National League Central:
This is NOT the year for the Chicago Cubs, even though that goes against my personal beliefs. Unfortunately the defending MVP reigns from Cincinnati, St. Louis has Albert Pujols and the Brewers acquired a former Cy Young winner.
1. Cincinnati Reds (92-70)— Joey Votto is a stud who is still developing into one of the best complete hitters in baseball, so last year shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. What was truly shocking however was the emergence of Jay Bruce. This guy was supposed to be a beast when he first came up, disappointed upon arrival, and seemingly forgotten about. Last year he had a very solid line of .281-80-25-70 in 148 games showing that he is making vast improvements in his game. The biggest question mark with this team is who the ace is. Edison Volquez is tabbed opening day starter but he hasn’t been good and healthy since 2008 and Bronson Arroyo surely isn’t the ace either. The remedy for the Reds however is their depth. They have young arms ready to contribute and old arms ready to mentor, making this team primed to win back to back NL Central titles.
2. St. Louis Cardinals (89-73)— They lost Adam Wainwright, yes, but people seem to be forgetting that Dave Duncan is the pitching coach for La Rusa’s Cards. I will personally guarantee that this rotation will be the best in the NL Central by year’s end because of the knowledge and expertise of Duncan. He has Chris Carpenter heading this rotation and youngster Kyle McClellan all but locking up the back end. McClellan seems like a perfect candidate to become the Jaime Garcia of last season. Oh, and by the way, they still have Albert Pujols for another year and I am so sick of hearing about how he had a down year last year. A .312-115-41-118 line is a career year for 99% of players in the Majors… so how about we cut him a little slack for not hitting .350. He is the best hitter in baseball and has the ability to carry this team by himself for weeks at a time. This team will be right in it to the end and will need a third option to step up behind Pujols and Matt Holliday in order to take home the hardware.
3. Chicago Cubs (84-78)— Carlos Pena could be the savior for the bleacher bums in right field, or another failure by GM Jim Hendry because ten million dollars is a lot of money to pay for someone who hit below the Mendoza line last year. If Pena steps up as well as Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro, the Cubs may have a formidable top of the lineup and score enough for their starters to pick up some W’s. Speaking of the starters, the Cubs rotation has the potential to be a real bright spot this year if Carlos Zambrano doesn’t have his inner demons show up again. The three headed monster of Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Zambrano could be the best in the Central and may very well lift them to contention. In addition, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood have been reunited to form what should be a lights-out 1-2 punch in the back end of their bullpen.
4. Milwaukee Brewers (72-90)— Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are a frightening righty-lefty punch, you add healthy years from Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks and you probably would guess this team won a hundred games and outscored the Astros and Pirates combined. Well, you would have guessed wrong. Their pitching staff was incredibly porous and in order to address that this offseason, the Brewers front office aggressively attacked Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Problem is, they got Greinke two year too late and Marcum really enjoys some off time on the DL. Honestly, the best part of this team is John Axford’s facial hair. That guy means some serious business.
5. Pittsburg Pirates (63-99)— Good news! You will probably be out of the Central’s cellar. Bad news… you still suck. Sorry Pirates fans. As much potential as Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker have, your pitching staff will still give up eight runs a game. It’s a real shame they got rid of Zack Duke because he was honestly the only pitcher who I found recognizable on the Pirates. But that sadi, this team may be headed in the right direction for the first time in a decade with Andrew McCutchens leading the way. They remind me a lot of the Tampa Bay Rays. They look really bad on paper, but one year all their talent is just going to explode and take them straight to the top. Hey- it pays to have the first pick in the draft every single year.
6. Houston Astros (60-102)— There is a reason why jockeys are only 100 pounds- because horses can’t carry much of a load to the finish line. Same goes for El Caballo. Carlos lee could barely carry a team in his prime, and now after a horrific season, he looks more like someone waiting for their AARP card to come than a Major League slugger. Sad thing is that he is large and by far their hitter to complement the overrated Hunter Pence, whose slightly above-average talents are being wasted in the Texas heat that is slowly melting the Astros to nothing. This is a team without an identity with the departures of Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. It’s sad to think that the last of the ‘Killer B’s’ is gone. It was fun while it lasted Astros fans.
Wide Open NL Central Comes Down to the End with Brew Crew on Top
1. Brewers (92-70)– No question the Brewers number one concern last year was their pitching staff. So what did they do in the offseason? They went out and got 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and a guy with a ton of potential, Shawn Marcum, to go along with Yovani Gallardo, who has all the tools to become an ace. Last year they saw guys like Corey Hart, Casey McGehee, and Ricky Weeks take major steps in the right direction while Ryan Braun and The Prince had “quiet” years. These sluggers will without a doubt challenge the NL for the most homers in the league and are in prime condition to take this rather weak division. Let’s just say that Bernie the Brewer will be taking many trips down the slide at Miller Park this year.
2. Cubs (90-72)– It’s hard to believe that a team, which finished fifth in the division a year ago can improve so much after acquiring players like Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, and some guy by the name of Kerry Wood. With Spring Training in Arizona comes millions of Cubs fans hopes’ around the nation of turnaround years from Big Z, Kosuke, and Alfonso Soriano. Every other baseball fan in the world laughs at the Cubs for having such false hopes. So why are they going to finish second in the NL Central? Because I am a Cubs fan and Zambrano will win the Cy Young award, Soriano will return to his pre- Windy City days, and Fukudome will provide more than just his $48 million defense. In all seriousness, Castro may be the most exciting to watch nowadays, but Aramis Ramirez will remain the leader of this offense. The combination of veteran leadership, young talent, and a solidified pitching staff could very well lead them to where they want to go. Yes, America, that is the World Series. But then again I am just a Cubs fan, or in other words, let’s do this for Ronny.
3. Reds (89-73)– Perhaps the most solid starting rotation, one through five, in the NL comes from last year’s Central division champs. Edinson Volquez has had problems with staying healthy in the past, but if he avoids the shelf and puts in quality innings week in and week out, they could defend their title. While Drew Stubbs may not accomplish what he did last year, all sings point towards Jay Bruce continuing to improve. The sky is the limit for Joey Votto, the man who stole the MVP from the Machine himself. It’s scary to think that we haven’t even seen him in full action. As for Brandon Phillips, I personally think he is overrated, but he proves every year that he can put up solid numbers at second. Still though, the Reds have a number of holes to fill, which Scott Rolen won’t even be able to pick up this time around.
4. Cardinals (83-79)– The final team that has a legitimate shot at the division crown is the red birds. Highlights of this offseason are not positive ones. They lost 2010 Cy Young runner-up Adam Wainwright for the entire season and Albert Pujols may have just become the Lebron James of the MLB, but as a baseball fan, let’s hope not. Any team one through four in this division can do some damage, and just because the Cards lost their ace and will have to deal with Pujols drama throughout the year (even though they said it won’t start until after the season), you can never count Tony LaRussa’s squad out. Pujols and Holliday are a pair of the most intimidating 3, 4 hitters in the game while young star Colby Rasmus may be due for a breakout year. Lance Berkman may be on the decline, but adding him could turn out to be a huge move as he is only a couple years removed from an electric season. They surely will miss Wainwright, but they have enough pieces to show why they belong at the top.
5. Astros (73-89)– Houston, we have a problem. Lance Berkman is gone, and El Caballo is coming off of his worst year in the majors. But the Astros could get one thing right, and that is to realize that those days are over. Step aside Lee. Adios Berkman and Oswalt. The new era has begun. Enter Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence. Ok, that may not be very reassuring, but these are two of the youngest stars in the league and they should provide some sort of entertainment at Minute Maid Park. Brett Myers, Wandy, and J.A. Happ should help this ballclub win some games though. Must we go any further? There are too many holes in this lineup. One thing is for sure: they shouldn’t have to worry about the Bucs.
6. Pirates (59-103)– It’s hard not to be entirely negative when talking about the Pirates, so let’s try and be as positive as possible. Andrew McCutchen had a very solid year in 2010. Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata could be future stars, but probably not in Pittsburgh. Alright, that’s enough of that. Garrett Jones may have seen his best days after only 3 years in the league. Ronny Cedeno could have been something special, but the Cubs ruined that for him. Let’s save the energy on coming up with reasons for why their pitchers may be decent this year. It’s not worth it. The most exciting news of the offseason was the announcement of Joel Hanrahan, who coming off a great year, as their new closer. Really though, what good is it if he only gets on average 30 times a season to close out a game? Don’t worry Pittsburgh you still have your Steelers to watch come football season! Oh wait, maybe not. You can blame Roger Goodell for that one.