|NL Central Preview||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on March 21, 2011
2010 Record 77-85, 3rd in the division, 14 games back.Key Additions:
Yuniesky Betancourt, SS
Zack Grienke, SP
Shaun Marcum, SP
Justin James, RP
Takashi Saito, RP
Key Player:¬† Zack Greinke
Despite all of their offensive talent the Brew Crew wasn't able to compete for the division title last year mainly due to what was generally considered a mediocre staff.¬† Over the offseason they've changed all of that by trading for ace pitcher Zack Greinke, and bringing in a 2-3 type starter in Shaun Marcum.
But the starting rotation isn't the only upgrade.¬† The bullpen is better, the defense will be slightly improved too as Yuniesky Betancourt brings a more solid glove as well as another power bat (relative to the position that is) than Alcides Escobar did. ¬† That gives the Brewers the best staff in the division, and coupled with the team's offensive prowess should give the team the ability to take a big step forward.
Prediction: 95-67 and division winner
2010 Record 91-71, first in the divisionKey Additions
Fred Lewis, OF
Edgar Renteria, SS
Key Player:¬† Joey Votto
Last year's division winners look to have a tussle on their hands as a revamped Milwaukee Brewers team seems to have gone all in in an attempt to win this year.¬† Last year the Reds were a bit of Cinderella story, riding a breakout MVP season by Joey Votto and patching things together as young promising pitchers Mike Leake and Travis Woods came through big.¬† They were helped by the return of Edinson Volquez, who, while erratic, definitely showed flashes of his best stuff.
But are they a strong enough bunch to repeat?¬† That's a big question; if Votto regresses and neither Jay Bruce or Drew Stubbs comes to the fore then all bets are off.¬† A full season of Volquez should easily make up for the loss of Harang, but just what they will get out of their staff could be a concern to.
Still they are the champions, and they'll have to be knocked from that perch.
Prediction: 90-72, second in the division
St. Louis Cardinals
2010 Record 86-76, second in the division, five games back.Key Additions
Lance Berkman, RF
Ryan Theriot, SS
Brian Tallet, RP
Key Player:¬† Albert Pujols.
The Cardinals don't look poised to rebound despite offensive upgrades, mainly due to the loss of staff ace Adam Wainwright who will miss the entire season after undergoing ligament replacement surgery.¬† That leaves a gaping hole in the pitching staff that no band aid quick fix is going to resolve.¬† While the Cardinals say they'll be able to fill in with someone from within the system, replacing a 20-game winner just isn't that easy.
They do hope the addition of Lance Berkman and Ryan Theriot will pay dividends offensively as Theriot with his .348 OBP should be a quality tablesetter and Berkman will provide some protection for Matt Holliday.¬† Of course all of that could go up in smoke if the Cards can't find some assurance that Albert Pujols wants to remain a Cardinal and not go test the free agent market.¬† Without some sort of agreement in writing, the team may feel it has no choice but to trade the slugger midseason.
Prediction: 82-80, third in the division
75-87, 5th in the division, 16 games back
Key Man:¬† Aramis Ramirez
The Cubs were players in the offseason, looking hard for bargain players who'd improve a team overburdened with bad contracts.¬† That led them to upgrade their pitching staff by acquiring Matt Garza, a pitcher with a world of talent who had underperformed in the AL East and needed a change of scenery.¬† It's hard to know if Wrigley Field will be the right place for him, especially on the nights when the wind is blowing out.
Offensively the addition of Carlos Pena should yield some dividends, both for the team and for Pena personally as he won't be facing the best pitchers in baseball on a regular basis.¬† Still, it's hard to know if Pena's all or nothing style of hitting will make up for the offense that was lost when Derrek Lee was shipped to Atlanta towards the end of last season.
Prediction: 80-82, fourth in the division.
76-86, fourth in the division, 15 games back
Key Additions:Clint Barmes, SS
Bill Hall, 2B
Ryan Rowland-Smith, P
Key man:¬† Wandy Rodriguez
The Astros are on the very slow road back to respectability via development down at the level of the farm.¬† They aren't going to find it this year but they will continue to slowly climb back as their youngsters continue to grow.¬† Their pitching staff is actually respectable with Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, JA Happ, Bud Norris and now Ryan Rowland-Smith, offering at least an average to slightly better than average rotation.
Offensively there is potential.¬† Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn are established commodities, but the upside in Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson hasn't even begun to be tapped.¬† If they develop as expected it could be a big boost to what otherwise is a fairly anemic offense.
Prediction:¬† 78-84, fifth in the division.
57-105, last in the division, 34 games back
Key Man:¬† Andrew McCutchen
The Pirates are going nowhere fast, but at least they have an interesting crop of homegrown talent including Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker.¬† But outside of that handful of players the rest of the guys in the field seem more like a collection of spare parts and rejects from better teams -- which in fact they often are.
Four-fifths of their rotation fits that bill too.¬† Only James McDonald looks like he has the stuff to really raise some eyebrows, but if he'll ever develop to that level is a big question, especially in an organization which doesn't have much of a record of developing pitchers over the last 20 years.
The one bright spot for Pittsburgh is all of the young talent, perhaps a sign that someone in management is learning the lessons that Minnesota, Tampa and San Diego have highlighted in recent years.¬† It's not going to pay huge dividends this year, but it may offer some hope for a few years down the road.
Prediction: 62-100, sixth in the NL Central