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Phillies the early World Series favorite

With pitchers and catchers all set to head out to Florida and Arizona, it is apparent Major League Baseball is ready to fill some of the void in the sports world left by the end of the National Football League season.

To that end, it is time to talk about the 2012 campaign and which teams are the so-called "best bets" to win the National and American League pennants as well as the World Series.

Whatever betting site you visit, the Philadelphia Phillies are the early favorites to win this season's Fall Classic. That is somewhat surprising on one level as manager Charlie Manuel's squad has gone in reverse since winning the 2008 World Series. Don't forget, the Phillies lost to the New York Yankees in the 2009 Series, were eliminated by the San Franciso Giants in the NL Championship Series the following year, and then failed to even make the NLCS in 2011, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the final game of the Division Series.

On the other hand, Philadelphia does not have to defeat the kinds of teams the top AL clubs have to face in order to reach to the World Series. And since getting there is half the battle, the Phillies' odds are lower than all of the AL teams that might have more overall talent.

The difference between Philadelphia and the second- and third-ranked NL squads (Miami and San Francisco) in terms of odds to even reach the Fall Classic is around to 5-1. Over in the American League, the Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers are not only all lumped together, but also all interchangeable depending on the sportsbook. Furthermore, all five teams are between 3-1 to 5-1 odds to even win the AL pennant.

With the departure of NL stars such as Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to the AL, the balance of power has shifted to the Junior Circuit. Some might say the AL was already the dominant league over the past few seasons, but key statistics prove otherwise, especially when it comes to the World Series hardware. The Cardinals come into 2012 as the reigning World Series champions after disposing the Rangers in an exciting seven- game series last October and the Giants proved best in 2011 with a five-game win over Texas.

The Senior Circuit has taken home the World Series in three of the last four seasons and four of the last six. Moreover, the NL has won the last two All- Star games after failing to come home a winner between 1996 and 2009.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Philadelphia is the NL favorite because the team returns three of its four aces from a year ago: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. However, despite last year's 102 regular-season victories, the bottom fell out in the postseason when the offense fell apart.

The Phillies batted .226 as a team against St. Louis, but that number does not tell the whole story. Take away the 11-6 victory in Game 1 and the batting average drops down to a pathetic .181.

General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. upgraded the team's bench over the winter, but last year's problems came more from the starting lineup than the reserves. This season might not be as strong with slugged Ryan Howard out for an indefinite period of time, and the rest of the offense is loaded with aging veterans, such as Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco.

It is true that good pitching beats good hitting, but the Phillies were not even the team with the best pitching the last two years. Philadelphia is not as much of a lock to win the NL East as it was the last few years. Still, a 10-game drop-off from 2011 should be good enough to keep the Phillies in the postseason. However, taking 2-1 to win the pennant and 6-1 to win the World Series are sucker bets.

Two teams to keep in mind as possible NL pennant and World Series plays are Atlanta (10-1, 25-1) and Cincinnati (12-1, 25-1).

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Texas has been the class of the AL with two straight World Series appearances. Nevertheless, improvements made by other AL clubs might place the Rangers on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned.

The Angels have a very good chance of dethroning Texas as AL West champions with the additions of Pujols and former Rangers' starting pitcher, C.J. Wilson.

Detroit brought in Fielder to protect Miguel Cabrera, so the Tigers have to be considered one of the favorites to win the AL pennant. Jim Leyland's squad has a much easier road than the favorites in the East or West since it is almost a forgone conclusion the Tigers will win the Central.

The Yankees and Red Sox will once again renew their rivalry in the East and you can never count out the Tampa Bay Rays, especially after last year's dramatic comeback to make the playoffs.

Detroit is the team to beat in the American League, so the 4-1 odds to win the pennant certainly look appealing. In addition, the Tigers are a great bet at 8-1 to win the World Series.