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Friday, April 02, 2010

2010 NL Central Preview

The NL Central will once again be dominated mostly by the Cardinals, but there are a few up-and-coming ballclubs in an overall solid division. The division also possesses two of baseball's best right-handed hitters in Albert Pujols and Ryan Braun.

1st Place, St. Louis Cardinals

2B Skip Schumaker
SS Brendan Ryan
1B Albert Pujols
LF Matt Holliday
RF Ryan Ludwick
CF Colby Rasmus
C Yadier Molina
3B David Freise

RHP Chris Carpentar
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Brad Penny
RHP Kyle Lohse
LHP Jamie Garcia
SU: Jason Motte
CL: Ryan Franklin

The Cards are once again the clear cut favorites in the 6-team NL Central. They have it all, power, average, great pitching and solid defense. The one area which their team lacks a bit is team speed, but with Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick anchoring down the middle of the order, scoring runs shouldn't be much of an issue. The front end of their rotation can be untouchable when they're on, as both Carpentar and Wainwright are coming off tremendous years in which they both posted sub-3 era's and each won at least 17 games. If Penny and Lohse both pitch up to their capabilities, then the rotation will be a major strength. The bullpen is a tad shallow though. Ryan Franklin had a memorable season shutting the door last year, but he's 37 years old and I wouldn't count on a repeat performance. They do have Jason Motte ready to go if Franklin struggles, so the Cards should be just fine.

2nd Place, Chicago Cubs

SS Ryan Theriot
RF Kosuke Fukudome
1B Derek Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
LF Alfonso Soriano
CF Marlon Byrd
C Geovany Soto
2B Mike Fontenot

RHP Carlos Zambrano
LHP Ted Lilly
RHP Ryan Dempster
RHP Randy Wells
RHP Carlos Silva
SU: John Grabow
CL: Carlos Marmol

The Cubbies are returning practically the same roster that finished second behind the Cardinals in the Central last year. They swapped out Milton Bradley for Marlon Byrd which should be a wash, although I think Byrd will give them more than Bradley did in '09. The two keys to the Cubs lineup though will be Ramirez, Soto and Soriano, who are coming off injury shortened seasons. Their rotation is a veteran heavy bunch, as Zambrano and Wells are the only two starters under 30 years of age, but Zambrano has more mileage on him than your typical 28 year-old. The key to their pitching staff will be the performance of their bullpen. The Cubs seem to try someone different each year at closer, but they're hoping Carlos Marmol is the guy who will hold that spot for the foreseeable future.

3rd Place, Milwaukee Brewers

2B Rickie Weeks
CF Carlos Gomez
LF Ryan Braun
1B Prince Fielder
3B Casey McGehee
RF Corey Hart
C Greg Zaun
SS Alcides Escobar

RHP Yovani Gallardo
LHP Randy Wolf
LHP Doug Davis
RHP Dave Bush
LHP Manny Parra
SU: LaTroy Hawkins
CL: Trevor Hoffman

The Brewers definitely have some holes in their team. Fielder and Braun are both legit MVP candidates year in and year out, and I think Rickie Weeks is primed for a breakout season. Weeks missed most of last year after going down in mid-May, but was on pace for a career year before that (.277, 9 HR and 24 RBI in 135 at-bats). Young shortstop Alcides Escobar is a potential gold-glover and all-star caliber player and should help out one of the weaker defensive teams in the NL. I really like the top of their rotation, led by Yovani Gallardo and followed by Randy Wolf, but after that things are very uncertain. Their 3-5 starters totaled 35 losses last season and had a combined era in the 6's. In their bullpen, the ageless wonder, Trevor Hoffman, continues to pitch at a high level at age 42 and is coming off one of his best years ever.

4th Place, Cincinnati Reds

CF Drew Stubbs
SS Orlando Cabrera
1B Joey Votto
2B Brandon Phillips
3B Scott Rolen
RF Jay Bruce
LF Johnny Gomes
C Ramon Hernandez

RHP Aaron Harrang
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Bronson Arroyo
RHP Homer Bailey
LHP Travis Wood
LHP Aroldis Chapman*
SU: Nick Masset
CL: Francisco Cordero

*Chapman Starts year in AAA but will be up by June

The Reds are finally putting together a respectable pitching staff, in both their rotation and bullpen. The rotation has a few solid vets at the top in Harang and Arroyo, and then a couple of bright youngsters on the rise in Cueto, Bailey, Wood and Chapman. They also should get a huge shot in the arm when their ace Edison Volquez returns around mid-season. The bullpen is rock solid as well with closer Francisco Cordero, and a handful of very effective set-up guys like Masset, Arthur Rhodes, Jared Burton and Daniel Herrera. Their offense should score runs, but they really need Jay Bruce to play up to his potential to be clicking on all cylinders. Defensively, they are a very solid all-around and don't really have any below-average defenders in the lineup.

5th Place, Houston Astros

CF Michael Bourn
2B Kaz Matsui
1B Lance Berkman
LF Carlos Lee
RF Hunter Pence
3B Pedro Feliz
C J.R. Towles
SS Tommy Manzella

RHP Roy Oswalt
LHP Wandy Rodriguez
RHP Brett Myers
RHP Bud Norris
RHP Felipe Paulino
SU: Brandon Lyon
CL: Matt Lindstrom

The Astros would really need everybody to play extremely well, have no injuries, and they'd need their young pitchers to start 30 games each if they want to put themselves in mix for a playoff spot, but I just don't see it. I like the top and middle part of their order, but the bottom half looks very weak. Bourn and Pence are two bright young outfielders and Lee and Berkman provide the veteran stability. The rotation will be just fine if Brett Myers can pitch like he should, and Bud Norris builds off his solid rookie campaign, but that's not at all a given. Their bullpen is there biggest weakness, as they have two guys who shouldn't be near the late innings (Lindstrom and Lyon) setting up and closing for them.

6th Place, Pittsburgh Pirates

CF Andrew McCutchen
2B Akinori Iwamura
RF Garrett Jones
C Ryan Doumit
LF Lastings Milledge
3B Andy LaRoche
1B Jeff Clement
SS Ronny Cedeno

LHP Zack Duke
RHP Ross Ohlendork
LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Charlie Morton
RHP Daniel McCutchen
SU: Brendan Donnelly
CL: Octavio Dotel

The Pirates have a lineup full of other teams castoff prospects (Milledge, LaRoche, Clement, Cedeno and Jones), which tells you that they aren't that great. A lot of these guys are still young enough to improve and figure things out, but I'm not expecting much out of anyone in their lineup besides McCutchen, Jones, Doumit and LaRoche. Their rotation, which has been their strength in recent years, is not so much anymore. The bullpen will be OK, but they just won't get the chance to pitch with many leads. In the low-pressure atmosphere, I expect Dotel to thrive in the closer role though, and their top-3 starters at least have had success at the big league level. They'll also play pretty well defensively, but they just don't have enough firepower to keep up with the other teams in this division.
The Giants Baseball Blog


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