2009 MLB Preview: NL Central
After finding that the City of Angels should dominate the West, we continue our preview journey and find ourselves in America’s heartland (boring).
Who will rule the Central?
Starting with the NL, let’s go to the judges…
(the judges being me of course)
6) Pittsburgh Pirates
What can I say about the least interesting team in baseball?
Seriously… what can I say?
The Pirates are downright despicable… once again. Their best player is Nate McLouth (yawn).
They are the lucky ones who get to employ the LaRoche brothers (the question is why).
Ryan Doumit may end up being ok, but he also may end up catching the Jason Bay disease — getting depressed from playing for Pittsburgh and steadily declining on the field until some contender finally rescues him with trade — and tanking like the rest of the team.
Ok I’ve run out of steam.There isn’t really anything else of note to speak of.
The Pirates are just an all-around gloomy bunch.
Why so glum?
(*Note* I was looking to link that last quip with a clip of Jim Carrey in Lemony Snicket’s a Series Of Unfortunate Events — lame, I know — but while searching for it I found this gold mine instead.)
(Hello Rocky…Do you find me sexy? I SAID DO YOU FIND ME SEXXXXXXYYYYYY-AAAAAAEEEEWW)
(I need to watch it again… “Enough of the foreplay Rocky, is it going to be your place or mine?”… so great…)
-Nate McLouth: Hit .276 with 26 home runs last year; the Pirates will need him to hit .438 with 64 to even sniff contention.
-Ryan Doumit: One of the few young promising players on this club. The only problem? He’s not really that young (will be 28 in April) and is likely peaking now.
-Matt Capps: Could save every game in which the Pirates hold a lead past the mid-innings, and he still might end up with less saves than K-Rod notched last year (62).
-I Don’t Really Have Any Other Names To Put On This List So I’m Just Going To Keep Writing This Sentence Capping Each First Letter And Using Bold Font As I’m Guessing Doing So Is More Interesting Than Any Other Pittsburgh Players.
TEAM GRADE: F
5) Houston Astros
If Yogi Berra was writing this preview he’d say these players get older every year. It sure does seem true though. Especially Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt; it feels like they have been around for 15 years each. In actuality Oswalt is just 31 years old while Berkman is 32. A team can win with two stars their ages, and they do have Hunter Pence — hopefully he doesn’t break his face diving into a pool or something — who has recovered from lacerations from his sliding glass door incident last season.
Unfortunately those three are about all the Astros have going for them.
-Roy Oswalt: Had a very rough April and May last year, but finished extremely strong. He needs a full season of brilliance.
-Lance Berkman: Unlike Oswalt, Berk had a great start and a sloppy finish. He is a potential MVP candidate but is typically overlooked.
-Hunter Pence: Has a ton of talent. Pence had a bit of a let down sophomore year, the injury not with standing. Baring a serious setback Houston expects Pence to bounce back to at least his rookie level of production.
-Carlos Lee: Has been extremely productive for the ‘Stros when on the field; he needs to stay there in ’09.
TEAM GRADE: D
4) Milwaukee Brewers
The NL Central will be deep with between three and four teams that could potentially sniff the title. Milwaukee can’t come back from losing C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets to free agency, can they?Probability says no, but they still have a decent front three with Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush and Braden Looper in the rotation. Conceivably if those three stay healthy, with Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Mike Cameron and J.J. Hardy leading the offense Milwaukee has an outside shot if two of the teams above falter.
-Ryan Braun: One of the top two young outfielders in the game (Grady Sizemore being the other). If the Brewers do win the division I’m betting it will be because Braun wins the MVP.
-Prince Fielder: Word is the star has shed his sluggish ’08 body and looks beastly in camp. This is a kid who has been compared to Ryan Howard; the debate last spring as to who would be better was legitimate. Look for a big ’09.
-Yovani Gallardo: Couldn’t stay on the field in ’08 and didn’t need to as Sabathia and Sheets shouldered the load. Now, it’s on Gallardo.
-Braden Looper: Has had it rough since transforming into a starter after the ’06 season. A plus is that everything but his record looked promising down the strech last year. Can he be a solid No. 3?
TEAM GRADE: C
3) Cincinnati Reds
The Red’s are counting on a young nucleus to drive them to the promised land. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce look to be studs in the making. Brandon Phillips didn’t have a great year last season by his standards, but looks to rebound in ’09. Edwin Encarnacion had an unacceptable average, but a decent OBP to make up for it.
The rotation won’t be spectacular but should be more than solid. After a miraculous three year stretch (’05-’07) Aaron Harang decided to remember he was still Aaron Harang, and pitched more to his capabilities. You can expect him to throw a little better, but to anticipate an ERA under 4.10 would be foolish. Edison Voquez ended up with the kind of season Johnny Cueto was expected to have, and still can have this year. Bronson Arroyo had one of the worst seasons of his career last year, but can usually be counted on for quality starts.
All in all this is a team that can compete, but likely won’t. They aren’t quite ready yet.
-Johnny Cueto: Had only two decent months last year and found himself leap-frogged by Volquez as the team’s ace in the hole.
-Edison Volquez: Can he continue to ascend towards stardom?
-Jay Bruce: Averaged over a strikeout per game. He desperately needs to put the ball in play more often.
-Brandon Phillips: Was supposed to be a 30-30 lock, and didn’t come close (21-HR, 23-SB). Pick it up big man.
A-Rod and Manny are the first two guys people tend to bring up when talking about the best hitters in the game. Those people are wrong. It’s Albert Pujols and it isn’t even close. The question is, can the greatest player on the planet carry this team all year? Probably not, be he should be fun to watch.
After Pujols the lineup isn’t half bad, though the Cards need Colby Rasmus to jump out of the gate strong and beat out Chris Duncan and Skip Schumaker for either the left or center field job. Rick Ankiel has power and Ryan Ludwick scorched the ball last year, so perhaps it won’t all be on Pujols after all.
To say that this staff has question marks would be an understatement. Who knows how much Chris Carpenter will give them. Remember when he used to be a Cy Young contender? Me either, it seems so long ago. Adam Wainwright is good and Kyle Loche is ok, but who knows what the rest of the staff will give them.
-Chris Carpenter: The Cards don’t need him to be an ace, but they do need him on the field.
-Colby Rasmus: It’s not so much that the Cards have a major need in the outfield, but Rasmus has great tools, and if he can’t take a spot now they may end up needing to move him.
-Rick Ankiel: Needs to get on-base more frequently. His career OPS is .325.
-Chris Perez: Was tagged as the next great close last year. The rotation will need help, can Perez deliver?
TEAM GRADE: B
1) Chicago Cubs
Are you ready for another round of COULD THIS BE THE YEAR? I don’t know if I am, but the Central is clearly the Cubs’ to lose. Chicago already has the best rotation in the division and it’s more a matter of when rather than if, in regards to having Jake Peavy join them via trade. Add him to a mix already containing Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly and we may be talking about one of the best rotations in MLB.
The one thing Chicago needs that they haven’t been able to count on is a healthy trio of Alfonso Soriano, Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the lineup. One or two of those guys nearly always seems to be ailing. Keep them healthy and the Cubbies are in business.
-Rich Harden: I’ll lay 5-1 odds that he misses at least five starts. Any takers?–
-Carlos Zambrano: Is still wondering ‘why must God call him to lead’ this staff. If Peavy doesn’t come and Harden can’t stay healthy it will once again be on Zambrano.
-Alfonso Soriano: Keeping him in the leadoff spot is the right call… for fantasy owners. Is it the right move for the Cubs?
-Derek Lee/ Aramis Ramirez: Both don’t have to come up huge, but one does. The Cubs needs the two sluggers in the lineup.
TEAM GRADE: A-