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Monday, February 16, 2009

Evan Heffron: NL Central Preview

By the end of the 2008 regular season, this division saw 4 teams finish over .500, it saw the Chicago Cubs finish with 97 wins, and saw C.C. Sabathia pull one of the all times greatest stretch runs for any pitcher in team and league history. And to even top that off, this division even had a little soap opera on its hands. After a Hurricane Ike swept through the Houston area amidst the Astros then 6-game winning streak, the Astros integral series against division front runner Cubs was forced from the confines of Minute Maid Park in Houston to Milwaukee. This "home" series turned out a disaster because of the 25,000 cubs fans that turned out for the games because of the close proximity from Chi-Town as well as the poor showing the the team made on the field, thus ending the Astros chances in the playoff hunt. Many pointed to Commish Bud Selig using this situation as a cash grab. By moving the game to Miller Park (Selig is a minority owner in the Brewers Org.) his organization made profit from the game being in his home park, despite the fact that Atlanta's and St.Louis' Fields were both open and closer to Houston than the Miller Park was.
All craziness and conspiracy theories aside, this division once again will shape up to be one of the most competitive in all of baseball. Here are the standing room only predictions for the 2009 NL Central division.

1. Chicago Cubs 89-73

Chicago ran this division last year, and considering how good the three teams behind them were that's all the more impressive. Using fireballer Carlos Marmol in more save situations and getting the innings from the injury prone Rich Harden could prove to be an important aspect of their staff this upcoming season. The superior K/9 ratio Harden brings to the table will only be a be a complement to proven top guns Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster, IF he can stay healthy. Health will be the key for the Northsiders this campaign. LF Alfonso Soriano has not been able to keep healthy in his time as a Cub as well. Soriano will need to stay healthy this season for Chicago to win the division. The addition of, once again, an 'injury prone' player in Milton Bradley has to make the consistency factor for this squad shaky to say the least. The loss of utility man Mark Derosa also hurts this lineup. There are just too many talented squads this time around for them to run away with the division with injuries to key players, but in the end, i think they pull it out, barely.

2. Houston Astros 88-74

The Astros could be on the brink of becoming a legit NL contender if they provided some help in the rotation for ace Roy Oswalt. Oswalt's K's have gone down in the past few years but has been consistently the leader of the staff. As far as the pen goes, Jose Valverde will need to keep his fast ball down. If he learns that major league hitters can hit a 97 mph fast ball on the middle of the plate then it should pay huge dividends in his ERA and and limit his blown saves. The 2 guys who provide most of the offense in Houston are perennial 30-100-.300 guys in Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee. In my opinion, two of the most underrated ball players around should lead this offense to a very competitive September. Role players such as Mike Bourn and Hunter Pence also provide production from two outfield positions. The one thing that makes me nervous about this team is that their shortstop may be in federal prison or deported by the time the season starts and that would be a severe hole to fill up the middle. Oh Miguel...

3. St. Louis Cardinals 83-79

Albert Pujols was playing with nerve damage in his shoulder for the past few seasons. Apparently someone forgot to tell that carrying the weight of his entire team wasn't too healthy for that shoulder. Regardless, the 2008 NL MVP put up ridiculous numbers last year and took this team from the ashes into wildcard contention later in the season. Guys like Ryan Ludwick, Rich Ankiel, and Skip Schumaker helped contribute to the Albert show with some impressive numbers. Is it possible all three of these guys produce stats like they did last year? It is within the realm of possibility. But the main detriment to this team is the rotation. They don't have the stopper they once had in the healthy Chris Carpenter. They have young guys and journeymen like Adam Wainright and Joel Pinero. That isn't enough to cut it in a division like this. With Ryan Franklin penciled in as the closer of this club, there are many questions that face this team and this pen as we move towards opening day 09'.

4. Milwuakee Brewers 80-82

Last year was a huge success for the Brew Crew who finally made the playoffs after a long drought. Stud Ryan Braun will once again be a huge offensive lift for this team as he was last year. Coupled with the power hitting ability of Prince Fielder, The Brewers will stay in contention for awhile, but don't expect it to last very long. Losing C.C. Sabathia to free agency will kill this team. The performance he put up towards the end of the year was unreal. Many attribute the playoff berth single-handily to C.C. and his magic. Milwaukee this season simply doesn't have the arms to do that again, too many good teams in the central and the NL as a whole .

5. Pittsburgh Pirates 72-90

You gotta feel bad for these guys. The have a beautiful park, solid sports fan base, and a long and rich history. This squad just cant put it together. Despite the pure stink this team puts on the field perennially, I'm going out on a bold limb....they won't finish in last this year. First baseman Adam Laroche has 30 Home run ability and statistic leaders C Ryan Doumit and CF Nate McLouth will once again lead this team into a few more wins than last year. Bottom line is this team still is one of the most pathetic in the league but does have a few bright spots. Guys on the staff like Zach Duke and Ian Snell all do have potential but have never really seemed to put it all together. The Bucs have the ability to play spoiler in this division down the stretch. Baby steps Pittsburgh, baby steps.

6. Cincinnati Reds 71-91

The Reds really have their work cut out for them this season . Replacing the 40-100 man in Adam Dunn will be no easy task. Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce are expected to lead this team into the future but poor team defense and bullpen play is the Achilles heel of the Reds. They have bright young talent in the rotation with Edison Volquez and Johny Cueto. SP Homer Bailey never really panned out into the ace that he was supposed to be but still has time to grow. The innings are there for these young guys its just a matter of them being able to limit the bleeding when they start to get rocked. That could be the difference in some W's and L's this season. On paper Cincy doesn't look to shabby but in reality, watching this team hurts. Disjointed play leads to lack of chemistry which then leads to losing more games than the Pittsburgh Pirates. Enough said.

NL Central MVP: Albert Pujols

NL Central CY Young: Roy Oswalt

NL Central Rookie of the Year: Colby Rasmus

NL Central Team Next To Be Screwed By Bud Selig : TBA *

1 comment:

  1. I love rooting for the Cubbies, especially with my man Sweet Lou running things out there on the North Side, but look at that pitching rotation. There's so much talent there, but not a-one of them isn't a huge injury risk. That could get ugly real quick in a hitter's paradise like Wrigley, if things go south.

    This will be a great division. And I'll take my Beat 'Em Bucs fourth.


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