Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Consistency is key in NL Central - signs point to St. Louis with Cubs and Brewers chasing

Chicago Cubs

2009: 83-78 - second place

Key Players

1B Derek Lee .306 avg., 35 HR, 111 RBI

3B Aramis Ramirez .317 avg., 15 HR, 65 RBI

LF Alfonso Soriano .241 avg., 20 HR, 55 RBI, 118 Ks

P Ted Lilly 12-9, 3.10 ERA, 151 Ks

RP Carlos Marmol 15 saves, 93 Ks, 3.41 ERA

Key Additions

OF Marlon Byrd

1B Kevin Millar

OF Xavier Nady

P Carlos Silva

The Cubs received Silva in a trade for disgruntled outfielder Milton Bradley. Silva could very well be Chicago’s fifth starter this season, as the rotation dips off after Randy Wells. Byrd will replace Bradley in the outfield and allow Kosuke Fukudome to move to right field where he is more comforatable. Millar and Nady will bolster the bench.

Key Subtractions

OF Milton Bradley

RP Kevin Gregg

P Rich Harden

OF Reed Johnson

Bradley was a cancer in the clubhouse and Gregg was a cancer on the pitching mound. Cubs fans didn’t shed any tears when those two left town. Harden’s departure leaves some question marks in the starting rotation. Johnson gave the team some options in the outfield.

Stats breakdown

Pitching 3

Offense 4

Defense 3

Overall 10

On paper, the Cubs should be competing for the NL Central title again. But, the squad will have to stay healthy and get production out of the top of the order, something they struggled with last year. A big concern for Chicago will be finding a fifth starter – either Silva, Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija or Tom Gorzelanny will need to step up.

Cincinnati Reds

2009: 78-84 – fourth place

Key Players

1B Joey Votto .322 avg., 82 runs, 25 HR

2B Brandon Phillips .276 avg., 161 hits, 98 RBI

P Bronson Arroyo 15-13, 3.84 ERA, 3 CG, 127 Ks

RP Francisco Cordero 2.16 ERA, 39 saves, 58 Ks

Key Additions

SS Orlando Cabrera

SP Aroldis Chapman

2B Aaron Miles

Chapman is a Cuban defector with a lively fastball. The left-hander caught MLB scouts’ attention when he starred on the mound for the Cuban team during the World Baseball Classic. He will solidify a starting rotation that features Aaron Harang, Arroyo and Johnny Cueto.

Key Subtractions

3B Adam Rosales

OF Willy Taveras

Both players were traded to bring in Miles and player to be named. The Reds lose speed with Taveras leaving, but it’s not the end of the world be any means.

Stats breakdown

Pitching 3

Offense 3

Defense 3

Overall 9

Cincinnati finished last season playing good ball. The outfield is inexperienced, but the infield should be solid. If young pitchers Cueto and Chapman stay steady this season, the Reds could surprise a few people.

Houston Atros

2009: 74-88 – fifth place

Key Players

1B Lance Berkman .274 avg., 25 HR, 80 RBI

CF Michael Bourn .285 avg., 12 3Bs, 61 SB

SP Roy Oswalt 8-6, 4.12 ERA, 3 CG, 181.1 IP

Key Additions

P Bret Meyers

RP Jose Valdez

Meyers was brought in from Philadelphia to assist Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez shoulder the load of the starting rotation. Valdez came into to help the bullpen, but won’t make up for the losses the Astros took in relief pitching.

Key Subtractions

P Brandon Backe

RP LaTroy Hawkins

SS Miguel Tejada

RP Jose Valverde

Valverde leaves town and takes 25 saves with him. Hawkins recorded 11 of his own. It will be hard to replace them in the bull pen. With Tejada gone, Tommy Manzella needs to step up at short stop.

Stats breakdown

Pitching 2

Offense 3

Defense 2

Overall 7

The Astros outfield will produce in the field and the plate, anchored by the speedy Bourn and reliable Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence. The left side of the infield is a question mark with young players filling rolls. Pitching woes could doom Houston.

Milwuakee Brewers

2009: 80-82 – third place

Key Players

LF Ryan Braun .320 avg., 32 HR, 114 RBI, .551 slg.

1B Prince Fielder .299 avg., 46 HR, 141 RBI, 110 BB

SP Yovanni Gallardo 13-12, 3.73 ERA, 185.2 IP, 204 Ks

RP Trevor Hoffman 1.83 ERA, 37 saves, 48 Ks

Key Additions

P Doug Davis

CF Carols Gomez

RP LaTroy Hawkins

P Randy Wolf

C Gregg Zaun

Davis and Wolf will improve the starting rotation behind Gallardo, with Manny Parra and Jeff Suppan rounding out the starters. Hawkins brings a good set-up man to the bullpen. Gomez will fill the void left by Mike Cameron.

Key Subtractions

CF Mike Cameron

SS JJ Hardy

C Jason Kendall

RP Seth McClung

Hardy was streaky, but was part of a group of solid young players. Cameron will be missed by the Brewers more. Kendall played well while in Milwaukee, but the crew will be happier with Zaun.

Stats breakdown

Pitching 3

Offense 4

Defense 3

Overall 10

The Brewers will need good starts from Davis, Suppan and Parra to get the ball to a reliable bullpen. The offense will carry Milwaukee, and if everyone stays healthy, this is a team that can compete with St. Louis and Chicago for the central title.

Pittsburgh Pirates

2009: 62-99 – sixth place

Key Players

3B Andy LaRouche .258 avg., 135 hits, 64 RBI

OF Garrett Jones .293 avg., 21 HR, 44 RBI

P Zach Duke 11-16, 4.06 ERA, 3 CG, 213 IP

Key Additions

SS Bobby Crosby

RP Octavio Dotel

2B Akinori Iwamura

OF Ryan Church

Iwamura is expected to start at second base on opening day. Church and Crosby will be bench players but could see plenty of playing time when starters Garrett Jones or Ronny Cedeno struggle.

Key Subtractions

RP Matt Capps

CF Nyjer Morgan

P Ian Snell

The Pirates kept up with their rich tradition of seeing their best players leave the team. Morgan’s speed was crucial at the plate and in the field, and Capps was a solid closer.

Stats breakdown

Pitching 1

Offense 2

Defense 3

Overall 6

It’s going to be a long season for Pittsburgh, and an even longer season for the fans paying for tickets. The Pirates will be a team other central teams get fat on.

St. Louis Cardinals

2009: 91-71 – first place

Key Players

1B Albert Pujols .327 avg., 47 HR, 135 RBI, .658 slg., 1.101 OPS

OF Matt Holliday .353 avg., 13 HR, 55 RBI

P Adam Wainwright 2.63 ERA, 19-8, 233 IP, 212 Ks

P Chris Carpenter 17-4, 3 CG, 2.24 ERA, 144 Ks

Key Additions

P Rich Hill

P Brad Penny

These are great additions to compliment Carpenter and Wainwright. Penny and Hill can fill the rotation behind Kyle Lohse and give the Cardinals the toughest core of starting pitching in the league.

Key Subtractions

OF Rick Ankiel

Util Mark DeRosa

3B Troy Glaus

P Joel Piniero

P Todd Wellmeyer

The Cardinals can lose Piniero and Wellmeyer without too much concern, because of pitching depth. DeRosa and Ankiel were solid players for the redbirds, but again depth allows them to depart with the outfielders. Glaus’ best days are behind him, so no loss there for St. Louis

Stats breakdown

Pitching 5

Offense 4

Defense 3

Overall 12

It is St. Louis’ division to lose. They have excellent pitching and the best all-around player in Albert Pujols. Holliday anchors a good outfield with Colby Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick. Yadier Molina behind the plate bolsters the batting order too.

Final NL Central breakdown


The Cardinals have people in place to compete for a division title and possibly a pennant. The Cubs and Brewers have the potential to chase St. Louis down, but they will need consistency from at the plate and on the mound – right now it looks like the Cardinals are more likely to get the best performances in all three phases of the game.

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