MLB Preview 2010: NL Central


ST LOUIS CARDINALS


Most people are blindly picking the Cards as NL Central champions, but they may have their hands full if they’re looking to repeat in the Central this year. Of course Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday will be the greatest 3-4 combination in the game. Holliday quickly found himself back in his comfort zone in the NL after leaving for the A’s for only 93 games. In Holliday’s 63 games with the Cards, he hit 55 RBI and posted a .353 BA. Meanwhile, Pujols led the league in homers. Ryan Ludwick will also contribute extra power, but after them, the lineup is quite barren. This could pose a major problem throughout the course of the season if none of the young players step up.

Another problem the Cards could face is being forced to rely on youngster Kyle McClellan, who has only pitched in relief in his MLB career, and a consistently terrible Brad Penny every fifth day. McClellan shows more promise because he’s only 25 and had a solid 3.38 ERA in 09, but will he have the stamina to last six innings a game? On the other hand, Penny may have the stamina to last six, but he often gets knocked out of the game earlier. Last season he gave up at least five runs seven times and was knocked out of the game before the sixth inning 12 times. They will gladly hide behind the two Cy Young caliber pitchers in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.

Prediction: 1st NL Central – The Cards are still the pick to win the central, but a very reluctant one at that. My problem is that the team’s centered on five exceptional players, and 20 average players, but something tells me Tony La Russa will have the Cards playing in October.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

It was clear the Brew Crew needed to add pitching after last season. Ace Yovani Gallardo will enjoy two new additions to his staff in 2010. Randy Wolf and Doug Davis were both signed to solidify the rotation. Wolf is coming off his best season (3.23 ERA), while Davis had his best ERA (4.12) since 2005.

Wolf and Davis will enjoy an amazing offense led by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Fielder tied Ryan Howard for the most RBI in the league with 141, while finishing second to Albert Pujols in homers with 46. Braun added 32 homers and 114 RBI. The club also gets back Rickie Weeks who only played 37 games last season due to a wrist injury and has added 15-20 pounds of muscle in the offseason. He and Carlos Gomez will pose a legitimate threat on the bases. The Brewers also believe they’ve found a new shortstop for years to come. Alcides Escobar has great athleticism and speed and hits for average. The 23-year-old could develop into a great leadoff hitter.

Prediction: 2nd NL Central – No one is talking about the Brewers pitching improvements. The top three are all good pitchers and the lineup should be one of the more feared lineups in the NL. This team really could challenge the Cards for the central.

CHICAGO CUBS


Marlon Byrd’s 09 got him handsomely rewarded by the Cubs, but he’s yet another right-handed hitter in a lineup that so direly needs a lefty. Another interesting right-handed addition will be Xavier Nady. He’s capable of putting up great numbers if he’s healthy. He can relate with two of the Cubs stars, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez, who are also injury prone. Staying injury-free will be the toughest task for Lou Piniella’s club. Another key will be if Geovany Soto erases his epic sophomore slump from his memory, and gets back to seeing the ball the way he saw it in 2008.

Carlos Marmol steps into the closer role. He’s got the movement on his pitches to be effective, in fact, he struckout 93 batters in just 74 innings last season, but the major concern with him has always been his lack of control. In those same 74 innings, he walked 65 batters, which is unacceptable. A closer who gives one hitter a free pass every ninth inning will wear the team down. The starting rotation should give Marmol many save opportunities this season. Last year’s entire staff that recorded the second most quality starts in MLB (94) returns. Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster will relish the opportunity to get back to the playoffs after the disappointing sweep they received by the Dodgers in 2008.

Prediction: 3rd NL Central – I know this is fragile territory. I will be brief. Too many injuries and too may aging players while the Reds and Brewers are getting better. Here’s some good news Cubbie fans: At least Bobby Valentine predicted you would win the central.

CINCINNATI REDS

The Reds upgraded with signings of Aroldis Chapman and Orlando Cabrera in the offseason. Signing Chapman, an unproven commodity, to a $30 million contract for a team that usually doesn’t spend the big bucks may be a bit reckless, but they’re looking to make a splash in ticket sales and potentially the standings. Who could blame them? Chapman is a lefty who has been clocked at over 100 mph on the gun. That’s insane. The rest of the staff is also surprisingly good even without Edinson Volquez, who will be out at least until August with an elbow injury. Homer Bailey has potential ace stuff with mid 90s heat and a crazy curveball. Johnny Cueto also has the opportunity to be a fixture in the Reds rotation for many years to come. His wide array of pitches allows him to be very successful in working the hitters. Finally, Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang are seasoned veterans, so the pitching staff may surprise people. The staff should be able to keep the Reds in the NL Central hunt.

The Reds must think they have a real chance of going to the playoffs. They signed Orlando Cabrera. Here’s a simple algebraic equation for Cabrera for those of you who don’t know about him: Cabrera + any team=playoffs. He’s made it every year since 2004 with four different teams! The Reds will hope that equation translates to the NL, where Cabrera has yet to test it. Cabrera’s winning attitude should help the young nucleus of Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto learn what it takes to be a playoff caliber team.

Prediction: 4th NL Central – I’m not sure how all the young guys will mesh with some of the older guys. I’m also not sure whether the team is ready to contend this season, but this could be a dangerous team if they play the way they are capable of playing.

HOUSTON ASTROS

The Astros really have a weird mixture of pitchers. They start with Roy Oswalt’s pinpoint control and Wandy Rodriguez’s great off-speed arsenal, but lose any semblance of relevance after these two. At least Bud Norris has one thing in common with the top two pitchers on the staff – he’s also undersized. The Astros will be forced to rely on Norris, who has only made 10 career starts with a below average 4.53 ERA, Brett Myers, who tends to let his emotions rattle him, and 38-year-old career journeyman Brian Moehler, who doesn’t exactly blow any hitters away.

The same weird mixture could be said about the lineup. Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn should all play well, while the rest of the lineup features fading veterans and rookies who may play subpar. Even a couple of the good Astros come with baggage. Bourn has great speed and led the NL with 61 stolen bases last season, but also had the dubious honor of leading the NL in strikeouts as a leadoff hitter. The Astros would like to see him to counter last season’s 140 whiffs by making more contact on the ground this year. Meanwhile Berkman is coming off injury and his worst season as a pro.

Prediction: 5th NL Central – I’m sorry, but any time I see anything about the Astros, the snooze button goes on. They’re just a pedestrian team. Is there really anything to be excited about for this team?

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

It’s now time that we get to the Buccos, those lovable losers out in that beautiful park in Pittsburgh. It seems like this team’s only reason for existence continues to be as a major league farm system that will allow contenders the opportunity to evaluate players in the majors. The list of Pirates who have made it to the real show is uncanny.

At least this season, there is a glimmer of hope with the young core of Steve Pearce, Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones. And there is nowhere to go, but up. The Pirates recorded a league-worst 636 runs last season, and they can’t possibly finish in last for the second consecutive year. Pirate fans are hoping that’s the case, but the pitching staff probably won’t help matters. Any time players have to be on the field for ungodly amounts of time like the Pirates will this year, they get tired, bored and unattached.

The pitching staff logged the second fewest strikeouts in the league last season with 919, and tied for third worst in batting average against at .276. This causes fielders to get a little drowsy and dose off. Unfortunately for them, they lost one of their best pitchers Ian Snell, and will have three starters this season who only have started 34 games or less in the past. The Pirates will add to one record this season though. They will extend their consecutive seasons with a losing record to 18 years, but who could blame them when their entire 2010 payroll makes $2 million less than Alex Rodriguez.

Prediction: 6th NL Central – They can take some solace in knowing that they’re probably the best quadruple A team out there. They’re definitely better than the Nats…

LINKS TO OTHER DIVISION PREVIEWS:

NL WEST
NL EAST
AL WEST
AL CENTRAL
AL EAST

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: