Thursday, March 24, 2011

MLB 2011 Preview-NL Central

6. Pittsburgh Pirates-Its hard to look at the Pittsburgh roster and not cringe. Their hitting should be below average and pitching should be one of the worst in baseball. The only bright spot on the team is OF Andrew McCutchen. But realistically, its Pittsburgh and any good player that comes up through their system gets shipped out. So please don't expect much from the Pirates. Maybe someday, while I'm alive, Pittsburgh will be a relevant baseball team again...maybe someday...

5. Houston Astros-Last year, Houston got off to a terrible start. They traded the two franchise cornerstones (Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman), and somehow the team took off. They ended up in third place after a fantastic second half. They have some great young players (OF Michael Bourn, OF Hunter Pence, P J.A. Happ) to build around for their future. But in the 2011 season, Houston simply will not be able to run with the big teams atop this division. Their bullpen has many question marks, the back end of their rotation is very questionable, and their lineup comes off as streaky. Maybe moving forward they can fix these issues and put Houston back in the race, but you won't see them fixed and/or in the race in 2011.

4. Chicago Cubs-It astonishes me how every year, the Cubs seem to do worse than the last one. They have a decent lineup (When healthy), and seem to have an effective pitching staff (When their not throwing tantrums). But lets face it...its the Cubs. They are destined to lose. Regardless of who they bring in to pitch, hit, or manage...the Cubs will lose. Their lineup could be good if Alfonso Soriano can rediscover his swing and if Kosuke Fukudome can possibly find that early 2008 form. Pitching wise, Carlos Zambrano is the key. He needs to return to his dominant form. But he would rather argue with his fielders than focus on his location. I pity new manager Mike Quade. Maybe he can fix whatever is wrong with the Cubs.

3. St. Louis Cardinals-I pity anyone who is a redbird fan. Their best pitcher, Adam Wainwright, was lost for the season early on in spring training. Their best player, Albert Pujols, is in the final year of his contract with no extension talks coming until the season ends. And they now are playing in a very tough division. last year, besides Pujols and Matt Holiday, the Cards had struggles offensively. So they brought in Lance Berkman to help with that. But that just won't be enough. They still will lack offensively. Pitching wise, they should be average with out Wainwright in the rotation as long as Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan guide this staff. Their bullpen is serviceable, but not great, especially in a division with heavy hitters. The Cardinals will struggle with the two teams that finish above them in the standings. And more importantly, will this be the final season we see Pujols in a redbird uniform?

2. Cincinnati Reds-The Reds were a great story in baseball. They captured the division title and saw one of their young stars (Joey Votto) turn into a superstar while en route to the MVP crown. And they locked up their young stars this past offseason, which is all the more they seemed to do. They return the same team from 2010. And it appears that Aroldis Chapman will come out of the bullpen once again in the late innings rather than him be a starter. So for this year, the Reds will finish second due the fact they made no significant acquisitions in the offseason. But keep your eyes on them. They will still be very good.

1. Milwaukee Brewers-The Brewers had one of the best offenses in the NL last year. But their pitching staffs was one of the worst. So how do you fix that: Acquire a former Cy Young Winner (Zack Greinke), a decent pitcher from the AL East (Shaun Marcum), and sign a very good setup man (Takashi Saito) to bridge the gap to John Axford in the ninth inning. Yes the Brewers did all of that. And now, the Brewers are primed to not only take the division but contend for the NL crown. True, Greinke and Marcum are battling injuries right now. If they can get those out of the way early, they will be a great team to watch. 1B Prince Fielder is entering what should be the final season with the Brewers. So there is great urge to win now. And GM Doug Melvin has set up his team to do exactly Because he has gone "All in" with this team and this season.

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