Its been a while since my last post ( I believe it was about the Cubs signing Xavier Nady) but that dosnt mean i havnt been working diligently on this post. I have been analyizing these numbers for weeks and looking at lots of projections. So here is a look at my 2010 Official NL Central Preview.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Lets take a deeper look at all 6 teams, because even though most analysts believe the Cards will run away with it im not convinced. Anyone in the top 4 spots could legitamitly when this division.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
Departed (notable players)- Rick Akiel, Mark DeRosa, Troy Glaus, Joel Pineiro, Brad Thompson
Aquired- Rich Hill, Brad Penny
The Cards were a mediocre team at the start of the 2009 season, but a midseason trade for Matt Holliday changed everything. Now the Cardnials have ascended to the upper echelon of NL teams with the likes of Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Their rotation is headlined by 2 terrific Aces in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Recently aquired Brad Penny will look to fill Joel Pineiro's shoes and become another one of Dave Duncans reclamation projects. Outside of those 3 the rotation has a lot of questions, wil Kyle Lohse bounce back, and who will be the fifth starter. The Infield is pretty solid with Albert Pujols anchoring it at first. There can be no argument that Pujols is the best player in the majors right now. Skip Schumaker ande Brendan Ryan make up the middle infield, both are farily good contact hitters, but they dont blow you away considering the other talent in the division. The biggest question mark for the Cards infield is David Freese, it looks like they are going to give him a shot, hopefully he can perform better than Colby Rasmus did last year. The outfield is definatly one of the Cardinals strong points with Matt Holliday the anchor there. Holliday, like Pujols is one of the premier players in the league forming one of, if not the best 1-2 punch in the National League. Coby Rasmus will man center field, although his rookie season wasnt great he still provides good defense (according to UZR stats) and is developing offensivly. And in right field Ryan Ludwick will continue to mash, he may not be as good as he was 2 seasons ago he is good at protecting Holliday and Pujols. Overall the Cardinals are a very balanced team, they arnt very deep so if they sustain some injuries things could go downhill. But as of right now statisticly speaking they should win this division.
2. Chicago Cubs
Departed- Milton Bradley, Jake Fox, Kevin Gregg, Rich Harden, Aaron Heilman, Reed Johnson, Aaron Miles, Neal Cotts
Aquired- Marlon Byrd, Jeff Gray, Bryan LaHair, Chad Tracy, Kevin Millar, Xavier Nady, Mike Parisi, Carlos Silva
The Cubs were supposed to win this division last season, but due to a ridiculous amount of injuries, down years for star players, and the chaos that Milton Bradley created they came in second. Although there have been some changes, this team is very similar to the one that had the best record in the NL in 08. The rotation is headlined by underachieving Ace Carlos Zambrano (Im not sure i can even call him an ace anymore), Ted Lilly (Although he will be out for the first month), and Ryan Dempster. Randy Wells should be the #4 starter and the #5 spot is open to several pitchers although Tom Gorzelanny is the favorite. Zambrano has struggled the past few seasons due to his immaturity and injuries. But he has apparently slimmed down and is much more focused so look for a bounce back season from him. The Bullpen while not great has some interesting peices that could make it a good unit. Marmol is the big question mark, how will he be able to handle the pressure of being the full time closer. He looked good at the end of last season, but he is wild and when he dosnt have his command he is useless. John Grabow, Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall, Jeff Gray, Carlos Silva, and Esmailin Caridad make up the rest of their projected bullpen. The infield is a strength with 09's top Cubs performer Derrek Lee at first, and the always consistent Aramis Ramirez at 3rd (when healthy). The middle infield is mediocre but servicable, with The Riot at short, and Jeff Baker/Mike Fontenot at 2B. Although in the near future a shift to 2b for Theriot looks likely as his defense is better there and Starlin Castro is on his way. The Cubs are really hoping that 08' Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto returns to form. The outfiled is improved but not great with the dissapointing and often injured Alfonso Soriano in LF. Marlon Byrd came from Texas to play CF and should provide solid but unspectacular numbers. And Kosuke Fukudome playing solid defense in RF and probably platooning with Xavier Nady. If former Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo can get the Cubs hitters to return they should be real close to the Cardinals and a mid season trade for a star could push them into the playoffs.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
Departed- Mike Cameron, JJ Hardy, Jason Kendall, Seth McClung, Mike Rivera, Felipe Lopez, Braden Looper
Aquired- Doug Davis, Jim Edmonds, LaTroy Hawkins, Randy Wolf, Greg Zaun, Carlos Gomez
The Brewers have the best offense in the division by far. But their pitching may be the worst which is what has held them back. They have aquired some talent to help bolster that with the additions of Randy Wolf and Doug Davis, but neither are star pitchers that can carry a team on their shoulders. They are innings eaters, Yovani Gallardo is the teams ace, but he is vey young and having to carry a team on your shoulders at a young age is tough. Their pitching will be better than in 08' but not enough to overcome the Cubs or Cardinals. The Pen is also improved with the additon of LaTroy Hawkins they now have a solid setup man who can help Trevor Hoffman. But Hoffman is getting up their in years and Hawkins has dissapointed before so dont count on them. The pitching still isnt thier but they have enough offensive peices that they could trade for a pitcher midseason. The Infield is held together by one of the best firstbaseman in the league in Prince Fielder. He is a big bopper who can hit for good contact, and Casey McGhee was solid at 3rd last year. The middle infield is talented with the youngster Alcides Escobar at short and Ricke Weeks, but Escobar only has 125 AB of major league expierence and Weeks is coming off a big injury. The Outfield is solid with Ryan Braun in LF, he may be one of the best LF in all of baseball. Corey Hart is a solid RF, and Carlos Gomez will replace Cameron in CF. Greg Zaun is an upgrade at Catcher from the ancient Jason Kendall. This is a solid team that should be in the division race and should finish over .500 but i think they need a young arm to step up or they need to trade for one. If they do that then i think they have a legitimate shot at the division title.
4. Cincinnati Reds
Departed- Willy Taveras, Adam Rosales
Aquired- Orlando Cabrera, Aroldis Chapman, Aaron Miles, Josh Anderson
The Reds seem on the verge of becoming a very good team, but i am still a litte sceptical thats why i put them this low. They very well could be a spot or two up but there are a lot of variables for that to happen. Plus the Reds always seem to look decent on paper but not be able to put it together. The rotation is decent, Bronson Arroyo has been very reliable and was great in the second half last season. Harrang has not been the same since he pitched in relief in 08' and continues to put up abismal statistics despite a decent ERA. Johnny Cueto looks like he could be a star and Homer Bailey finally started to put it all together last September. Both of them will need to have good seasons for the Reds to be competitve. The #5 spot may be filled by Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, but he is a young lefty and sometimes those guys take a while to reach their potential. He is their biggest future prospect as he has been compared to Randy Johnson. Francisco Cordero has been a solid closer although the Reds are looking to dump his salary since it makes up a significant portion of their limited payroll. Even without him, the Reds have one of the better bullpens in baseball. The Infield is a strong point for the Reds with a really good 1B in Joey Votto and veteran Scott Rolen at the corners. Up the middle former gold glover and steady veteran Orlando Cabrera is at short, and perenial All-Star Brandon Phillips is at 2B. Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hannigan play solidly at Catcher. The Outfield has some questions, will former top prospect Jay Bruce bounce back from a dissapointing sophmore season? Is rookie Drew Stubbs the answer in CF? Will Chris Dickerson start in LF? They have some good players with good potential and they will have to live up to it if they want to compete for the divison. This could be a very good team, and as i said before they have a ton of potential but potential doesnt win the divison. This is a team that will have to grow up this season, but this is a team on the rise and will be good for some time.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
Departed- Brian Bixler, Matt Capps, Jesse Chavez, Robinson Diaz
Aquired- Neal Cotts, Ryan Church, Bobby Crosby, Brendan Donnelly, Octavio Dotel, Akinori Iwamura, Javier Lopez
This is my bold prediction for 2010, the Pirates will not finish in the division cellar. I think the Pirates are on the rise, although they are no where near being competitive i think they are a team that can win 70-75 games. But this perdictions doesnt necesserily reflect on the Pirates being that much better, but that the Astros are worse. The Pirates rotation is nothing to brag about but there are some interesting arms there. Paul Maholm is their top pitcher although he has been dissapointing, Zach Duke is a solid middle of the rotation guy, but he could get traded. Ross Ohlendorf suprised some people, but im not sold on his performance. The back of the rotation is likely going to consist of Charlie Morton who was effective in Atlanta, Kevin Hart who came over from Chicago in the Grabow, Gorzelanny deal. The bullpen has been put together out of unwanted pieces from other teams. They could be succesful, but it is hard to predict relief pitchers. Octavio should be the closer, although i think the eventual goal is for Joel Hanrahan to close. The infield doesnt have any stars but some solid pieces, Garrett Jones will probably play first, he burst onto the scene last season and the Pirates are hoping for a repeat performance. Andy LaRoche is playing 3rd although he is nothing more than a place holder for the Pirates future star Pedro Alvarez. Recently aquired Akinori Iwamura will man 2nd, and Ronny Cedeno and Bobby Crosby will battle for the starting shortstop gig. While they are nothing special they have a lot of depth at the positions and some farm help on the way. The outfield has the most potential, former top prospect Lastings Millidge will play in LF and he played well after coming over from Washington. If he can play to the potential that he was said to have the Pirates will have a solid LF. Andrew McCutchen will look to improve upon his outstanding rookie season and play CF for the full season. Ryan Church will most likely start in RF, while he may not put up great numbers he is a solid player. The Pirates also have some depth here with Brandon Moss, and former top prospect Steve Pearce. This team may lack superstars (although one is on the way, and McCutchen may become one) they have more overall talent than the Astros do.
6. Houston Astros
Departed- LaTroy Hawkins, Miguel Tejada, Jose Valverde, Doug Brocail (Retired), Chris Coste
Aquired- Pedro Feliz, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, Matt Lindstrom
The Astros have really gone down hill since that 2005 world series appearance. They used to be one of the best teams in the National League, but i think poor managment has put them in a position to fall out of the competition for some time. They have not clearly defined their direction, wether they are rebuilding or contending. Their recent aquisitions have not convinced me that they are improving. The rotation is relying on the return of the dominant Roy Oswalt, he did not look very good last season (I know cause he was on my fantasy baseball team). They discovered they have a solid arm in Wandy Rodriguez and they are hoping Brett Myers can give them a solid #3 starter. But after that there is a significant dropoff, Brian Moehler will probably start along with youngster Bud Norris, neither of them impress me and there is not any help after them. The bullpen is somewhat restructered, replacing LaTroy Hawkins and Jose Valverde with Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon. Aparently they want Lindstrom to close, he has been great in the past and has a great fastball but he will have to bounce back from an awfull season. Brandon Lyon is about equal to LaTroy Hawkins in my eyes, maybe a bit worse. The infield has some nice pieces, with the consistent Lance Berkman (although he had a down year last year), Pedro Feliz is at the other corner, he plays solid defense but dosnt offer much in offense anymore. Kaz Matsui will play 2nd and youngster Tommy Manzella will likely start at short. Manzella dosnt really project to contribut much and Matsui is very average. The outfield is the Astros strength with another consistent player in Carlos Lee in LF. Michael Bourne leads off and plays CF, but outside of steals he is very average (Most believe his 09' BA is a mirage and he will hit more in the .250-.260 range). Hunter Pence is another solid outfielder in RF, he will put up a solid .280-25-90 stat line. The Astros dont have a ton of depth so injuries will be a killer. They could finish ahead of the Pirates but that is their ceiling in 10'. Sorry Astros fans but i dont see them getting better anytime soon, they need to get that farm system going if they want to get better.