|A Look at the National League Central||| Print ||
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on March 29, 2007
The National League Central has produced three of the last pennant winners in the senior circuit, including the 2006 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. It’s not only top heavy. Less than nine games separated the top four teams last year. While many people look at this division as one of the weakest in baseball, there’s a chance of drastic improvement from all of the entrants in 2007.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cause for Concern: Chris Carpenter, the best pitcher in the National League, is the only constant from last year’s opening day rotation. Kip Wells spent 2006 recovering from a blood clot surgery, but pitching coach Dave Duncan seems to be working his magic on the right hander this spring. The trouble comes from Braden Looper attempting to make the switch to the rotation from the bullpen and Adam Wainwright learning how to use all of his pitches for strikes.
Prediction: First place, with 95 wins
The Cause for Concern: Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly are known commodities. The Cubs are just wondering how every one else in their rotation will fare. Will Mark Prior actually stay healthy this year and throw harder than the 84 mph he’s posting this spring? Is Rich Hill going to control his curveball? And is Jason Marquis, who finished with a 6.02 ERA last year, ready to lower his WHIP?
Prediction: Second place, with 89 wins
The Cause for Concern: The Astros replaced Andy Pettitte with Jason Jennings in the starting rotation, which is a lateral move. However, the remainder of their starting five looks worse than last year. Woody Williams is going to get lit now that he’s away from the spacious PETCO Park, while Wandy Rodriguez and Fernando Nieve are no one’s ideas of good pitchers. They better pray Roger Clemens returns to Houston.
Prediction: Third place, with 85 wins
The Cause for Concern: All around the diamond, there’s going to be a lot of questions about who is playing where. Rickie Weeks needs to move to an outfield position from second base due to questions about his defense. Corey Koskie, suffering from post-concussion syndrome, and Ryan Braun, a future star, are battling it out for the third base job, while the outfield is muddled with Kevin Mench, Geoff Jenkins, Brady Clark, and Billy Hall. There needs to be more stability going into the season.
Prediction: Fourth place, with 84 wins
The Cause for Concern: Aaron Harang led the NL in strikeouts last year and has been underappreciated for a few more seasons than that. After him, the rotation is not pretty. Was Bronson Arroyo’s 2006 season a fluke? The remainder of the starting five is filled out by journeymen or unknowns.
Prediction: Fifth place, with 78 wins
The Cause for Concern: The Pirates are trying to break in a lot of young pitchers at the same time, but they are failing to give their youngsters some sort of veteran presence to help them adjust to the majors. Ian Snell and Zach Duke will get onto the radars of fans this year, while guys like Paul Maholm and Tom Gorzelanny slowly learn the ins and outs of pitching.Prediction: Sixth place, with 70 wins