As a Cub fan, I could easily write about how great they are and that they should win this division by 10 games. But the truth is they have the fourth best roster in NL Central. However, most experts picked the Reds to finish 4th last year, so it's not unfathomable that any one of the Brewers, Reds, Cubs and Cardinals could win this division. But lets all agree that Pittsburgh and Houston suck and will continue to suck for the next ten years at least.
We will start with the defending division champion Cincinnati Reds. Their strength is their hitting. Joey Votto is coming off an MVP winning season, and hasn't turned 27 yet. But two other young studs are the key to this lineup. Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs are capable of being All Star players this season. Add to them professional hitters like Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips and you have the 2nd best lineup in the division.
Their rotation is solid but not dominant. And I believe their best pitcher is Edinson Volquez, but one could make an argument for Bronson Arroyo after his 17 win season last year. Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey fill out the rest of the rotation. Their bullpen is strong especially with Aroldis Chapman waiting in the wings if closer Francisco Cordero can't get the job done closing games.
The Brewers come into 2011 as everyones favorite for the division. And I can see why. They have the best lineup in the division led by the best 3-4 punch in the National League with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Surround them with Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, and Casey McGahee and it's safe to say this team will score more runs than anyone else in the division. Nyger Morgan should help defensively in centerfield, while Yuniesky Betancourt is an uprgrade at short.
Their rotation if/when healthy could be the best in the division as well. Zach Grienke will start the year on the DL but should be back within the month of April. Yovanni Gallardo is an ace, and guys like Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf will give the Brew Crew a chance to win every time out. Their bullpen is shaky, even with a strong year last year from closer John Axford. However, Axford's control has been a problem this spring and next in line would be the infamous LaTroy Hawkins.
The Cardinals took a huge hit when Adam Wainwright underwent Tommy John surgery this spring. Their ace will miss the next 12-15 months of action. Chris Carpenter is as good a pitcher as their is in this division, being one of the two Cy Young winners in it. The rest of the rotation is filled with question marks. Can Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse still picth at a high level? Can Jaime Garcia continue building upon his 2010 season? Is Kyle McClellan really their 5th starter? These questions make me think it will be a long year in Cardinal Country.
The lineup is good, not great though. Besides Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, they are somewhat shaky at the front and back of their lineup. Tony LaRussa will count on Colby Rasmus and Lance Berkman to give them more pop. Ryan Theriot, Skip Shumaker, Yadier Molina and David Freese are all question marks offensively. Just like last year, runs could be hard to come by for St Louis.
The Cubs strong suit will be there starting rotation. Dempster, Garza and Zambrano are the best 1-2-3 of any team in the division, to start the season. If one of either Randy Wells or Andrew Cashner can step up and get 13-15 wins, this can be 85+ win team. But that's a big if. The bullpen is as good as anyones in the division, with Wood and Marmol on the backend and Marshall as our lefty specialist.
The problem for my Cubs is their hitting. It's just flat out average. There won't be many times when we put together 4 or 5 hits in a row. There are just too many bad or streaky hitters in the everyday lineup. Lets start with their best hitter Aramis Ramirez. He just can't seem to stay healthy these last couple of years. And he has even less protection around him this year. Starlin Castro is good young hitter, and hopefully he continues to improve off his outstanding rookie year. But after those two it's not pretty. Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Pena are low contact high strikeout guys. Soto and Byrd are nice hitters but can hardly be relied upon to produce a lot of runs. I think Tyler Colvin deserves more at bats, but it looks like Fukudome will split time with him again this season. Which brings me to second base. What.The.Fuck. Barney, Baker & Dewitt is a joke. Sounds like the law firm trying to get me to pay my parking tickets. So unless a couple of hitters have career years, I just don't see where the runs are going to come from this season.
NL Central Standings