NL Central Projections
Cubs – 99-63
Brewers – 88 74
Astros – 83-79
Reds – 73-89
Pirates – 59-103
I know people reading this will probably think that I am being a “homer” by predicting the Chicago Cubs having a good year. I have been a Cubs fan since I was born, but I am usually the first person to say if we’re going to have a bad season. I am a fan, but I am extremely critical. I try not to have a bias when i write any material on the Cubs and I think I am being true about my prediction on the NL Central.
Chicago Cubs – The Cubs had to rally to win the NL Central last season. The Brewers had a lock on the division until the last month of the season. The Cubs pitching was key over the entire season. Only the Padres allowed fewer runs last season and they play on a field that could be considered as a county itself. Once the winds die down in May, the pitching should be solid. The addition of Kosuke Fukudome is a question mark, but could pan out. They needed another outfielder last year, but couldn’t pull the trigger on a deal before the trading deadline. Cliff Floyd and Matt Murton weren’t very good options and Fukudome should be solid. The 2nd base position is there biggest flaw. Mark DeRosa isn’t an everyday player, but very good as a platoon. A deal for the Orioles Brian Roberts have been rumored for months, but the Cubs are shy about parting ways with many key prospects. If the Cubs get off to a slow start this season, look for Roberts to be in Chicago by the All-Star break. If Soriano, Ramirez, Zambrano, and Lee stay healthy, the Cubs are the team to beat in the Central.
Milwaukee Brewers – Milwaukee has had the best farm system the past few years and it’s about time for them to shine. They proved their depth in prospects by bring up a few players that proved to be worth their shot in the major leagues. Braun, Hart, Hardy, and Gallardo had good seasons last year and should improve this year with a little experience under their belt. Their big question mark is at 2nd base. Rickie Weeks is a high-touted prospect and he had his shot last season to play every day. He started out with a bang and had a good couple months of the season. Weeks started to slump and he never regained his early-season form. The Brewers ended up sending him back down to the minors for awhile and brought him back up at the end of the season. Weeks needs to last an entire season of the Brewers hope to contend. The pitching staff could see a few more additions this season. Sheets and Gallado are a solid #1 and #2 starters, but the rest of the staff is weak.
St. Louis Cardinals – The Cardinals started to look their age last season. Larussa started to lose his team a little at the end. They got rid of Scott Rolen and Jim Edmunds in the offseason. They hope Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel can boost their lineup with Pujols rumored to be struggling through injuries this offseason. Adam Wainwright should have a good season this year. He started to really pitch well towards the middle to end of last season. The Cardinals may need this year to see what they have. They are putting the pieces together, since they traded some of their prospects away when they were building their World Series team.
Houston Astros – The Astros have been pretty active this offseason. Miguel Tejada was acquired this offseason just a few days before his name was mentioned in the Mitchell Report. The Astros are getting younger, but their talent has kept at a high level. Hunter Pence was a nice surprise last season. He ended up missing some time due to injury, but he plays hard every play. The Astros ended their ties with the erratic Brad Lidge and picked up Jose Valverde, which is much more dependable. The Astros also landed Kaz Matsui in free agency. He had a comeback season last year with the Rockies and will help Houston with speed. Speed should be the overall theme of the Astros offense, even Carlos Lee will steal some bases to keep the runners moving.
Cincinnati Reds – Cincinnati added manager Dusty Baker, who has led the his last two teams (Giants, Cubs) to the playoffs. The Reds are not overly optimistic about this season, but their future looks very bright. Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Edinson Volquez, and Johnny Cueto are the four glimpses of what the future could be in Cincinnati. Volquez was a key piece of the trade that sent Josh Hamilton to the Rangers. Dunn and Griffey Jr. are still great power hitters and put runs on the board. Look for the Reds to be competitive in most games, but they are focused on the future.
Pittsburgh Pirates – It has been a long time since Pittsburgh has seen October, even late September. They have a great park, PNC Park, and the fans are yearning for something to cheer about. After saying that, I still don’t think the fans in Pittsburgh will be cheering much this season. As usual, the fans will be looking forward to football season by June. Jason Bay had an off-year last year, but many teams could be interested in him. The Pirates could end up moving him by the trading deadline for some much-needed prospects.