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Monday, March 24, 2008

National League Central Preview

1st Place, Chicago Cubs
Lineup:

SS Ryan Theriot
LF Alfonso Soriano
1B Derrick Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
RF Kasuke Fukudome
2B Mark DeRosa
C Geovany Soto
CF Felix Pie

Rotation:

RHP Carlos Zambrano
LHP Ted Lilly
RHP Ryan Dempster
LHP Rich Hill
RHP Jason Marquis
SU: Carlos Marmol
CL: Kerry Wood

The Cubs brought over Kasuke Fukudome from Japan this winter to help solidify the middle of their order. It's still tough to tell what kind of power numbers he will put up in America, but he should be around .300 providing speed and solid defense. If Derrick Lee rebounds this year and can stay healthy, the Cubs should score plenty of runs. I like Theriot and Soriano at the top of the lineup. While their offense may not have quite the weapons that a few of the other division contenders do, they have the best pitching. Carlos Zambrano and Rich Hill haven't even hit their prime yet and both are among the better starters in the NL already. Lilly is very steady in the 2 spot. It will be interesting to see how Dempster makes his return to the rotation, but the Cubs are banking on 30 starts from him. If Dempster doesn't work out, they have Sean Marshall waiting in the wings. Their bullpen is finally settled and could be for a while as Kerry Wood takes over the closers role with Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry setting him up.

2nd Place, Cincinnati Reds

Lineup:

CF Corey Patterson
SS Jeff Keppinger/Alex Gonzalez
RF Ken Griffey Jr.
LF Adam Dunn
2B Brandon Phillips
3B Edwin Encarnacion
1B Joey Votto/Scott Hatteberg
C David Ross

Rotation:
RHP Aaron Harang
RHP Bronson Arroyo
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Edison Voloquez
RHP Homer Bailey
SU: David Weathers
CL: Francisco Cordero

I think the Reds are primed to surprise people this year. With all that young talent in the lineup and rotation, I will actually be surprised if they aren't challenging the Cubs for the division in September. The second half of their starting rotation is very raw and that is the only thing that will be holding them back this year. Their lineup is going to score plenty of runs with veterans Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey and Brandon Phillips anchoring the middle of the order and youngsters like, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce all looking to break onto the scene in '08. The Reds have so many hitters that they don't have room for them all which is why Bruce will start the year in AAA. Their bullpen should be the strongest it's been in years with the addition of Francisco Cordero which moves Dave Weathers into his more comfortable set-up role. I also like their young middle relievers, Jared Burton and Jeremy Affeldt, getting the ball to Weathers and Cordero. If they need an arm or two at the deadline, they have the trading chips to make moves. Things are definitely on the up in Cincinnati.

3rd Place, Milwaukee Brewers
Lineup:
2B Rickie Weeks
SS J.J. Hardy
LF Ryan Braun
1B Prince Fielder
RF Corey Hart
3B Billy Hall
CF Mike Cameron/Tony Gwynn Jr.
C Jason Kendal

Rotation:
RHP Ben Sheets
RHP Jeff Suppan
RHP Yovani Gollardo
RHP Dave Bush
RHP Carlos Villanueva
SU: Derrick Turnbow
CL: Eric Gagne

The Brewers should be in the wild card mix as well as the NL Central race this season. The have some question marks regarding their pitching, but their offense could be the best in the National League. Rickie Weeks should rebound and be the lead-off hitter he's been touted to be this season. They have a very deep, young lineup that doesn't really give you a break until you get to Jason Kendal down in the 8th spot and even he can be a tough out when he's on. Their pitching is a whole different story. Ben Sheets is still answering health questions after injuries only allowed him 24 starts last season. Jeff Suppan is a nice veteran presence to have on the staff as a number 4 starter, but asking him to be a number 2 is probably a reach. I like Gallardo and Villanueva, but I don't think their starting pitching will hold up against the Cubbies. Their bullpen isn't in much better shape. Eric Gagne hasn't been healthy this spring and it's still uncertain if he will be healthy to start the season. If Gagne and Sheets can stay healthy all year long, the Brewers should make some noise.

4th Place, Houston Astros
Lineup:

RF Hunter Pence
2B Kazuo Matsui
1B Lance Berkman
LF Carlos Lee
SS Miguel Tejeda
3B Ty Wiggington
C J.R. Towles
CF Michael Bourn

Rotation:
RHP Roy Oswalt
LHP Wandy Rodriguez
RHP Brandon Backe
RHP Woody Williams
RHP Shawn Chacon
SU: Doug Brocail
CL: Jose Valverde

The Astros undoubtedly have the offense to keep up with any team in this division, and any team in major league baseball for that matter. They could hit 250+ home runs as a team this season if they stay healthy. Not only do they have power, but they get on base and have 3 or 4 guys who should steal 20+ bases. If only their pitching had the same kind of quality. Instead of giving Carlos Lee 100 million dollars last winter, it would have been in the Astros' best interest to invest that money in pitching to surround Roy Oswalt. Wandy Rodriguez has come on to be a serviceable left handed starter, but outside of him and Oswalt, the Astros are paper thin in the rotation. Their bullpen isn't much better. Jose Valverde is a quality young closer, but the Astros have no clear set-up man or any real structure to their bullpen outside of Valverde. Even with the offensive fire power, it should be a long year in Houston.

5th Place, Pittsburgh Pirates

Lineup:

CF Nate McClouth
SS Jack Wilson
2B Freddy Sanchez
LF Jason Bay
1B Andy LaRoche
RF Xavier Nady
3B Jose Bautista
C Ronny Paulino

Rotation:
RHP Ian Snell
LHP Tom Gorzelanny
LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Matt Morris
LHP Zack Duke
SU: Damaso Marte
CL: Matt Capps

The Pirates look like they have a young rotation in place that could be there for years. Snell, Gorzelanny, Maholm and Duke are all 27 years of age or younger and all have proven themselves to some degree at the major league level. The Pirates are hoping this is the year they can all stay healthy and grow together. Their lineup won't allow them to compete with the better teams in this division, but they still have some talent there. I would expect bounce back years from Jason Bay and Andy LaRoche and Freddy Sanchez is one of the most underrated hitters in the game (when healthy) so they will score some runs, but not enough. Their bullpen is still a work in progress but they believe they have found their closer of the future in Matt Capps. The Pirates, like the Reds, are certainly on their way up, but it may take another year or two for them to be legit contenders.

6th Place, St. Louis Cardinals
Lineup:
RF Skip Schumaker
2B Adam Kennedy
1B Albert Pujols
CF Rick Ankiel
3B Troy Glaus
LF Chris Duncan
C Yadier Molina
SS Ceaser Izturis

Rotation:
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Todd Wellemeyer
RHP Brad Thompson
RHP Anthony Reyes
RHP Kyle Lohse/Braden Looper
SU: Russ Springer
CL: Jason Isringhousen

DL: RHP Chris Carpentar (September)
DL: RHP Joel Piniero (early May)

It's tough to pick a team lead by Albert Pujoles and Tony LaRussa to finish last, but the Cardinals pitching is in such bad shape that it will take a small miracle for them to even finish at .500 this season. Not to mention Pujols is hurting and could cut his season short to have surgery on his arm in order to be ready for spring training in 2009. I like Adam Waiwright and they have some other young quality arms, but they aren't ready to win any divisions.
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16 Comments:

  • At 8:01 PM, Anonymous Romiezzo said…

    Interesting picks, Trecole. Reds in 2nd? I don't think I'll agree with you there. The Brewers are going to do a a lot better than you think. What have the Reds possibly done to get better? Not much, right? So Griffey Jr. is a little older, so he's not going to be as productive. Dunn? He hits home runs, but strikes out a lot. You can't always depend on him. I think the only person the Reds can REALLY depend on now is Brandon Phillips.

    The Brewers, on the other hand, have Prince Fielder, a man who hits over .280 (.020 more than Dunn) and will probably hit 20 more homers than Dunn, even though Dunn has had 40+ homers for 4 straight seasons. And I didn't even mention Ryan Braun. And the Reds' pitching sucks, don't forget about that.
    Now the Astros, on the other hand, really worked hard to get a better offense this year, and that's exactly what they got. They lost a lot of games due to the fact that they left many runners on base and because they couldn't score any runs. They got Kaz Matsui, Miguel Tejada, and Hunter Pence for a full season. JR Towles is going to do some damage this year as well. Overall, I picked them for third this year, Cardinals 4th, Reds 5th. (Cubs 1st and Brewers 2nd, if you didn't notice).

     
  • At 9:13 PM, Blogger Trevor said…

    The Reds get better by having Joey Votto take over for Scott Hatteberg. They also get better by having Jay Bruce on the team as he will likely be up at some point in May. Brandon Phillips has another year under his belt which will help. They traded Josh Hamilton for Edison Volquez who should be pretty good. I am also looking forward to Baker working with Adam Dunn. I think Dunn is going to have a monster year. Also, the addition of Cordero solidifies there bullpen.

    Your probably right though Romiezzo in thinking the Brewers will finish higher, but I just think the Reds pitching may finally come together this year (Bailey, Cueto, Voloquez). The Brewers still have pitching questions of their own to answer and I'm not sold on Eric Gagne being the dominant closer he used to be.

     
  • At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Frandsen Fan said…

    On a Giants note:

    Kevin Frandsen will miss the year with a torn achillies tendon, which absolutely sucks. He was one of the few players I was looking forward to watching this year.

     
  • At 2:42 AM, Anonymous Romiezzo said…

    Well, it's pretty tough going from one league to another, but Gagne settled in pretty well with the Rangers as a closer. Once he was a set up man for Papelbon, he sucked, completely sucked. Maybe it's his luck of being a closer. Maybe it's just the fact that in his mind, he knows that if he gets three outs, it's over. I don't know. But the Brewers did manage to do really well in the beginning of the season, and then did mediocre (or a little better than mediocre) for the rest of the season, which is why the Cubs won. The Reds are depending on rookies who have absolutely no experience in the majors. I heard that at least two of the rookies (one of them being Bruce) didn't do very well in Spring Training. So, if they don't do well, they're definitely not going anywhere above 4th place this season, as the Astros have a chance to do better than them, and possibly the Cardinals.

     
  • At 5:27 PM, Anonymous Romiezzo said…

    The Yankees had terrible pitching last year. They ended up in second place. I already mentioned most of the Astros' offense: Towles (a rookie who will probably do really well, as we got a taste as to what he can do in 2007), Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Miguel Tejada (yes, he can still do damage), Kaz Matsui... you see what I mean?

     
  • At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Steel Town said…

    The Buccos are gonna steal the show this year. You heard it here first.
    Permalin

     
  • At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Steel Town said…

    Capps isn't gonna get a contract from the Pirates this year. I forget who the new closer is, but I'll let you know later.

     
  • At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Romiezzo said…

    I can see Pittsburgh doing better. A lot of changes have been going on in the MLB, especially in the NL Central though. There is a lot of young talent on almost all (if not all) rosters. It's just that they don't seem to get it together, as well as the fact that most of the management of the six teams suck, no offense.

     
  • At 7:33 PM, Anonymous Niteowl049 said…

    Pirates have some good pitching and the hitting is looking better and LaRoche should do better out of the gate this year. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Pirates do well.

     
  • At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Niteowl049 said…

    The Astros pitching staff is Oswalt and pray for four days of rain.

     
  • At 9:42 PM, Anonymous Romiezzo said…

    Well, they got Wandy Rodriguez, who did excellent at home. 2.94 ERA, and a 1.105 WHIP. Not bad, eh? I'd say for someone who gets underestimated because he does horrible outside of Houston, with a 6.37 ERA.

     
  • At 10:16 PM, Anonymous Niteowl049 said…

    The fact that Woody Williams is probably in the rotation again this year tells me all I need to know about the Astros pitching.

     
  • At 2:44 AM, Anonymous Kelsdad said…

    With almost no exceptions, the Reds rookies ARE almost ML ready, the fact they're in the minors now means nothing. (Neither Ryan Braun nor Hunter Pence started the season in the majors last year, and Evan Longoria was just sent down by Tampa).

    They have two pitchers, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto, who both have legitimate #1 stuff. Only Washington can make the claim they have two guys just about ready and have stud written all over them.

    Bruce may have struggled, but remember he is just 20 years old and despite his success last year is still relatively inexperienced. Winning MilB player of the year was no fluke.

    Joey Votto is not just a power guy, he is a good hitter and fielder.

    That's the top four on the Reds prospect list and they are all pretty much ready. Bruce needs a few Triple A at bats, Bailey needs to work out some mechanical issues but if you gave me the choice I would take him over ANYONE in the minors right now, Votto is in the ML, and Cueto is in the same boat as Bruce, he's only 20 and just needs some innings.

    The Reds fifth prospect is a guy named Drew Stubbs, who is a righthanded Adam Dunn, although Stubbs is a far better defensive player and is likely Cinci's CF of the future, which will move Bruce to RF.
    If the Reds get any contribution this year from half these guys, and Junior and Encarnacion stay healthy, if they get a repeat performance from Phillips and Harang, and normal production from Dunn, the Reds will win the division, and do so easily.

     
  • At 3:35 AM, Anonymous Trizz said…

    The Reds second place!!!

     
  • At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Patrickburke1980 said…

    up and down, pitching and hitting, the brewers look really good.

     
  • At 12:19 AM, Anonymous Bobbyjim45 said…

    I would love to see Dusty play Votto over Hatteberg. Votto is going to be an excellent player.

     

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