Friday, April 6, 2012

2012 MLB Previews: NL Central

NL Central Prediction

1st Place, St. Louis Cardinals

SS Rafael Furcal
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Matt Holliday
1B Lance Berkman
3B David Freese
CF Jon Jay
C Yadier Molina
2B Tyler Green

RHP Adam Wainright
RHP Chris Carpentar*
LHP Jamie Garcia
RHP Kyle Lohse
RHP Jake Westbrook
CL: Jason Motte
*Carpentar out indefinitely to start season (at least 4-8 weeks)

The Cardinals, despite losing Albert Pujols, which is a huge loss, but softened a bit by the addition of Beltran and the likely improvements of youngsters like Jay, Freeze and Allen Craig, who was a postseason hero for them last year. Their pitching staff is a little iffy with Carpentar slated to start the year on the DL, and I could definitely see them make a move for Roy Oswalt if they think it's something serious. The Cards will roll out the impressive rookie Lance Lynn in Carpentar's spot and should be OK in the pitching department if Carpentar were to miss a month or 2. That said, I expect a big rebound out of Furcal, who will play a whole year (presumably) in a hitters yard for the first time in his career. If he's healthy, he'll be a force at the top of the lineup and although he and Beltran aren't spring chickens, they're still smart, good veteran hitters who know the game well. Also, this now puts the spotlight back on Holliday, where he thrived with it in Colorado, and I expect the same type results. A .300/30/100 season is about what I'm expecting. I also like their young bullpen and the young leftie Garcia.

2nd Place, Cincinnati Reds

CF Drew Stubbs
2B Brandon Phillips
1B Joey Votto
3B Scott Rolen
RF Jay Bruce
LF Ryan Ludwick
SS Zack Cozart
C Ryan Hannigan

RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Mat Latos
RHP Bronson Arroyo
RHP Mike Leake
LHP Aroldis Chapman
CL: Sean Marshall

The loss of Madson really hurt the depth of this pitching staff, as it could eventually take Chapman, a potential dominant starter and a guy I'm expecting a huge breakout from in 2012, out of the rotation and back in relief. Either way, they need to decide if he closes or starts, and stick with one of them and stop bouncing this kid around. I like the starting idea... They dealt away Edison Volquez and bright youngster Yonder Alonso because they felt Latos would be a good fit in their yard and I agree with them. I think they overpaid a bit to get him, but I think Latos will take over as the team's true ace, even if he doesn't start the opener. The lineup will again put up runs and has good balance of speed and power, youth and veterans and also have a strong bench. With Pujols out the division, the Cards aren't clear cut favorites, so if this staff has a good year and Bruce and Votto each put up years they're capable of while Stubbs gets his average up over .250, then the Reds will be back in the playoffs.

3rd Place, Milwaukee Brewers

2B Rickie Weeks
CF Nyjer Morgan
LF Ryan Braun
3B Aramis Ramirez
RF Corey Hart
1B Mat Gamel
SS Alex Gonzalez
C Jonathan Lucroy

RHP Yovani Gallardo
RHP Zach Grienke
RHP Shawn Marcum
LHP Randy Wolf
LHP Chris Navarson
CL: John Axford

It's a shame the Brewers couldn't keep Fielder, cause it likely would have placed them in the catbird seat of this division for the foreseeable future. They have Braun locked up, they have the good young top-3 starters and great bullpen. They have the speed, power and youth, but they lost that huge left-handed bopper in the middle of the lineup and I just don't think Ramirez will fill the void. He was a nice add as a panic replacement for Fielder, but the only way they make up for his loss on offense is if Gamel plays like he was hyped up to a few years back. This kid was a top prospect for a few years, but never really broke through. I'm a little surprised the Brewers didn't add Carlos Pena, who sat on the Market into February. They could go after Derek Lee, who's still free, but they don't exactly need another right-handed bat.

4th Place, Pittsburgh Pirates

LF Alex Priesley
RF Jose Tabata
CF Andrew McCutchen
2B Neil Walker
1B Garrett Jones
3B Casey McGehee
SS Clint Barmes
C Rod Barajas

RHP A.J. Burnett
LHP Erik Bedard
RHP Kevin Corriea
RHP Jason McDonald
RHP Charlie Morton
CL: Joel Hanrahan

The Pirates put together some impressive stretches last season as they, the Brewers and the Cardinals really fought for that Central tittle down to the final weeks. That was a pleasant surprise to Pirate fans who haven't seen a winning club in years, but they lost more than they added this winter, and unless Pedro Alvarez plays like he's supposed to and those two speed-demons at the top of the lineup go crazy in front of McCuthchen, and he gets some protection, then the Pirates are still looking way uphill at the Brewers, Cards and Reds. They have a nice bullpen and are putting together a nice young core, but they should have retained 29 year-old lefty Paul Maholm (3.66 era in 2011). I have a feeling he's going to come back to bite Pittsburgh in the rear, as he was their ace last season and left for a measly one-year deal with Chicago. Their pen, lead by Hanrahan is solid, but they're again, to young and lack enough talent to be winners this season.

5th Place, Chicago Cubs

RF David DeJesus
2B Darwin Barney
SS Starlin Castro
1B Bryan LaHair
LF Alfonso Soriano
CF Marlon Byrd
C Geovany Soto
3B Ian Stewart

RHP Ryan Dempster
RHP Matt Garza
LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Randy Wells
RHP Chris Volstad
CL: Carlos Marmol

The Cubs are still one of the worst $100M+ payroll team in baseball, as at least the Dodgers have Kemp and Kershaw. The Cubbies are still under the horrendous deals of Soriano and Dempster which combine for nearly $30 million, but if memory serves, Dempster is free after this season, which should give them a little wiggle room. Also, if Spring Training is any indicator, Soriano is in for a big season, as he leads the Cactus League with 6 bombs and a .444 average through 38 at-bats. Spring or not, that's seeing the ball and raking. If he's the 30 HR, .300 average Soriano, that would certainly help. Also LaHair looks like the real deal, Castro is the real deal and Marmol is one of the better young closers in the game, despite last seasons early nightmares.

6th Place, Houston Astros

CF Jordan Shafer
2B Jose Altuve
LF J.D. Martinez
1B Carlos Lee
RF Brian Bogusevic
SS Jed Lowrie
3B Jimmy Parades
C Chris Snyder

LHP Wandy Rodrigeuz
RHP Bud Norris
LHP J.A. Happ
RHP Livan Hernandez
RHP Jordan Lyles
CL: Brett Myers

I think moving Myers to the closers spot was the best thing the Astros did all year. He simply wasn't getting it done as a starter, despite wicked stuff, so why not let him go all out for just one inning? It should work and if it does, there will be plenty of teams asking for him come July, with his ability to start as well. I don't know why they still have Rodriguez on the roster, but he'll surely be a July casualty as well as he's likely the Astro with the most value outside of the young power rightie, Norris. They have to get two good young prospects for him, one pitcher and one position guy, preferably an infielder where they're ridiculously thin and are using outfielders like Jason Bourgeois at 2nd and 3rd. They need to make a deal with him like San Diego did with Latos and the sooner the better, although teams will be desperate come deadline time.

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