Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | April 3, 2010

National League Central 2010 Preview

1.  ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Pros: Of the six divisions in Major League Baseball, the Cardinals as the winner of the NL Central appears on paper to be the easiest pick to make.  Which of course means that by October we’ll see it proven to be all wrong.  The Cardinals have the game’s best player in Albert Pujols, who is backed by a strong supporting cast that includes the recently re-signed Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and the returning one-two punch of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright at the top of the pitching rotation.

Cons:  All of the teams in this division are heavily flawed, and the Cardinals are no exception.  They generally lack depth, in particular in the outfield and in the rotation.  The bridge to closer Ryan Franklin is quite the perilous one for them, and Franklin himself is something of a question mark, entering the season at age 37.  While he had a career year last season, players of his age are always worth watching, and for a Cardinals team that has bullpen fears to start with, they will need another strong year from Franklin in order to win the division.

2.  MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Pros:  The Brewers are the team with the most legitimate chance at challenging the Cardinals, due to a strong and fairly deep rotation, a number of reliable arms in the bullpen (including the seemingly ageless Trevor Hoffman), and high end sluggers Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun in the middle of the lineup.  If Alcides Escobar continues to progress along the same trajectory as he has been, he will be another solid addition to the lineup while providing a solid base-stealing threat.   While Milwaukee lacks much in the way of top tier talent (or even second tier talent) besides the aforementioned along with Starter Yovani Gallardo, they are also a team that doesn’t have very many players on their roster who are likely to be far below average.

Cons:  Beyond Fielder/Braun their lineup becomes dramatically less menacing, and while they have many generally reliable starters, past Gallardo they lack a starter that will put a scare into other teams.  Many of their key bullpen contributors are aging and may not provide what Milwaukee is leaning on them to provide.

3.  CINCINNATI REDS

Pros:  The Reds have a solid core of young players waiting to break out, and this very well may be their year.  23 year old Jay Bruce has yet to dominate Major League pitching in the way he tore through the minor leagues, but most scouts agree that the talent is still there.  With two years and over two hundred games under his belt, Bruce could be in for a monster season.  Homer Bailey was coming perilously close to being tagged as a bust before turning in a nice season at Louisville that translated into a passable twenty major league starts.  While he no longer looks capable of becoming the ace envisioned while drafted, his performance lit anew the flame of belief that he could be a middle of the rotation starter.   Starter Johnny Cueto has had consecutive so-so seasons after dominating the minor leagues and could plausibly see a large improvement in performance at age 24 this season.   All of this before mentioning Starter Aroldis Chapman, the 22 year old lefty with the triple digit fastball that impressed scouts and opponents alike in Spring Training.   Beyond this youth movement, the Reds also have solid contributors in Second Baseman Brandon Phillips and Starter Bronson Arroyo and high end players like closer Francisco Cordero and First Baseman Joey Votto.  While I’ve noted the Brewers as the chief threat to the Cardinals, if all falls right for the Reds, they could very plausibly win this division.

Cons:  The Reds are high on potential but short on performance.  While they have a lot of projectable guys, Votto, Phillips, and Third Baseman Scott Rolen are the only uninjured players who have demonstrated actual success in the Majors.  And Rolen has been besieged by injuries and age in recent times, not resembling the player of his prime for many years now.  While there are many, many reasons to be happy and excited in Cincinnati, its fully possible that it may not all fall in place this year, and the team could flop.

4.  CHICAGO CUBS

Pros:  Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are two of the most underrated and best players in the entire National League.  They silently put up solid season after solid season to little recognition.  Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster give them a strong one-two punch at the top of the rotation, and Carlos Marmol has been able to find success in the bullpen in spite of a tremendously high walk rate.

Cons:  The Cubs were really hurt by the disappearance of Alfonso Soriano, and they need him back — Though it’s questionable if the old form of Soriano will ever come back.  Lee and Ramirez are the only offensive players that the Cubs can truly count on, though Kosuke Fukudome gives them a strong OBP.  Injuries and a lack of depth on offense and in the bullpen makes the Cubs a tricky pick.  A scenario can be envisioned where they win the division, and its hard to see them finishing any lower than fourth, but they seem to have too many questions in the wrong places to bet on their being in the thick of things late in the year.

5.  HOUSTON ASTROS

Pros: The Astros have a highly productive outfield of Michael Bourn, Carlos Lee, and Hunter Pence to go along with the aging but feared Switch Hitter Lance Berkman (who will begin the season on the disabled list).   They have a decent bullpen that lacks top end talent but does not have many bad players.

Cons:  The Astros rotation does not look built to compete even in the NL Central, and they are terribly bereft of team depth.  While their bullpen is built of many strong middle relief types, they lack a relief ace style pitcher that they could call on to shut down the opposition at any given time.  They have very few players who are good two-way players that can contribute on both offense and defense.  This is a team with holes everywhere and too many starters on the wrong side of 30.

6.  PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Pros:  The Pirates have a front office that seems finally committed to doing the right thing and building the organization from the ground floor up.  The first step in that process has been the graduation of Outfielder Andrew McCutchen to the major league team, as he seems set to be the lone bright spot on the Pirates team in the 2010 season, barring Lastings Milledge reclaiming whatever it was that stopped him from becoming the player that he was envisioned to be when the Mets drafted him in 2003.  Garrett Jones had a strong season in limited duty last year, but his track record suggests that he may not be able to keep it up, and his age (29) makes it a development not worth investing too much emotion into, if you’re a Pirates fan.

Cons:  The Pirates still too closely resemble a minor league team.  Other than Zach Duke, the top of their rotation would all be bottom of the rotation or relief pitching in other organizations.  Other than McCutchen, none of their starting players would start elsewhere.  Many are castoffs from other organizations.  There’s just not a lot to work with on this roster.

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Responses

  1. Your picks match mine exactly. I hope the Brewers can keep Braun and Fielder together for the next few years.


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