2011 Previews: N.L. Central

Wow do I not like this division. Cursed franchises, overrated also-rans, clubs that could be competitive but their owners keep the damn Luxury Tax money instead of investing it in a pitcher or two. My first brainstorming on this division produced no winner – and with the biggest division in the sport, this is highly unlikely. Let’s try it again:

Chicago: Love Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner – and one of these guys is already gone, and I fear for a long time. Another one of them still may not get daily work (although the first base thing is a good idea). It is impossible to tell after a century of this crap if the Cubbies’ curse is explained by the fact that they obtain overrated players at maximum cost (Kosuke Fukudome) or it is explained by the fact that they continue to play overrated players at maximum cost (Kosuke Fukudome). For crying out loud, Colvin/Byrd/Soriano is a decent outfield – have Fukudome go out and take tickets at the gate and just admit y’all screwed up. Losing Cashner and Randy Wells is not necessarily fatal but it doesn’t help and barring a Jeff Samardzija renaissance there is nothing to hope for or with (see Kosuke Fukudome).

Cincinnati: This is where I point out that I picked this team last year – and for exactly the same reason I hesitate to pick them this year: starting pitching. The depth that made them obvious to me has been squandered: Sam LeCure is somehow the fifth starter (and this is while the flatlining Johnny Cueto is out) and Aroldis Chapman is wasted as a set-up man. I think the line-up is weaker this year with the switch at shortstop, and I would not bet my division on Scott Rolen going through a second consecutive season uninjured. Also, if you have a premier prospect like Yonder Alonso blocked at both of his possible positions, wouldn’t you move him – at least for a prospect at a position you need some depth in, like shortstop? The Reds may win this thing but it won’t be because they’re a playoff-worthy team.

Houston: There are five positional starters (everybody but the outfield), at least one starting pitcher, and an entire bullpen that might not be able to compete for their current jobs on any other big league team. That would be a major, major problem.

Milwaukee: OK, here’s my issue: Zack Greinke doesn’t do well under pressure. The Brewers traded for him to become their number one starter on the premise that he would lead them to the division championship. This doesn’t add up – not at the expense of swapping one of the game’s rangiest shortstops (Alcides Escobar) for one of the game’s most statue-like shortstops (Yuniesky Betancourt). And this fact doesn’t even address Greinke’s injury. I’m also a little worried about the outfield mix. Just because Carlos Gomez is disastrously laid back, and Nyjer Morgan is disastrously hyper, that does not mean they will somehow balance each other out.

Pittsburgh: Like Baltimore or Toronto, the line-up here is surprisingly solid and has an extremely high ceiling, and if a starting rotation were somehow delivered straight from the sky, the Pirates would be competitive. Unlike the O’s and Jays, unfortunately, there’s no group of top prospects at AAA to even provide identities for these new starters. For the Bucs these would have to be the winners of Lucky Fan Contests (I’m not buying Kevin Correia even at 2-0, although James McDonald might make a believer out of me). As suggested, this is very unfortunate because I think Andrew McCutchen is already one of the league’s bright lights and Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker looked, this spring, like they were on the verge of joining him.

St. Louis: Worst double-play combination in baseball. Hard to believe that an arrogantly, condescendingly, fundamental-thumping manager like Tony LaRussa would have actually broken camp with Schumaker and Theriot. Get them out of there and Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene in and shoot for third place, or a shot at the title if the Brewers and Reds are both consumed by injuries. The irony here is that the Wainwright injury will probably reveal Kyle McClellan as one of the better new starters in the National League. It will also reveal that he was the linchpin in the bullpen and it will not hold up in his absence.

Overview: OK, 1. Cincinnati, 2. Milwaukee, 3. St. Louis, 4. Pittsburgh, 5. Chicago, 6. Houston (the big space in the division is between third and fourth).



  1. Aaron

    Two things:

    1. Could you clarify who Johnny Cueto is flatlining? His K rates aren’t quite what anybody had hoped, but he still threw pretty well last year.

    2. There’s no doubt that Rolen is important, but did you see his numbers in the second half of the year? He might as well have been injured. If he does go down, I don’t think it’s a crushing loss. You lose a lot of defense, but the rest of the team can make up for that.

    • Aaron

      Oh, and I’m not sure there’s really much of drop off offensively at SS. Even if there is, the defense more than makes up for it.

      • Carl Maniscalco

        Aaron, my own experience seems to indicated that it’s largely a problem with Dodgers fans rather than baseball fans as a whole. I’m in San Diego and I stopped going to Padres/Dodgers games because there are always too many belligerent LA fans at the games, yet another disadvantage of living less than two hours away from Chavez Ravine.

  2. walt kovacs

    ko, i was hoping you would comment on what happened at dodger stadium on opening day, and how pro sports overall, is not as family friendly as it once was

    im a giants fan, but i used to go to dodgers stadium alot

    i havent been there for 2 year as a result of the change in atmosphere

  3. JTSW

    I hate when owner keep the luxury tax money and don’t spend it on their teams then cry how poor they are that they can’t compete with the big guys. That money was meant to get players on the field, not line the owner’s pockets.

  4. Lois Fundis

    My nightmare as a Pirate fan is that the management will decide to get that needed great pitching by *trading away* McCutcheon and Alvarez and/or Walker and we’ll be doomed again for another 19 years.

  5. Jim Eggers

    Keith, was sorry to see Dirk Hayhurst didn’t make the big club, but you have to wonder… is there enough material in Durham for another book ( we have already seen the movie…)

  6. Jed


    One counter to your opinion on the Reds. The Reds find ways to win ball games, they can win 1-0 or like last night they got behind early and end up winning 12-4. These guys enjoy playing together and the sweep by the phils in the playoffs last season is in the back of these players minds and will serve as motivation for this season. To your point about chapman being wasted, you of all people know that moving a guy up to the rotation to soon could screw the guy up for the future ie..Joba Chamberlain. They have the 8th and 9th innings on lockdown with chapman and cordero, why mess with that. Please give me your thoughts would like to hear more about how this team will not b a playoff worthy team when they make the playoffs

    • Connie

      I’m from Cincinnati & have always been a Reds fan… had to to move to Fort Wayne, Indiana when husband’s job transferred him. Watched them win the Pennant from FW in 1975 (what a year!), 1976, & again in 1990. Never count the Reds out because they’re a come-back team! They’re looking pretty good about now, too. Memories of 1990 spring to mind! 🙂

  7. beejeez

    The Reds should coast in the Central, and that means they have as good a shot at the crown as any team in the show, Yankees aside. Fun team to watch, too, and I say this as a Detroit Tiger fan in exile.

  8. Rob

    Another lazy assessment of the Cubs by the national media. As usual. It’s easy to talk about curses and 100+ years. Wow, yes, the curse is because they overpay players, a phenomenon that began about a decade ago. That must be it.

    Cashner is out for a few weeks. Not ‘a long time’. And he’s a fifth starter. Solid performance by Dempster, Zambrano and Garza is a lot more important than losing a 5th starter for a month.

    Colvin will get enough at-bats filling in for Fuk, Soriano and now Pena. The worse Fuk plays, the more at-bats Colvin will get. Early in the year (as he does every year), Fuk has played well. You are obsessed with Fuk. Either he continues to play well, or he doesn’t play, get over it.

    The Reds are the class of the division. No dispute here. But reading your capsules of the NL Central, I can’t help but wonder if you or your minions have done ANY research on the division, or if you’re just parroting what you’ve heard others say. Stick to the AL East.

  9. Ken

    The Cubs are not cursed. The idea of curse in any part of life is some twisted, mystical way of thinking. It is the very basis of the loser’s mindset. It can’t be me. It must be someone or something else. The bottom line: the Cubs won zero world titles in over 100 years because they were not good enough. There I wrote the truth. All other excuses are useless.

  10. Will

    KO – The Reds starting pitching is going to be fine, particularly with that line-up and defensive behind them. They do miss as the set-up guy though. Rhodes. Also, nice call on the Pirates.

  11. WiscoNick

    Keith, I hope you are not lumping The Milwaukee Brewers into the “clubs that could be competitive but their owners keep the damn Luxury Tax money instead of investing it in a pitcher or two”.

    Milwaukee does have a natural disadvantage by being in the smallest media market in baseball but they have steadily been investing more into their team. Beside some big contracts that didn’t really pan out (Suppan, Gagne, Hall), most of their payroll has been wisely spent and payroll is consistently increasing.

    Since Mark Attanasio purchased the team from the Selig family in 2004 to 2010, player payroll has gone from $29,599,934 to $94,554,209 a staggering increase of 219 percent.

  12. Blasthoff

    Why do you have to be so right? I have to live with the Cubs now and I deserve sympathy. Cubs fans are diehard. We have eternal faith and have secretly suffered more abuse from our team and the baseball gods then any fans in history in the sports free world. We are singularly unique and I think baseball critics should focus their commentary and analysis on Cubs fans and just ignore the team. After all, we are the only part of the Chicago NL equation that have performed like winners. If you did enough of that, who knows, it might be an impetus for the team to come up to par with it’s fans!

    It wasn’t always this bad for me. I grew up in New York and my greatest thrill was the Amazing Mets of 1969. I don’t even want to think about being a Cubs fan that year! Ron Santo and scores of fans were permanently scared with that experience. The “bleacher bums” have never given up after all these years without redemption. I spent half of my 60+ years in New York and half here in the Midwest and I can tell you, this kind of fan support could never happen in New York. You have to respect and honor fans of this level so when it comes to the Cubs, just write about the fans and forget the team. It would make a unique division analysis and a fitting one.

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