MLB season preview – NL Central
Finally this division is down to 5 teams. Does it not speak to how much of a mess MLB is when one division has had 6 teams and another had 4? It really took you guys THIS long to figure out that perhaps all the divisions should have 5 teams?! Wow. Anyway, the Cards and Reds are the class of this division, but the Brewers have been pretty competitive for the last 6 years or so, the Pirates finally have gained some traction the last 2 seasons, and the Cubs are in good hands with Theo Epstein running the show. Won’t be long until this division is among the best in baseball.
1. St. Louis Cardinals – The Giants finally were able to kill them. I’ll never forget throughout the 5th game between the Cards and Nats last year I kept texting my buddy saying “you can’t kill these guys”. Even when it was 6-0, I probably wasn’t the only person saying “they’re not dead, they’re never dead”. Sure enough, they came back. This team just knows how to win. Sure they ran out of gas and into hot pitching against the Giants, but that seems to be the exception to the rule with this team. They just know how to win. Yadier Molina has become one of the elite catchers in all of baseball. In fact he might be the 2nd best catcher in the game behind Buster Posey. This is his team but he has some nice help at the plate with Matt Holliday, David Freese, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig. Its a damn good lineup and they also have 20 year old Oscar Taveras in the system who isn’t far away. Baseball America has him ranked 3rd on their top 100 prospects list. RHP Shelby Miller is ranked 6th so in addition to this team being damn good they have those great building blocks. Miller is expected to step into the 5th spot in the rotation this season with Chris Carpenter done for not only the season but likely his career. Adam Wainwright though is their horse. I don’t believe an 18-7 season is possible for Lance Lynn to repeat. I really like Jason Motte in the closer role. He doesn’t have the best stuff in the league, but he loves to go out and battle. Trevor Rosenthal looks to be a kid who will take over that role from Motte one day, he can hit triple digits. This organization is right up there with the Giants as one of the best run organizations in baseball. Year in, year out, they’re in the hunt.
2. Cincinnati Reds – Brutal end to an awesome season for the Reds. 2nd best record in the NL, got up 2-0 in the NLDS vs the Giants on the road, game 3 went to extra innings and they may have won had it not been for a very rare Scott Rolen error. I’m sure that question must linger with the Reds players as to “what could have been?” I have a feeling something like that might be tough for this team to get over. I like that they opted to put Aroldis Chapman back in the closers role. It just didn’t feel like the right time to move him into the rotation. That will happen, but their staff looks really good right now and I don’t know that Jonathan Broxton could be trusted in a closing role anymore. Sean Marshall has become a very effective LH setup man after bouncing around for a few years as a starter. I’m a big fan of their rotation but I don’t expect great regular season numbers. Power arms though win come playoff time. Johnny Cueto has really learned how to pitch. Only 170 K’s last year in 217 IP, that wasn’t imaginable when Cueto first came into the league. The lineup has a lot of power, although I don’t know that Joey Votto will supply much of that power. He wasn’t the same guy last season after returning from his shoulder injury, but even if he can’t he is still among the best hitters in the NL. Ryan Ludwick can’t be relied on to have another season like 2012. Getting Shin-Soo Choo was a very solid move, he is a perfect table setter for this lineup. I know the talent is here, but I just like the Cards a little better to win the division. Make no mistake though they’ll be in both the division and wildcard hunts.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates – One of these years it’s going to pop for the Pirates. It just has to. 1992 was a long time ago, and it hasn’t just been a few dark years for the Pirates, it’s been a few dark decades! The last 2 years have started out very promising, but in the 2nd half they’ve collapsed so we will see if perhaps this season they can keep it going for 162 games. Andrew McCutchen might be the best player in the NL right now. He is such a complete player and from everything you hear and read about him a great teammate too. The rest of the lineup isn’t spectacular, but they have a very solid offense with guys like Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Garret Jones. I really like bringing in catcher/wanna be SS Russell Martin. Of course that average is a concern, but he still had 21 bombs and has a lot of experience which will serve a young team like this well. Starling Marte has HUGE upside. It might be too early to expect a breakout season from him, but it shouldn’t be long before he puts it all together. The rotation is led by Soups on Sports fashion correspondent Dustin L. Harvie favortie A.J. Burnett. Big question there is weather or not he can repeat last season. Wandy Rodriguez has pretty good stuff and is a solid number 2, but after that it’s sketchy. 2011 1st overall pick Gerrit Cole can’t get there fast enough. The bullpen lost Joel Hanrahan, so Jason Grilli will take over as the teams closer. It is nothing special, but they do have a lot of lefties to turn to so Clint Hurdle should be able to prove his worth as a manager. I don’t think this team is ready to contend just yet, but they’re getting there.
4. Milwaukee Brewers – First of all, I’m rolling with the Brew crew’s old symbol because we all know it’s better. Why do they keep trying to jam the wheat down our throats?! This is one of the best symbol’s in sports, use it!!! Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I will try to talk about the team. Management has done a real nice job with this team over the last 5 years. They don’t have much money to play with, but they have remained pretty competitive. Last year they finished 4 games over .500 and were in the hunt. Of course it all starts with Ryan Braun. He is the catalyst for this team. Once Corey Hart comes back (mid May from what I’ve read) the middle of this lineup looks great with those 2 and Aramis Ramirez. Rickie Weeks has pretty good power too, but he needs to get that average up 20-30 points (.230 last season). Mat Gamel is back this season, and he could also add a lot to the middle of that lineup but more likely needs to get his game back. I really like Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation, he has dirty stuff. I liked the Kyle Lohse signing. That rotation is suspect after Gallardo, and even though I’m not a big Lohse guy they needed another guy who was at least capable of giving them a big game. The bullpen was pretty bad last year, worst in the NL to be exact. Tom Gorzelanny is a very effective lefty who will help but they’ll really need John Axford to bounce back after a terrible season. They have to be worried that he could be a 1 hit wonder. Solid organization, solid team on the field, but too many holes to compete with the Cards and Reds.
5. Chicago Cubs – Man its cool when the Cubs are good. I loved the Bartman Cubs of 2003, and I’m sure I would have loved the 08 Cubs as well…I should clarify I mean the 1908 Cubs, not the 2008 Cubs although the 2008 Cubs did make the playoffs! Swept, but still they made it and you can’t say that for many Cubs teams in the last 100+ years! As I said at the top they’re brutal right now but they have the right guy running the show. Anthony Rizzo from Italy (at least according to the WBC he is) and Starlin Castro are both going to be stars at least in my opinion. Brett Jackson has a ton of upside, but at this point in his career that’s all it is. This lineup could really use some more veterans to support the kids, Alfonso Soriano just isn’t enough and he will likely be dealt the first time they get the chance. The pitching staff is actually decent and capable of keeping them in games. The bottom of the rotation is solid but the top is where the issue is. Matt Garza is out until at least May, but even when he returns you don’t know what he’ll do. He can throw an absolute gem and look like a Cy Young candidate one game, then a 5th starter the next. Jeff Samardzija has surprised and looks as though he is capable of being a nice number 3 guy. It seemed like career suicide when he picked baseball over football (probably would have been a 1st round pick as a WR), but he’s proved a lot of people wrong. The bullpen is in rough shape. Carlos Marmol much like Soriano will be moved sooner rather than later. Kyuji Fujikawa was brought over on a 2 year deal with the idea of eventually giving him the closers role.
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