2010 Forecasts: NL Central

Having already tabbed the Rockies for a possible runaway in the West (pursued perhaps by the Giants), we move to the Central:

CHICAGO
may represent a startling fact about this division – there not only isn’t a
great team here, there isn’t even a good one. The starting line-up is
five-eighths made up of guys who significantly regressed from 2008 to 2009,
plus Marlon Byrd. The new ownership seems to have already committed to the age-old easy way out of worrying more about the ballpark than the ballclub. Larry Rothschild has gratefully plugged Carlos Silva and Tom
Gorzelanny into his rotation. The bullpen is headed by a shaky Carlos Marmol
and not one experienced right-handed set-up man. The Cubs are a mess.

It still
didn’t make any sense for CINCINNATI to invest in Scott Rolen, nor bring back
Ramon Hernandez, and with considerable irony, this might as well still be 2007
when the Reds were pinning their hopes on Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce. Their
epiphanies – Bailey’s last September, and Bruce’s during his injury – must be
lasting for the Reds to compete. But there is at minimum some sense of upswing
in Cincinnati. Dusty Baker gave Drew Stubbs the chance to play last year, and
might even find spots for Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake, and Yonder Alonso this season. The
bullpen is strong, the rotation potentially deep.

For years,
Terry Francona’s top lieutenant, Brad Mills, has deserved a major league team
to manage. He may yet get the chance – for now he’s stuck with Houston. There
is an outfield and there are two starting
pitchers (providing Roy Oswalt isn’t seriously hurt, and doesn’t go home to his
ranch in sheer frustration). The rest of the line-up, and the pitching staff, are disaster areas, made no better by today’s news than Lance Berkman’s bionic knee is ‘cranky.’ Things could brighten somewhat if
Matt Lindstrom harnesses his talent, and if Jason Castro or J.R. Towles squat
up behind the plate, and if three fans turn out to be viable starting pitchers.
Otherwise, this is a franchise that has gone to seed.

What’s the
psychological saw about repeating the same unsuccessful action with confidence
that this
time it
will succeed? The Brewers are confident Dave Bush, Doug Davis, and Manny Parra and/or Jeff Suppan constitute three-fifths of a pitching staff. They’re certain Rickie Weeks and
Corey Hart will harness their talent. Everybody knows
this is the year Yovanni Gallardo
leaps to the forefront of NL starters. This is a recording. The Brewers will be
deceptively entertaining as long as Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are around,
and they could get a wonderful spark if Carlos Gomez decides not to style his
way out of the game before his 25th birthday. But all the bullpen depth in the world
isn’t going to help that rotation.

PITTSBURGH
deserves better. Surely they are, on average, a better set of players than the
Astros. But nothing seems to progress in Pittsburgh; Andrew McCutchen and
Garrett Jones arise fully grown from the minors, but Freddy Sanchez and Jack
Wilson are dished off. They make a seeming salary dump to Atlanta and in fact
rip the Braves off, selling Nate McLouth at his high point, opening up a spot
for McCutchen, and getting the remarkable arm of Charlie Morton – and Morton is
the only guy in the state who doesn’t believe he has
a remarkable arm. And still, if
lightning strikes – if Pedro Alvarez, Chase D’Arnaud, and Tim Alderson were all
productive big leaguers by June 1, they’d suddenly have an actual real-life
.500 team. And a .500 team might run away with this division.

Pittsburgh can hope, because
ST. LOUIS is the most overrated team in the majors. Albert Pujols glitters so
brightly, he makes you forget that the rest of the infield is an assortment of
Brendan Ryans and Felipe Lopezes and David Freeses. Chris Carpenter and Adam
Wainwright were so dominant that they obscured the reality of what happened if
you actually beat them on consecutive days – the Cards’ season would be snuffed
out in a sweep. This is a team that was ready to trot out a rotation in which
Kyle Lohse, Brad Penny, and Rich Hill would pitch more often than did Carpenter
and Wainwright (the first light bulb going off: giving the fifth spot in the rotation not to Hill but to Jaime Garcia). The bullpen is a jumble, the bench non-existent, and lord help
Tony LaRussa if Yadier Molina is really hurt or Pujols’ back is cranky for more
than 45 minutes at a stretch.

PREDICTIONS:
You know what? I’ll take the long-odds bet on the dice coming up for the Reds
and not the Cardinals. It’ll be an exciting race, to see if you actually can
get into the playoffs with 79 victories. Chicago third, Milwaukee fourth just
ahead of Pittsburgh, and Houston sixth, unless they decide to conserve energy
and just forfeit all games in lieu of much needed fielding practice and weeding
through resumes of infielders and pitchers.

12 Comments

There are still those of us whose hearts remain with the Pirates no matter what our minds tell us. If this division is truly as Gawd-awful as you expect it to be than it’s completely up for grabs. And, if 79 wins takes the division the Pirates still don’t even have to crack .500! Miracles happen — one day the Pirates will be a good team again… It’s happened before.

Glad to have you back at your night job!

The Cardinals suffer from the same problem as the Mariners. They’re both very frontloaded and are relying on closers who were dominant for one season without a proven past. The Pirates seem fully committed to rebuilding (for once) and while I think the Cards will pull it off this year with a 2006-type season, 2011-2012 look to be waiting for the Pirates.

have to start this out by saying i’m a white sox fan and really don’t give a **** about the cubs, but but their crummy little ballpark is almost always a bigger draw than the team.
as studs terkel used to say, “the white sox are a ball club. the cubs are a tourist attraction.”

Billy Martin Joel sang, “You may be wrong, but you may be right”, and that is the sentiment I’m left with at the conclusion of your Cubs analysis. The Cubs did, in fact, regress from 2008 to 2009. But I’m willing to buy into a least some of Lou’s basis for dusting off the regression as a plague of injuries. You may be wrong, because I don’t see any significant piece missing on the current team that was not part of the 2008 team who won an NL-leading 97 wins (if you say Mark DeRosa, I’m afraid we’re finished talking here). You may be right, because there is no argument supporting this bullpen as it currently stands. You may be wrong, because Geovany Soto has overcome his glaucoma issues, and thus let his medical marijuana prescription run out. You may be right, because over the past several years I’ve become more than a little suspicious of power hitters with no previous track record of power hitting, who tap into the “40lbs in 8 weeks Miracle Diet”. You may be wrong because Aramis Ramirez has the opportunity to hit a home run total that surpasses his total days spend on the DL. You may be right, because those are Vegas odds I wouldn’t bet with bailout money. Vegas odds I would take? The Reds won’t win this division as long as Dusty Baker manages that team.

grk9: so nice to see a fellow faithful Pirates fan! I agree with your sentiment. Go Bucs! I miss PNC Park!

Jan in Santa Clarita

So the Cardiac* Cubs are a mess……nothing new there *sigh* At least the division promises to be an interesting free-for-all fight for the top three spots, with the other two trying to stay far enough out of the cellar to at least have a hope of making it into the top three, and it looks like the Astros may spend the season in that aformentioned bottom standing. Of course all of the teams, since there are no really good ones in the division, will probably get their tails kicked when playing against the East and West divisions.

I still might go watch the Cubs play, but I won’t accept the party invitation I got from an old ex-boyfriend of mine. It’s a fundraiser for the Standing Tall Charitable Foundation and will also help provide funding to restore the Jack Brickhouse statue on Michigan Avenue. The tickets are too expensive for me, and I’d much rather be in the stands watching than from a rooftop on Sheffield Avenue.

*About the nickname…….that’s what my Dad called them when I was young and we’d spend Sunday afternoons watching the Cubs play on WGN. Heart-stopping last-minute wins, heartbreaking losses. Harry Cary doing the play-by-play made it even more fun to watch, though I could swear that there were more than a few times that he sounded a bit inebriated by the 7th inning stretch :)

Drat….I wish there was an edit function on this site……left out a word or two in the last sentence of the second paragraph above. Last sentence should read (from the comma) “and I’d much rather be in the stands watching the game than seeing it from a rooftop on Sheffield Avenue.”

Crud….misspelled “Caray” also……that’s what I get for typing on my iPhone during the commercials while watching Countdown. Nice suit and tie tonight, by the way ;)

Keith, I hope you can forgive me for going off topic, but something you said today really resonated with me. You were talking about the woman who fell ouf her chair on the news show, and your compassion was evident in every word you spoke. That’s one of my favorite things about you – that you care so much for other human beings, even those you haven’t met. It reminded me of an incident from a few years ago. I’m not sure why, but it did. I hope you don’t mind if I share it with you. I used to have severe physical weakness much of the time, but found a “cure” of sorts about a year ago. One particular episode comes to mind, however… I was extremely weak, and ended up on the floor, unable to get up. I was in a lot of pain, and rather embarrassed about being on the floor in public, but luckily I have a sense of humor. Some friends were there with me, and one asked if I was okay. My voice was a bit weak at the time, so this “worked” for me. I told them “Good news, everyone… technically I’m still alive!” I can only hope I sounded a little bit like the professor… :) That is, by the way, one of my all-time favorite lines from Futurama, because it so often fit how I felt in those days. A few days or weeks after that incident, you said the words “Good news, everyone!” on the show, in that professor voice, and I nearly ended up on the floor again – this time because I was laughing so hard. I so needed that. I can’t explain it, but I just did. From that point on, anytime I ended up really weak, I would hear your voice saying those words, and it always picked me up. Always. The compassion you show towards others inspires me so much. I know that it is extremely unlikely that we’ll ever meet, but to me you feel like a good friend, and I hope you’re okay with that. Thank you. For everything.

God forbid a team has to rely on the likes of Brendan Ryan at SS. Why, there must be maybe, let’s see, zero better-fielding/better-hitting shortstops in the division.

And yeah, how awful to have switch-hitting Felipe Lopez and his .800+ OPS as a super-utility 2B/3B/OF.

And David Freese at 3b, what a joke! He only has 37 ab in the majors! Most rookies usually have several years of major-league experience!

Agree on your points about the weakness of Franklin and lack of depth behind Molina—both those seem like real soft spots.

Csupp… you’re in Santa Clarita? I’m in Pasadena!

I haven’t seen the Pirates in Pittsburgh since Forbes Field! But I’ve seen countless games at Dodger Stadium since then…

As a life-long STL fan: Ouch! I’m not saying your wrong, but ouch.

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