Sunday, April 01, 2007

Part 5 of 8, NL Central

1st Place – Chicago Cubs
After the Cubs let me down completely last season, I was convinced I would not pick them to win the division this season. However, here I am, doing it again. However, I’ve been a huge fan of Lou Piniella for a long time, and I’m giving him a free pass on his D-Ray years.

With Soriano, a healthy Lee and Ramirez in their lineup, they have 3 legitimate huge power bats. Murton, Barrett, and Jones are all going to hit some too, and Piniella can always get people to hit.

If there was ever a pitcher designed for Lou Piniella, it’s Carlos Zambrano. Ted Lilly should have a very strong year going over the NL. It will be the back end of the rotation that will determine if the Cubs can win the division, and the less the team can use the bullpen, the better.

2nd Place -- Milwaukee Brewers
I don’t think I’ve picked the Brewers this high since Robin Yount was playing. And I don’t even think they’re good. But they are average, and that could be enough for 2nd place in this division.

The Brewers lineup is uninspiring, but with some decent young talent may be able to hit enough. They’ll need Prince Fielder to step up and hit an awful lot. Their pitching staff is I guess what could be termed as “solid’. They could very well have 5 starting pitchers with ERA’s between 4.00 and 4.50. If the Brewers want to win the division, Ben Sheets will have to step up the be a true ace.

With a starting staff that should pitch enough innings, the bullpen probably won’t hurt the team. If a couple of the starters fall off and are getting hit around, the bullpen will get exposed as well, and the team will drop like a brick.

3rd Place -- Houston Astros
The Astros are going to need major production from Luke Scott and Jason Lane in leftfield, as the Astros are a very traditional team with all of their hitting coming from the corners. A rapidly declining 41-year old second baseman may represent all of the team’s up the middle production.

Jason Jennings and Woody Williams are no Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. With a weak back-end of the rotation, and a bullpen that’s anchored with a closer that had a 5.28 ERA last season, and may be on baseball’s permanent head-case list, the Astros may run into a great deal of problems.

The best thing the Astros could do for themselves is hang around the top half of the division at least until Roger Clemens makes up his mind on where to pitch this season, as they’ll need him to have any chance at the playoffs. If they fall off very early, expect them to fall off even more later.

Oswalt will need to win his starts.

4th Place -- St. Louis Cardinals
I’m still not sure how this team won the World Series. However, I don’t think a repeat of that is in store. The lineup doesn’t have much after Albert Pujols. The bullpen has little after Isringhausen, and the rotation is pathetic after Carpenter.

The team is going to need big seasons out of Scott Rolen and Adam Wainwright if they are going to have any hope of getting to October to try to back up their championship.

5th Place – Cincinnati Reds
37. That’s how old Ken Griffey Jr. is. It’s also how many home runs he needs to get to 600. That’s amazing for many reasons, none more than the fact that he’s this close while only averaging 92 games played for the past 6 seasons. Of course this is the reason he won’t join the very exclusive 600 home run club this season. His health is also the reason the Reds won’t be able to compete. They don’t have a deep enough team without him.

Call me a bit skeptical, but I don’t see Josh Hamilton filling in valiantly for Griffey when he goes down. There’s very little difference in this division between 2nd and 5th place. So expect the Reds to stay in contention until Griffey goes down.

At that point the lineup won’t have enough to make up for the back end of the rotation. The Reds will need repeat performances out of Arroyo and Harang to have a chance to win the division.

6th Place – Pittsburgh Pirates
They should have signed Barry Bonds this off-season. Crazy idea you think? Sure, but since they haven’t had a winning record in any season since Bonds left 14 seasons ago, how could it hurt?

That’s right, after 3 straight division crowns in Bonds’ last 3 seasons with the Pirates, they’ve had 14 consecutive losing seasons, and they have put themselves in prime position to make it 15 straight years.

You almost feel sorry for Jason Bay, just lost out there in Pittsburgh. For the Pirates to have any hope of competing they will need many players to play above their heads, especially Zach Duke. If Duke doesn’t win 20 (which he won’t) the Pirates don’t win the NL Central.

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