Next up in our Division-by-Division preview, we have the NL Central…buckle up, this is gonna get bumpy.
Manager: Dale Sveum
Starting Rotation: Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Travis Wood, Paul Maholm, Randy Wells
Starting Eight: Geovany Soto, Bryan LaHair, Darwin Barney, Ian Stewart, Starlin Castro, Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, David DeJesus
The Cubs are certainly in a rebuilding stage. They have a lot of young talent and hope for the future. If I had to pick a surprise team for 2012, I would pick the Cubs. They have a significant amount of young talent, a good mix of veterans, and good pitching.
Their bats are what concern me. People think Castro is the next great shortstop, and I would tend to agree. I do see some problems, though. There isn’t enough power at first base. LaHair will probably just be keeping first base warm until Anthony Rizzo is called up from the minors. The outfield is bad. Soriano and Byrd are well past their primes. DeJesus is good defensively, but he lacks pop.
The starting rotation is pretty good. Dempster, and Garza are solid starters. Wood, Maholm, and Wells all show potential, but they aren’t going to wow anyone with their numbers. Which is why this team could surprise you this season. They’ll just need to hit more homeruns than they’re supposed to and pitch a little better than they should. I expect them to finish somewhere near the record they had last year.
Prediction: 73-89, 4th NL Central
Manager: Dusty Baker
Starting Rotation: Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake
Starting Eight: Ryan Hanigan, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen, Zack Cozart, Chris Heisey, Drew Stubbs, Jay Bruce
One of my favorite things to talk about in baseball is the “blue-chip guys.” They’re the most important part of any team. This Reds team is full of them. Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder fled the division. The Reds held on to Votto, added a potential ace in free agency, and get to face the (likely) weakened Cardinals and Brewers. The whole team is full of blue-chip guys.
We know how good Votto is. We know that he’s one of the best first basemen in the game. There was a rumor that the Reds were going to shop him this offseason because it looked like they were a few good arms away from contending for a title. That’s crazy. Votto is the best player on this team and they were able to add that arm without trading Votto. Now, if Bruce can be the hitter they need him to be – specifically, the running mate for Votto, this team could be really good. And I think they will be.
Prediction: 95-67, 1st NL Central
Manager: Brad Mills
Starting Rotation: Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, J.A. Happ, Jordan Lyles, Kyle Weiland
Starting Eight: Jason Castro, Carlos Lee, Jose Altuve, Jimmy Paredes, Jed Lowrie, J.D. Martinez, Jordan Schafer, Brian Bogusevic
It’s not pretty in Houston. The most excitement in Houston comes from the new hires in the front office. It’s going to take years to fix the Astros farm system. The level of talent they’re putting on the field is probably the worst in baseball.
Usually when a bunch of new players hit the field during a rebuilding process one assumes they are the future of the franchise. That’s not the case here. Not even close. Most of these guys got their first chance at everyday action and they’ll be competing for their jobs right now. They won’t be here for long, though. The Astros next wave of prospects will, hopefully, soon be taking over and building their own legacy in Houston. This year? They’ll probably have the worst record in baseball.
Prediction: 57-105, 6th NL Central
Manager: Ron Roenicke
Starting Rotation: Zach Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson
Starting Eight: Jonathan Lucroy, Mat Gamel, Rickie Weeks, Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Ryan Braun, Nyjer Morgan, Corey Hart
The Brewers won their first game of the season when Braun won his case against baseball and a 50-game suspension. I don’t know how this Brewers team shakes out. They return a ton of offense, even without Fielder. They have one of the best pitching staffs in the game.
If everything goes right for them, it could be a near 100-win season. If Weeks can stay healthy, if Gamel can hit out of the gate, if Ramirez still has pop left…that’s a lot of ifs, isn’t it?
If everything goes wrong, they could be looking at a mediocre .500 season. Weeks and Ramirez are injury-prone. Gamel has never been an everyday player. The bullpen has potential for controversy. The starting rotation, behind Gallardo and Greinke, could fold and not perform on three out of five days.
I think they’ll finish somewhere in the middle of that pack. Probably in between the very capable Red and not as capable Cardinals.
Prediction: 88-74, 3rd AL Central
Manager: Clint Hurdle
Starting Rotation: A.J. Burnett, Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Kevin Correia
Starting Eight: Rod Barajas, Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes, Alex Presley, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata
If you’re a Pirates fan, you probably don’t want to listen to me talk about rebuilding anymore. The Pirates have an incredible amount of pitching talent in their farm system. They have a lot of 20-something blue-chippers in their offense that will help provide a pop when those prospects hit the majors.
Until then? They have guys like Burnett and Bedard leading their rotation. They have a decent offense and will probably win about the same amount of games as last season. Until they can get those prospects up, it won’t be pretty on the mound. Don’t worry, though, you’ll be seeing good baseball in Pittsburgh again soon.
Prediction: 72-90, 5th NL Central
St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Mike Matheny
Starting Rotation: Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook
Starting Eight: Yadier Molina, Lance Berkman, Skip Schumaker, David Freese, Rafael Furcal, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran
I’m not sure what to expect from the Cardinals. Berkman is moving back to first base. They have a lot of good offense. Freese is young and he’s got a good bat. Holliday and Beltran are great veteran outfielders who will provide a steady stream of production all season. Allen Craig probably won’t be in the Opening Day lineup, and he provides a great substitute all over the field to give the aging veterans some rest. If Carpenter and Wainwright can pitch at the levels that we’re used to seeing from them, this is a great rotation. They have serious depth behind them with Lohse, Garcia, and Westbrook. I’m predicting that they’ll finish behind the Reds, but I wouldn’t call that a confident guess.
The only thing that makes me nervous is the new manager and the loss of Pujols, who provided some protection for the batters around him. Now they’ll have to perform when pitchers can pitch around them more without fearing Pujols coming to the plate. If they can still do that, then this team could win 100 games.
Prediction: 90-72, 2nd NL Central