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Friday, April 29, 2011

2011 MLB Predictions: NL Central

Unimpressed with his Matrix moves, Chapman fires a fastball at Keanu's head.
It wasn't until the funeral when he learned it's just a movie.

The National League Central has been the home to mediocrity in recent seasons.  In each of the past two seasons a whopping 91 wins has won the division while four teams failed to win at least half their games. I'm not certain that will continue this season but I am certain the bottom two teams in this division will challenge each other for the first pick in next year's amateur draft.

Let's get to it:

Milwaukee Brewers
Best Player: Prince Fielder
Best Pitcher: Zack Greinke 
Biggest off-season move:  Trading for Zack Greinke was the type of "all-in" move fans get excited about. This may be the team's best chance for a while.
Biggest off-season loss: By trading Alcides Escobar, the Brewers are now stuck with Yunieksy Betancourt at SS.
Biggest Questions:
1. Will Prince Fielder be re-signed? It seems unlikely the Brewers will be able to retain their best player after this season so the team needs to win it all.
2. Will Zack Greinke rebound? A goofy injury suffered while playing pick-up basketball will keep Greinke sidelined for a bit, but Greinke should be great once he makes it back.
3. Can the bullpen hold enough leads? This is not a good 'pen but when that's your biggest weakness it's not a bad one to have.
Expectations: This team is assembled to make the playoffs and with Fielder and Braun they should make some noise once they get there.
Opening day lineup:
1. Weeks 2B
2. Gomez CF
3. Braun LF
4. Fielder 1B
5. McGehee 3B
6. Kotsay RF
7. Betancourt SS
8. Nieves C
SP Yovani Gallardo

Cincinnati Reds
Best Player: Joey Votto won the N.L. MVP Award last season.
Best Pitcher: Bronson Arroyo has been greatly underrated the last few seasons.
Biggest off-season move: Edgar Renteria. Woof.
Biggest off-season loss: Orlando Cabrera is now playing 2B for Cleveland.
Biggest Concerns:
1. Are Cueto and Volquez able to make it a full season?  These two guys have been abused by Dusty Baker and questions about their health will likely always follow them.
2. Is Jay Bruce going to be a star or not? This is the season where we'll know for sure.
3. What role will Aroldis Chapman have? Looks like he'll be in the bullpen where he can continue to throw 103 mph fastballs. Yeegawds.
Expectations: Expectations are that with last year's team intact the Reds will return to the postseason.
Opening day lineup:
1. Stubbs CF
2. Phillips 2B
3. Votto 1B
4. Rolen 3B
5. Bruce RF
6. Gomes LF
7. Hernandez C
8. Janish SS
SP Edinson Volquez

St. Louis Cardinals
Best Player: Albert Pujols.
Best Pitcher: Chris Carpenter
Biggest off-season move:  Adding Lance Berkman looks like a stroke of genius.
Biggest off-season loss: Adam Wainwright tore an elbow ligament in spring training and is out for the year.
Biggest Questions:
1. Who will close? Ryan Franklin can't possibly do it again. He actually sucks. Really.
2. Can Berkman play defense? If he was at first this wouldn't be an issue but he's no longer as nimble as he used to be so expect a lot of singles to become doubles when hit in the gap.
3. Was Jaime Garcia's 2010 a fluke? Though he was regarded highly as a prospect no one expected a 2.70 ERA. I think he's good but not that good.
Expectations: This would be considered a playoff contender if not for the loss of Wainwright. Instead they'll need to settle for beating the Cubs 17 times this year.
Opening day lineup:
1. Theriot SS
2. Rasmus CF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Berkman RF
6. Freese 3B
7. Molina C
8. Schumaker 2B
SP Cris Carpenter

Chicago Cubs
Best Player: Geovany Soto may be the only player who is in the 80th percentile at their respective position.
Best Pitcher: Carlos Marmol is absolutely filthy. He should take a bath.
Biggest off-season move:  Carlos Pena signed a one year $10 million contract. The Cubs only had to overpay by $6 million.
Biggest off-season loss: By cutting Silva the Cubs lost 10 wins, 113 innings, and 270 lbs from last year's rotation.
Biggest Questions:
1. Does Zambrano have his head on straight?  It's no secret Zambrano is an eccentric figure in Chicago but people seem to forget he can be pretty darn good when he's focused.
2. Does this team think they can compete? They're fools if they do.
3. How good is Starlin Castro? Very, very good. He'll be their All-Star.
Expectations: Another team that doesn't know which way they're going.  The Cubs could up payroll and become competitive or they could go young and start a long rebuilding process. Neither happened so expect mediocrity.
Opening day lineup:
1. Fukudome RF
2. Castro SS
3. Byrd CF
4. Ramirez 3B
5. Pena 1B
6. Soto C
7. Soriano LF
8. Barney 2B
SP Ryan Dempster

Pittsburgh Pirates 
Best Player: Andrew McCutchen is fun to watch.
Best Pitcher: There is no right answer here.
Biggest off-season move:  I guess it's signing Lyle Overbay.
Biggest off-season loss: When is losing players a good thing? When you lose Bobby Crosby. Man, he stinks.
Biggest Questions:
1. How many more years of losing will the fans have to endure? A few more but the talent is coming!
2. Will the Pirates sign McCutchen to an extension or will they trade him like everyone else? Ugh. I hope the former.
3. Can Pedro Alvarez hit a slider? He's had trouble in his career thus far. If it continues he might want to give Jobu a call...
Expectations: The Pirates don't expect to compete but they are watching their young players hoping they'll continue to improve. Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez are good cornerstones. The minors has some talent also. This team hopes to find a pitching gem.
Opening day lineup:
1.Tabata LF
2. Walker 2B
3. McCutchen CF
4. Overbay 1B
5. Alvarez 3B
6. Doumit C
7. Jones RF
8. Cedeno SS
SP Kevin Correia

Houston Astros
Best Player: Hunter Pence
Best Pitcher: Wandy Rodriguez
Biggest off-season move:  Getting Bill Hall? Brandon Lyon? Yuck.
Biggest off-season loss: They didn't lose anyone. That's the problem.
Biggest Questions:
1. Has ownership conceded you need to spend in the draft? Last year Houston actually went over "slot" money for their draft pick. That's a good sign.
2. Is JA Happ worth keeping or is he a place holder? Happ appears to have found a niche in Houston and could be retained.
3. Is this the end of Carlos Lee? Lee's production has dropped steadily the last two seasons and it's quite possible the end is very near.
Expectations: This team is absolutely awful. I expect them to lose 100 games.
Opening day lineup:
1. Bourn CF
2. Sanchez SS
3. Pence RF
4. Lee LF
5. Hall 2B
6. Johnson 3B
7. Wallace 1B
8. Quintero C
SP Brett Myers
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