." ... "Nowhere near as good. Losing Renteria [for David Eckstein] is a huge downgrade." ... "More holes than ever. You don't fear Eckstein, [Reggie] Sanders, [Mark] Grudzielanek or [Yadier] Molina. And Walker is schizophrenic."
PITCHER'S REVIEW: "They're not the same. But one thing that strikes incredible fear in a pitcher is a team that has a large amount of guys who can go the other way and hit a home run. And that's what this team does."
NO. 2 -- MARLINS
They don't walk enough. They've had one left-handed hitter in the history of the franchise (Cliff Floyd) hit 20 homers in a season. And the computer crowd isn't too high on their approach. But it's a funny thing about the Marlins. Despite their numbers, pitchers have always hated pitching to them. And that was before they added Carlos Delgado, who outhomered all of Florida's left-handed hitters, 74-27, the last two years. The Phillies outscored them by 122 runs last year, outhomered them by 67 and even stole four more bases, but only two voters ranked the Phillies ahead of the Fish in this poll. Which tells you all you need to know about the impact Delgado may have on this lineup.
THE REVIEWS: "They've got it all now. They mix speed and power from the top to the bottom. If the two guys at the top [Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo] get on, the three guys in the middle [Miguel Cabrera, Delgado, Mike Lowell] will kill you. And then you get to [Paul] LoDuca. ... If you're in a tie game and the leadoff guy [Pierre] gets on, you feel like the game is over." ... "With Delgado hitting behind Cabrera, that kid could take off." ... "Miguel Cabrera is the best young player in the game." ... "Finally fixed that right-left problem they had." ... "That's a lineup with variety, balance and power."
PITCHER'S REVIEW: "I hate to see them get Delgado. That guy owns me."
NO. 3 -- PHILLIES
Even in a season in which Pat Burrell disappeared in the second half, Jim Thome played all year with a broken bone in his hand, they blew past 1,100 whiffs for the fourth time in five years, and center field was an offensive chasm, the Phillies dominated their division in runs, hits, homers, OPS, walks, on-base percentage and extra-base hits. And guess who was the only team in baseball beside the Cardinals with 200 homers and 100 steals. So if Charlie Manuel can straighten out Burrell, and Thome can stay healthy, and Kenny Lofton duplicates his last NL season (.296, 12 HR, 30 SB in 2003), we might find out why a couple of voters rated the Phillies ahead of the Marlins and Cardinals. But if none of those three things happen? Well, never mind.
THE REVIEWS: "Potent middle of the order." ... "Good core, and the best on-base lineup in the league."... "If Burrell can hit fourth, that's a better lineup than people think." ... "A lot of guys who walk. A lot of guys who hit the ball out. And [second baseman] Chase Utley is going to be a hell of a hitter." ... "Too many strikeouts, but dangerous all the way through."
NO. 4 -- GIANTS
The names in this lineup don't seem to terrify anybody -- other than one name. (Guess who?) But the Giants still came within five of leading the league in runs scored last year. And that was in a year in which no one except the left fielder drove in 100 runs or scored 100 (for the second straight season). But you should never underestimate the ripple effect of having one man reach base almost 400 times -- particularly now that Moises Alou is around to protect that man. So if you can ignore the fact this lineup is practically as old as the Beach Boys, this is still one of the most respectable offenses in the league.
THE REVIEWS: "Bonds, until proven otherwise, is the biggest force in baseball. Many solid lineup pieces around him with new acquisitions like [Omar] Vizquel and Alou." ... "They still have that Bonds guy." ... "A lot of professional players who have been through a lot. And adding Alou is a huge thing." ... "They've got guys who can beat you, but I don't see the same depth as some of these other groups."
NO. 5 -- CUBS
No Cubs team ever hit more home runs than the 2004 Cubbies (235). And a lot of good that did them. So this winter the Cubs made more history: By trading Sammy Sosa and letting Alou take a free-agent exit ramp, they became the fourth team ever to jettison two 35-homer guys in the same offseason. Which doesn't mean the 2005 Cubs can't score or win. Even with all those homers last year, they still finished only seventh in the league in runs -- and barely outscored a Padres team that hit nearly 100 fewer home runs. If they figure out how to actually score from second on a single once in a while, it wouldn't be a shock for this Cubs team to outscore last year's, Sammy or no Sammy.
THE REVIEWS: "Professional hitters throughout. A little right-handed heavy in the middle." ... "Still pretty impressive with [Nomar] Garciaparra, [Aramis] Ramirez, [Derrek] Lee, [Corey] Patterson, [Todd] Walker, [Michael] Barrett -- and then add [Jeromy] Burnitz and maybe [Jerry] Hairston." ... "Too many strikeouts in that lineup, compared with the other clubs." ... "I think the biggest worry is that Ramirez is now the go-to guy, and I'm not sure he's ready for that. He never had that pressure in Pittsburgh. And on this team, he's always had Alou and Sosa."
NOT ENOUGH VOTES TO MAKE THE LIST: Reds, Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, Mets.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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