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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

GBB's NL Central Preview

The NL Central is another division that is going to be a tough one to pick. There are 4 teams that are pretty could finish within a handful of games of each other, largely depending on health. Here's how I think it will go down in 2011:
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1st Place - Milwaukee Brewers


Lineup:
2B Rickie Weeks
CF Carlos Gomez
LF Ryan Braun
1B Prince Fielder
RF Corey Hart*
3B Casey McGee
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
C Jonathan Lucroy

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Zach Grienke*
RHP Yovani Gallardo
RHP Shawn Marcum
LHP Randy Wolf
LHP Chris Narveson
CL: John Axford

*DL'ed till end of April

If the Brewers can get that starting rotation healthy and keep it that way, they should beat out the Cardinals and Reds, but it's going to be a tight race. They have a the front-end rotation to pitch in a playoff series, and have a nice lineup, not quite as good as Cincinnati's but better than the Cardinals'. I'm banking their success on their bullpen, starting rotation and defense to separate them from the other two teams (the Cubs too if they're healthy and contending). As long as Zach Grienke returns strong early in the season, and they can sustain good health in their rotation, I think they have the slight edge over Cinci, but if those things don't happen, the Reds have too much young talent to hold off, and they will take the division. Braun and Fielder are like the post-steroid era "Bash Brothers" and Weeks and Hart are both finally living up to all their potential.

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2nd Place - Cincinnati Reds *NL Wild Card*

Lineup:
CF Drew Stubbs
2B Brandon Phillips
RF Jay Bruce
1B Joey Votto
3B Scott Rolen
LF Johnny Gomes
C Ramon Hernandez
SS Paul Janish

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Edison Volquez
RHP Bronson Arroyo
RHP Jonny Cueto (DL until late April)
RHP Homer Bailey
LHP Travis Wood
CL: Francisco Cordero

After years and years of rebuilding, the Reds finally have a product that is ready to compete year in and year out, and look primed for their 2nd consecutive postseason appearance. They have speed and power in a young lineup that it's just getting better with time. Bruce and Votto will both be perennial MVP candidates and you can't ask much better table setters at the top than Stubbs and Phillips. Same can be said for the starting rotation, stocked with talented young arms like Volquez, Cueto, Wood, Bailey and Mike Leake waiting in the wings. Francisco Cordero leads a solid young bullpen where he has future closer and 103-mph throwing Aroldis Chapman setting him up. The Reds will be mighty tough to beat when they have leads going late into games, and with that lineup and solid staff, that should be quite often.

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3rd Place - St. Louis Cardinals

Lineup:
2B Skip Schumaker
CF Colby Rasmus
1B Albert Pujols
LF Matt Holliday
RF Lance Berkman
3B David Freese
C Yadier Molina
SS Ryan Theriot

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Chris Carpentar
LHP Jaime Garcia
RHP Jake Westbrook
RHP Kyle Lohse
RHP Kyle McClellan
CL: Ryan Franklin

I think this is going to be the first off-year the Cardinals will go through in quite a while. The loss of Adam Wainwright hurt them badly, and that's 22 wins gone from the starting rotation. Filling in his place is a career reliever, albeit a solid one in McClellan. However, if the Cardinals start strong, and the good version of Kyle Lohse shows up this season, they could go out and add an arm or two in-season to help them even up with Cinci. In-fact, John Mozeliak should get on the phone with Andy MacPhail in Baltimore and make a play for Brian Roberts and Jeremy Guthrie. They need a move like that, otherwise, even with the all mighty Pujols, and that solid lineup around him, I don't see them beating out Baker's bunch. Especially if they can't get the top of their lineup going, which they had trouble doing in 2010. I'd go ahead and slot Rasmus into the leadoff spot if Schumaker starts slowly again.

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4th Place - Chicago Cubs

Lineup:
RF Kosuke Fukudome
SS Starlin Castro
LF Alfonso Soriano
3B Aramis Ramirez
CF Marlon Byrd
1B Carlos Pena
C Geovany Soto
2B Jeff Baker

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Ryan Dempster
RHP Carlos Zambrano
RHP Matt Garza
RHP Randy Wells
RHP Carlos Silva
CL: Carlos Marmol

The Cubs have been marred with bad injuries over the past years, and have had some bizarre luck with psuedo-ace Carlos Zambrano. If everyone in the lineup, like Soriano, Ramirez, Pena and Soto, play like they're supposed to, and Zambrano pitches like he did pre-2009, then the Cubs will win some games and be in the race, but all those things happening together just aren't likely. They also need to find a leadoff hitter, and I don't think Fukudome is the answer. I'd put Soriano back there, maybe it would kick start his game (.250 avg. last 2 seasons). Their bullpen is solid, where they have Mariano Rivera 2.0 in closer Carlos Marmol, but I'm not sure how much it will help if the Cubs don't have leads late in games. Their rotation just isn't good enough and their lineup is too inconsistent.

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5th Place - Houston Astros

Lineup:
CF Michael Bourn
SS Clint Barmes
RF Hunter Pence
1B Carlos Lee
3B Chris Johnson
2B Bill Hall
LF Jason Michaels
C Humberto Quintero

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Brett Myers
LHP Wandy Rodriguez
RHP Bud Norris
LHP J.A. Happ
RHP Nelson Figueroa
CL: Brandon Lyon

It wasn't too long ago that the Astros and Cardinals were the only 2 contenders in this division, and would battle it out for first place each year. However, over the last couple of seasons, the Astros have really fallen off the map. They made a few bad financial decisions and draft choices and it's burned them. Brett Myers looks like he's found a 2nd wind here but their rotation is weak, and could crumble any which way after Wandy Rodrguez in the 2 spot. Their lineup isn't much better, where they're being anchored down by the $18 million man Carlos Lee who had a .246/24/89 line last year and has to improve big time. The one bright spot in this lineup is 27 year-old Hunter Pence who has 30-30 potential. Their bullpen is also below average led by closer Brandon Lyon but surrounded with very little depth.

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6th Place - Pittsburgh Pirates

Lineup:
CF Andrew McCuthchen
LF Jose Tabata
1B Lyle Overbay
RF Garrett Jones
3B Pedro Alvarez
2B Neil Walker
C Chris Snyder
SS Ronny Cedeno

Rotation/Closer:
LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Ross Ohlendorf
RHP Kevin Corriea
RHP Jason McDonald
RHP Charlie Morton
CL: Joel Hanrahan

The Pirates are putting together a nice young lineup, led by Andrew McCutchen, who could be an all-star as soon as this season. I also like Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, even Jose Tabata and Ronny Cedeno are playing well for the Bucs. It doesn't matter how well they do though, cause the pitching staff is hideous, by far the worst in baseball. All 5 starters sported an era over 5 last season and 4/5 had double digit losses. I just can't fathom why they can't draft pitching? They have a good yard to pitch in, but none of their arms have seemed to pan out since they moved to PNC Park. They could use a makeover for their whole pitching staff for that matter. Their bullpen is only marginally better than their rotation, but still grossly below average. Worst team in baseball in 2011!

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Giants Note
: The Giants got some more bad news Wednesday, as Cody Ross will be joining Brian Wilson in the trainer's room over the next few days, and appears questionable for the March 31st opener in LA. Ross strained his calf chasing down a line drive in the first inning of Wednesday's game, just hours after Brian Wilson cut short his first throwing session since he strained his rib-cage last week... What was really a seamless spring up until this point is starting to cause some un-easiness, and I think everybody is ready to break north. It wouldn't surprise me to see Boch really slow it down with the key regulars at least until they go back to the Bay Area for A's games next week.

We'll have more on the Ross situation, as well as the Wilson situation as we hear it. Both are huge pieces to this team as Giants fans well know. Ross projects to hit 5th in the lineup and looks to be a prime candidate to breakout offensively this year after his success in the 2010 postseason. It wouldn't surprise me to see Boch try Huff out in RF while Ross is out just he can't start the year (not the way the Giants want Brandon Belt to make the team).
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2 Comments:

  • At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Peter Newheiser said…

    I agree with all, just I'd flip flop the Brew crew and the Reds. Cincinnati is so awesome, they could be the Giants of 2011.

     
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