MLB Preview: National League Central

Chicago Cubs:

On paper the Cubs are the class of the National League. Of course, that was true last year as well. The problem for the Cubs for over a hundred years is that games get played on the field, not on paper.

Strengths: The Cubs pitching will get even stronger if the Jake Peavy deal ever gets made, but it’s nonpareil as it is. Who else in the NL is as deep as Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, and Rich Harden? And Geovany Soto does a nice job of handling them. The infield corners feature two beasts—Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, and Milton Bradley should help stabilize the outfield.

Weaknesses: Alfonso Soriano is a good player who will never be a great one because he’s undisciplined and uncoachable and Kosuke Fukadome may be a legend in Japan, but he’s a deadweight contract over here. Who’s the closer? If this team underachieves early, Lou Pinella won’t be around to collect the pieces.


If the Cubs bite the dust, the Reds have an outside shot at sneaking into the playoffs.

Strengths: They’ve got a young pitching staff that could break out at any moment, and Edinson Volquez already has. Keep your eyes on Johnny Cueto. If Bronson Arroyo bounces back and they get decent performances Bailey, Harang, or Owings, look out. David Weathers and Francisco Cordero will shut the door if the starters can get to them.

Weaknesses: Once you get past Brandon Phillips (2B), Joey Votto (1B), and Jay Bruce (OF), there aren’t many RBI guys in this lineup and even those three are not guys you’d pitch around.

Houston Astros:

The ‘Stros dumped payroll like watered Enron stock in the offseason. But in a six-team division, they’re still good enough to be in the hunt.

Strengths: Roy Oswalt is good for a W every five games. Even off steroids Miquel Tejada (SS) has power and Lance Berkman (1B) is a superstar. The outfield of slugger Carlos Lee, the productive Hunter Pence, and speedster Michael Bourn is very good and Darin Erstad is there to step in if Bourn doesn’t hit more than last year’s .229.

Weaknesses: The catching is weak and any pitcher not named Oswalt is suspect. It’s hard to fathom why Brandon Backe has been so bad, but right now the # 2 guy looks like an AAA pitcher. Mike Hampton is injured again and Wandy Rodriquez is now 30 and still hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Milwaukee Brewers:

They had their shot last year and fell short. This year they’ll fall much faster.

Strengths: J. J. Hardy is a marvel at short, and a lineup with Prince Fielder (1B), Bill Hall (3B), and an outfield of Ryan Braun, Mike Cameron, and Corey Hart can produce big innings.

Weaknesses: The Brewers will need to score in bunches because of lousy on-base performances. A staff that lost C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets not only lacks an ace, it lacks any sort of face card. Jeff Suppan? Manny Parra? Brandon Looper? Please! And why on earth is catcher Jason Kendall still in the majors?

Pittsburgh Pirates:

They’ve got a pretty ballpark. Too bad there’s neither a team nor fans to put in it. It’s time to put past sentiment aside and shut down the Pirates like a rusting steel mill. There’s not much here, not much on the horizon, this is a football town, there’s no money, and Roberto Clemente is dead.

Strengths: Paul Maholm kept his ERA under four and managed nine wins, the most on the staff. Adam LaRoche has some power, centerfielder Nat McLouth is a fine player, and second baseman Freddy Sanchez doesn’t suck. With any luck they’ll get traded.

Weaknesses: The rest of the team does suck. Pitchers Ian Snell, Zack Duke, and Tom Gorzelany have each been proclaimed the next big thing and none of them has even been mediocre. Merge the Pirates and the Nationals and you’d still have a lousy team.

St. Louis Cardinals:

This is the NL Central mystery team. I’d not be surprised if the Cards were in the thick of things, nor would I be shocked if they finished fifth.

Strengths: Albert Pujols! He’s not just good, he’s the very best player in all of MLB. Outfielders Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel give Sir Albert some support, as does Troy Glaus, when healthy. Yadier Molina is a solid catcher. Kyle Lohse has pitched much better than anyone would have predicted and Adam Wainwright might be on the cusp of a Cy Young award.

Weaknesses: Alas, plucky Chris Carpenter may never recover from his arm problems and the rest of the staff is thinner than bad gruel. And if there’s a more overrated manager in all of baseball than Tony LaRussa, I’ve not encountered him. Let’s see Tony find some pitchers on his stats charts.


1. Cubs—If someone forgets to tell them they are the Cubs.
2. Reds—If Jupiter aligns with Mars.
3. Cardinals—Because Pujols can carry them this far on his own.
4. Astros—Because Oswalt can’t pitch every day.
5. Brewers—Because the Selig family deserves to suffer.
6. Pirates—Because you can’t win with an AA roster.

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