2011 NL Central Preview
1. Cincinnati Reds
The Good: The Reds have a solid combo of strong bats and strong starting pitching. Bronson Arroyo, Edison Volquez, Travis Wood, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake form a formidible rotation. While the offense is spearheaded by triple crown candidate/MVP Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen, Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce. Two things the Reds offense has is power with some speed.
The Bad: The back end of the bullpen is a cause for concern. Francisco Cordero has logged a lot of innings the past few years and looked like he was tired the 2nd half of last year. The Dusty Baker effect once again if you ask me. I am not buying all the hype surrounding Aroldis Chapman. Chapman can throw 115MPH for all I am concerned but, his control, mechanics and lack of developed secondary pitches raise some flags. Realize, the Reds are now expected to win and will be targeted by other teams, that changes the perspective for the young Reds a lot. Another crucial question: Can Scott Rolen stay healthy and productive for 2 straight years?
What to Look For: The continued development Drew Stubbs, Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman, Edison Volquez, Travis Wood and Mike Leake will determine how far the Reds will progress this season. The Reds are following the right path in terms of a successful long term plan.
Projection: The Reds definitely seem to be trying to follow the Phillies blueprint: A solid starting rotation, good defense and plenty of power bats with some speed. The Reds weren’t a fluke last year and this year they should prove that.
92-70 (1st Place)
The Good: The Brewers made massive upgrades to a pitching rotation that sorely needed it. 2009 1-2 starters Yovanni Gallardo and Randy Wolf get bumped down to 3 and 4 to make room for new ace Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. These were two very high impact moves by the Brew Crew and I am sure Marcum and Greinke will benefit from pitching in the NL and having strong offensive support. While being dominated by right handers, the Brewers can score runs. The offensive attack of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, Casey McGehee and Rickie Weeks is very impressive.
The Bad: The Brewers defense can be down right dreadful and that will cost them some games. John Axford, Zach Braddock, 41 year old Takashi Saito and Kameron Loe will have to shore up a bullpen that had plenty of leaks last season. Another critical question: Can Carlos Gomez be an everyday CF?
What to Look For: If the right deal comes along would the Brewers deal Prince Fielder and move Mat Gamel to 1B? That should be interesting to see. Also, the development of John Axford and Zach Braddock to the late inning roles is something the Brewers need to take shape if they want to be serious contenders.
Projection: If the Reds falter the Brewers are most likely taking the division. The Brewers are taking their shot this year realizing it most likely is their last with big slugging 1B Prince Fielder. Should be an exciting summer in Milwaukee.
89-73 (2nd place)
The Good: The Cubs offense should be able to produce runs with the likes of Aramis Ramirez, Starlin Castro, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Pena, Marlon Byrd, Geovany Soto and Tyler Colvin. The Cubs front 3 starting pitchers of Carlos Zambrano, Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster give their fans plenty of reason to think they can contend and Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner are not bad options out of the 4 and 5 spots.
The Bad: The Cubs have been awful at situational hitting the past few years and adding more strikeouts with Carlos Pena will not help. Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez looked old and worn out last year which is not a good sign. Middle relief was a disaster for the Cubs last year and outside of Carlos Marmol the closer, there are too many question marks for the Cubs.
What to Look For: Will be interesting to see how Cubs skipper Mike Quade is able to keep the usually hotheaded Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza on track. This is a transition year for the Cubs. I strongly believe Carlos Pena is a 1 year rental before the Cubs land Albert Pujols, Justin Morneau or Prince Fielder to play 1B.
Prediction: The Cubs will shine and have their moments but, unless they get some critical big hits, cut down on the strikeouts and get decent middle relief help they are only a decent team not a good team.
84-78 (3rd Place)
St. Louis Cardinals
The Good: The offense should be OK considering it has Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus at its core. Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia should help steady a questionable rotation.
The Bad: Plenty. Adam Wainwright and his Cy Young Award type numbers are gone for the year and more importantly, this could be Albert Pujols last year as a Cardinal. This is a major year of flux for the Cards who could also deal free agent to be Chris Carpenter at the trade deadline if they fall out of contention. Is RF Lance Berkman still an everyday player? What kind of production do the Cardinals get from the middle infield of Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaker? Can the Cardinals recover from losing Adam Wainwright for an entire season?
What to Look For: If Carpenter, Tony LaRussa and Pujols leave within the next year the Cards could be in a full blown rebuilding phase. Dave Duncan is one of the best pitching coaches ever with all the pitching projects he has taken on and transformed. Duncan will have to use all of his skills this season to help the Crads overcome the loss of Adam Wainwright. Fireballer Carlos Martinez may arrive into the bullpen for the Cardinals this summer.
Projection: It already looks like this could be a rough year for the Cardinals will all the questions left unanswered. Where does this team go past 2011 is the most important question of them all.
79-83 (4th Place)
The Good: The Astros GM Ed Wade did a heck of a job rebuilding the core of this team midseason in 2009 and finally has the Astros younger and cheaper then they have been in a while. 1B Brett Wallace, RF Hunter Pence and 3B Chris Johnson help give some much needed youth into the Astros everyday lineup. They may not jump out at you but, J.A. Happ, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris give Houston a decent starting rotation. Closer Brandon Lyon, Fernando Abad, Wilton Lopez, and Mark Melancon are pretty decent options out of the bullpen too.
The Bad: The Astros are still a ways off in terms of getting younger better position players and are stuck with some stopgap solution players in their middle infield. Also, the Astros are saddled with the bloated Carlos Lee contract. Losing young catcher Jason Castro for the year to a knee injury is a blow not easily recovered from either.
What to Look For: The Astros can only pray that Carlos Lee has a big first half and can convince someone crazy or desperate enough to take him off the Astros hands even for half price.
Projection: When you have pitching you can win or in the Astros case, be representable. The Astros need to find position players but, are heading in the right direction with their relatively young pitching.
73-89 (5th Place)
The Good: Well, at least the Pirates have some good talent in the field eveyday and should score some runs with CF Andrew McCutchen, 3B Pedro Alvarez, 2B Neil Walker and LF Jose Tabata. James McDonald and Ross Ohlendorf give the Pirates a prayer that they can give up less than 5-10 runs at least 2 days out of the week. Evan Meek, Chris Resop and Joel Hanrahan provide some actual relief for a bullpen that’s pretty rotten.
The Bad: Are you kidding me?!?!? Well, the worst is the ownership who cares nothing about the franchise or the fan base because they maintain the lowest MLB payroll while turning one of the highest profits. Pathetic. As a Pirates player you are encouraged to play your best because the sooner you do the sooner you are traded from the team. Hard to believe the Pirates share the same city as one of the NFL’s all time elite/successful franchises and a very successful NHL franchise as well. The Pirates pitching staff was abysmal last year. When you have the worst team ERA and you are not in the AL or playing half the time in Cincinnatti, Houston or Philadelphia (3 great band boxes) you have major issues. Oh, yeah, and if that was not bad enough, the Pirates have plenty of problems catching and throwing the baseball consistently in the field too.
What to Look For: To see the Pirates roll out a borderline MLB team and not lose a 100 games. MLB should assume ownership of this franchise because the Pirates front office is a disgrace.
Projection: See the past 18 years. Somehow I think they will only lose 98 games this year. Yet, I cannot substantiate why.
64-98 (6th Place)
Filed under: Digging Deep - Analysis | Tagged: Adam Wainwright, Albert Pujols, Alfonso Soriano, Andrew Cashner, Andrew McCutchen, Aramis Ramirez, Aroldis Chapman, Astros, Brandon Lyon, Brandon Phillips, Brett Myers, Brett Wallace, Brewers, Bronson Arroyo, Cardinals, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Lee, Carlos Marmol, Carlos Martinez, Carlos Pena, Carlos Zambrano, Casey McGehee, Chris Carpenter, Chris Johnson, Chris Resop, Colby Rasmus, Corey Hart, Cubs, Dave Duncan, Drew Stubbs, Dusty Baker, Ed Wade, Edison Volquez, Evan Meek, Fernando Abad, Francisco Cordero, Geovany Soto, Homer Bailey, Hunter Pence, J.A. Happ, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, James McDonald, Jason Castro, Jay Bruce, Joel Hanrahan, Joey Votto, John Axford, Johnny Cueto, Jose Tabata, Justin Morneau, Kameron Loe, Lance Berkman, Mark Melancon, Marlon Byrd, Mat Gamel, Matt Garza, Matt Holliday, Mike Leake, Mike Quade, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Pirates, Prince Fielder, Randy Wells, Randy Wolf, Reds, Rickie Weeks, Ross Ohlendorf, Ryan Braun, Ryan Dempster, Ryan Theriot, Scott Rolen, Shaun Marcum, Skip Schumaker, Starlin Castro, Takashi Saito, Tony LaRussa, Travis Wood, Tyler Colvin, Wandy Rodriguez, Wilton Lopez, Yovanni Gallardo, Zach Braddock, Zack Greinke | Leave a Comment »