Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2011 Predictions: NL Central

1. Milwaukee Brewers
Last year the Brewers were a disappointment, stumbling to a 77-85 record.  This past offseason they majorly shored up their pitching, bringing in Zack Greinke (once he recovers from his injury) and Shaun Marcum.  Those two will combine with Yovani Gallardo to create the NL’s third best rotation.  While all should go to plan there, the offense remains basically unchanged from last year.  Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are two of the best players in the league at their respective positions, but the supporting cast is very weak.  Corey Hart is hurt, and his return timetable is unclear.  Nobody else is very good (you know you’re in trouble when you’re counting on Rickie Weeks) so the pressure will be on the big guys to carry all the weight.
Bottom line: The Brewers should be able to take advantage of a weak division, but they could easily be overtaken.

2. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds can certainly hit and pitch, but they don’t overwhelm in either category.  They’re solid enough in both to be serious contenders, but they don’t have any dominant players outside of reigning NL MVP Joey VottoScott Rolen and Jay Bruce round out the heart of the team’s lineup, however the team is lacking in peripheral players that can elevate them to an elite team.  (Look for them to be pushing the Mets pretty hard for Jose Reyes in July.)  The pitching is also pretty good, but there’s no Joey Votto to provide that solid core.  If Travis Wood can build on his strong half-season in 2010 he will combine with Johnny Cueto to make a decent 1-2 punch.  Beyond that, however, I am skeptical.
Bottom line: The Reds are very good, but are lacking the makeup of a traditionally great team that might prevent them from reaching the playoffs.

3. St. Louis Cardinals
Any team with Albert Pujols automatically has a more than adequate offense.  Luckily for the 2011 Cardinals, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman will be very good complements to Sir Albert.  The other parts are a bit weak (save for Colby Rasmus, assuming he isn’t excommunicated) but they aren’t bad enough to negate the power in the middle of the lineup.  The pitching, however, is not strong.  Without Adam Wainwright, pressure is on Chris Carpenter to carry this rotation.  Jaime Garcia can’t be counted on to replicate his 2010 success, and the other three pitchers have limited upside.
Bottom line: The Cardinals shouldn’t be good enough to contend, though you never know in this division.

4. Chicago Cubs
The good news here is that Carlos Pena can’t be any worse than he was last year.  The bad news is that that doesn’t mean that he, or any of the other Cubs hitters, will be any good.  This is a very old team whose sources of power dried up years ago.  There is some promise in shortstop Starlin Castro, but he needs a supporting cast in order for this team to succeed.  The pitching is up in the air, in that it will either be average or bad.  Ryan Dempster should be fine, but he’s the only one in whom I have a modicum of confidence.  Adding Matt Garza was nice, I guess, but he’s certainly not ace material.  Carlos Zambrano is… well, who knows?  And Randy Wells is a #3 starter at best, and is certainly not the solution to this team’s pitching woes.
Bottom line: How annoyed do you think Jim Hendry will be if the Yankees’ Mark Prior reclamation project is a success?  Also, this team probably can’t contend until at least 2013 due to a lack of good prospects and a preponderance of overpaid veterans.

5. Houston Astros
And now we’re in the dregs of not just the NL Central, but of all the MLB.  The Astros are god-awful, saved only by the Pirates being even worse.  Hunter Pence is the only player who can hit (maybe Carlos Lee).  Seriously, this is a lineup that took a bit hit when Clint Barmes went on the DL.  Aside from Pence and Lee there is absolutely nobody who can even marginally above average.  Michael Bourn as the leadoff hitter has to be a joke, right?  J.R. Towles—he of the 0.1 career WAR—is a nice one too.  Okay, fine, I’ll stop insulting the Astros’ hitters and move on to insulting their pitchers.  Wandy Rodriguez is fairly good, and should battle it out with Pence to be the team’s lone All-Star representative.  Brett Myers is serviceable, and that’s basically where this team’s pitching depth ends.  They have three #5 starters comprising the rest of the rotation, and barely have anybody to step in if any of them go down (oh, sorry, they have Gustavo Chacin; the Astros’ season is saved!).
Bottom line: It’s sad to see this once-great organization in such dire straits, but they should be able to get back on track within a few years.  Maybe even by the end of the decade?

6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Unlike the Astros, the Pirates have some hope for the near future.  Let’s start with the core of that hope: Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.  These two players will be the heart of the Pirates for years to come, and should put up some nice stats this year.  The rest of the team is basically on hold until prospects arrive (Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie haven’t even played in the minor leagues yet, so this could take a while…).  Speaking of pitchers, let’s look at this team’s rotation!  Oh god, turn away!  It’s not safe!  Paul Maholm is the ace?  They’re counting on James McDonald and Ross Ohlendorf?   Kevin Correia is a key cog in the rotation?  Oy vey.
Bottom line: Wait ‘til 2013 at the earliest, Pirates fans.


  1. "but the supporting cast is very weak. Corey Hart is hurt, and his return timetable is unclear. Nobody else is very good (you know you’re in trouble when you’re counting on Rickie Weeks) so the pressure will be on the big guys to carry all the weight."

    Do you even follow baseball? Hart, Weeks & Mcgehee combined for 83 hrs and 289 rbis last year. Find me a Rf, 3rd & 2nd combo that had better numbers.

  2. As I said, Hart is injured, and therefore can't be counted on for significant production. True, Rickie Weeks was good last year, but 2010 is his only season (out of a 7-year career) in which he had a WAR above 1.6, so he can't exactly be counted on the continue that production (though it would be nice, of course). I'll admit I forgot how good McGehee was last year. If he can continue what he had last year he'll be a nice cog in the lineup, but nothing to make the team forget Hart's injury or the fact that they have Yuniesky Betancourt and Carlos Gomez as starters.

    *Cano, Rodriguez, Swisher (NYY): 88 HR/323 RBI
    *Hill, Encarnacion, Bautista (TOR): 101 HR/243 RBI
    *Rodriguez/Brignac, Longoria, Joyce/Zobrist: 59 HR/304 RBI