NL Central Predictions 2009

Just don’t hurt yourself.

First, if anyone’s interested (and I am Ron and Lar, and I’ll get to the post and email, respectively, as I get through this series), Ron at Baseball Over Here has taken off some time from his global-mindedness and has become more provincial like the rest of us to give his own predictions, and he’s having a little challenge. If you win, you get a day to take over his blog. If I win, I’m going after his fonts and header. Anyway, back to my insanity.

Chicago Cubs (95-67)
This is the easiest pick anyone can make, but that means it will likely go right down the tubes. The Cubbies are again the best team in the NL. Their rotation has the potential to be absolutely ridiculous, their bullpen could still be really good (but has taken a hit), and the offense should bludgeon and work pitchers to death. The addition of Gregg gives me less faith in Hendry’s decision-making, and Pinella’s decision to make him closer is suspect (a fly-ball guy in Wrigley, really?). The addition of Bradley could prove to be fruitful, but I’m setting his games played over/under at 110 (and that’s really generous). I don’t have much to say about this team other than that they are clearly the best in the NL Central.

St. Louis Cardinals (88-74)
With a healthy Wainwright and Carpenter, the Cardinals have a better rotation than the one in Milwaukee, but if the two don’t stay healthy (but it appears both are fine … for now), it will be a long summer in St. Louis. As for the bullpen, I’m not too terribly concerned. I think Chris Perez should be the closer, but Motte (1.46 ERA and 18 K and 1 BB in 12 IP) was absurdly dominant. Still, they’re better than what the Brewers will try to cobble together. Offensively, St. Louis should be good as long as Pujols stays healthy, Pujols stays healthy, Pujols stays healthy, and Ludwick and Ankiel build off of last year’s performances. Defensively, they’re pretty solid except for third base and left field, but those two positions shouldn’t hurt them too much. I like the Cardinals, but their hopes rest on about three players’ backs.

Milwaukee Brewers (86-76)
I’m just not convinced by that rotation. I love Gallardo, but the rest are a bunch of 4 or 5 starters (though Parra could be more). That won’t get the job done. Gallardo (being generous) can have Sheets’ production, but I don’t know that someone else can be as dominant as Sabathia was for that stretch. Then add the bullpen that doesn’t look very good, and they’ll need their giant offense to win games. I didn’t like the move to bring in Hoffman (fly-ball guy, getting older, moving from Petco to Miller Park). But that offense. Oh jeez that offense. Braun, Fielder, Hardy, Cameron, Hart, and decent to good years from Weeks and Hall could make them horrifying to opposing pitchers. But can they make up for the lack of pitching, especially pitching depth?

Cincinnati Reds (80-82)
I really, really wanted to put them higher. They could end up with the best rotation in the division if Harang bounces back, Volquez can stay more consistent, and Cueto can stop doing his best Oliver Perez imitation while adding a consistent but unspectacular Arroyo. The bullpen isn’t bad and should be serviceable if the starters can survive in Great American. Offensively, they could be feast or famine. Votto looks like a stud (just not a 40-homer guy), but Bruce has to do better (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt considering he was a 22-year old rookie). It would be nice if Encarnacion decided to hit at some point as well, and Hernandez is a solid backstop. All of those guys could go off and alleviate stress on the rotation. They’re a sleeper pick, but they need a couple more offensive pieces. Gosh, when was the last time someone said that about the Reds? Now, if they could just get rid of Taveras.

Houston Astros (72-90)
I’m being generous, and that’s all I should say. Oswalt will be a stud, but the rest of that rotation is a crapshoot and can’t be coutned on at all. The bullpen could be really good with Valverde, Brocail, Geary, and Hawkins, but a bad rotation will cause serious leaks. Offensively, they could actually be pretty good. Berkman is always good, and Lee is a horse (sorry, couldn’t help it). But how will Tejada, Pence, and Bourn perform? I have some faith in Pence, but the other two scare me. They’ll have their moments, but to me, they look horrible. Then again, I thought they were done by mid-summer, and they somehow made a charge. Unfortunately, I think that made Wade think they were actually good. With no depth in the farm system, this could be a long, long summer.

Pittsburgh Pirates (68-94)
I didn’t have the heart to give them 100 losses, but I’m not so sure San Diego will be that lucky. I think Pittsburgh’s rotation really isn’t quite so bad. Snell, Maholm, and Duke could be a decent 1-2-3 punch, but they have to put it together with each other. So far, one’s had a good season while the others suffered. Bullpen-wise, Capps and Grabow are really good, but it falls off fast after that. Offensively, they look terrible. I wouldn’t bank on Doumit and McLouth repeating their performances, and the LaRoches aren’t anything special (though Adam is at least a league-average player for his position). They need a healthy influx of talent and youth from Tabata and McCutcheon. And if you think Monroe is actually for real, I just can’t help you. If he actually performs when it counts, I don’t know what I’ll do. Oh yeah, no extensions for Sanchez and Wilson, for the love of god!

This division has a few good teams, but the bottom two are pretty terrible. At the moment, Chicago is the clear front-runner. Milwaukee and St. Louis will likely battle it out for second and third. Cincinnati should be respectable, but I could see them joining Pittsburgh and Houston in an ugly slugfest for last. It could be a feast or famine year in the Central.

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