NL Central at a GlanceBy James F.
Last week we took a look at the teams of the NL East Division. This week we will look at the NL Central as we get closer to Major League Baseball Spring Training. The NL Central is a division in which it would not come as a shock if any one of the teams wins it except one. That team is the lovable losers from the Windy City’s North Side, the Chicago Cubs. It will be just about anybody’s race from there however as the Cincinnati Reds will try to defend their division championship from a year ago.
Chicago Cubs- As we said, pencil the Cubbies in for last place. They just have too many holes in their lineup. They do have three starters capable of giving them a good outing on any given star in Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson. But those three are just as prone to get knocked around and be gone by the fourth inning on a bad day. Once you get past those three, there isn’t anybody else too scary either. Then you have Carlos Marmol in the closer’s role who can be tough if he can find the strike zone. Unfortunately it jumps around on him a lot.
The position players are a young group which few people outside of Chicago have heard of. Hopefully for the Cubs there are some in there like Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro. I have seen many of these players play in the Minor Leagues and there are some who can play. In fact, these Cubbies have quite a few guys who have been on championship teams in the minors. Maybe this will translate into some good things in Chicago. Prediction: Last Place.
Cincinnati Reds- The Reds were the division champions a year ago and they have everybody back this year to try to defend. Johnny Cueto is back to anchor the pitching rotation with Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Matt Latos and Mike Leake. All five made at least 30 starts last year. A five man rotation you know ahead of time that will take the ball every fifth day is a nice thing to have.
Jay Bruce is back with his 34 home runs and 99 RBIs. Joey Votto is back and hopes to stay healthy all year. If he does, he will put up some numbers too. These Reds will contend for the division. Prediction: Second Place.
Milwaukee Brewers- Starting pitching will be the Brewers big question. Looking at the roster there is one word that keeps popping up when looking at the pitching staff…’Who?” Other than John Axford and Burk Badenhop, we’ve never heard of them. There certainly are no Zach Grienkes or C.C. Sabathias that we know of on this staff.
There is still some pop in the batting order though with Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks. Prediction: Fourth Place
Pittsburgh Pirates- The big question in Pittsburgh is “can the Pirates finish a season?”. They’ve had good starts to the last two but faded in the late months of August and September. A bigger question might be can A.J. Burnett top his performance from a year ago when he was outstanding. The Pirates also have Wandy Rodriguez for the whole season this year. That’s a nice top of the rotation. With Justin Wilson in there they have a good starting rotation.
They also have catcher Russell Martin from the Yankees this year. With All-Star Andrew McCutchen and Gaby Sanchez, the Pirates have some players. Prediction: Third Place.
St. Louis Cardinals- It’s tough to pick against the Cardinals no matter who they have or don’t have. Maybe it’s the uniform. Maybe it’s the fabulous fan base. But whatever it is the Cards just win. Lose Albert Pujols? No problem. Take on a Mets’ disappointment? He becomes a beast. And we have learned that you do not want to bet against them in a post-season series, even when they are down to their last out.
With Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, the Cards are just about guaranteed two wins every five games right there. All they have to do from there is win one of three and they should win the division.
In Yadier Molina, they have the league’s best catcher. With Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday, they have plenty of pop in the batting order. Now add Rafael Furcal and you have one of the best lead-off men. Prediction: First Place.