|National League Central Division Preview||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on March 24, 2008
Chicago Cubs:Â The Cubs, without a doubt, are the class of this division, and theyâ€™ve accomplished a lot by spending money on free agents as well as developing their own pitching prospects.Â That essentially leaves them as the runaway favorites to win the division - if they donâ€™t beat themselves.
Thatâ€™s what the Cubs almost did last season as they stumbled the entire first month of the season while the Brewers charged from the gate.Â But pitching told, as did a fairly solid lineup that finally came together to score enough runs for the Cubs to crawl back into the race and finally overcome the Brewersâ€™ lead.Â
Nothing has changed. This is essentially the same team as last year, and could get even better if they can find a real leadoff hitter for the top of the lineup. (Brian Roberts, anyone?)Â They should win at least five more games than last season.
Cincinnati Reds:Â The Reds could be this seasonâ€™s breakout team within the National League.Â They are loaded with high-end prospects who should reach the majors at some point this season and theyâ€™ll get their chance to strut their stuff in preparation for what fans in Cincinnati hope will be a legitimate run at a division title over the next few seasons.Â Names to watch for include hitters Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, as well as hurlers Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez and Homer Bailey.
How much of an impact will they have?Â Probably not enough to remind you of the 2007 Brewers, but donâ€™t be surprised to see them make a good run or two and finish third in the division and maybe even catch the Brewers if they hit a rough patch.
Houston Astros: The Astros made a big splash this off season with the acquisition of Miguel Tejada and a series of smaller ones by obtaining Kaz Matsui, Michael Bourn, Jose Valverde, and a host of other minor luminaries.Â Â They also said goodbye to a lot of players who made an impact in Houston over the years, including Craig Biggio and Brad Lidge.
This retooling has allowed the team to improve vastly and quickly and this could be enough to allow the Astros to be a factor in the Central.Â It would take a lot for this to happen, including a full season of a productive Hunter Pence, the development of catcher J.R. Towles and solid pitching from a rotation which is suspect everywhere except at the top where Roy Oswalt holds court.Â They could be a bit of a dark horse in the division race, but considering how good the Cubs are, their ability to rise towards the top should stop before they reach the level of the cream.
Milwaukee Brewers:Â The Brew Crew comes into 2008 still euphoric about their meteoric rise to contention last season.Â They are a talented but young team to which veterans Jason Kendall and Mike Cameron should add some seasoning to.Â That hopefully will help the Brewers avoid some of the pitfalls that young teams often experience.
If they can avoid the big slumps and injuries, the Brewers should be the only team in the division who can give the Cubs a real run for the money.Â Â However, thatâ€™s not a given, especially if Yovani Gallardoâ€™s injury turns out to be more serious than expected.Â Still this is the team that led the division for more than five months last season, so donâ€™t expect them to roll over just because a lot of people think the Cubs are the cream of the crop.
Pittsburgh Pirates:Â The Pirates come into this season almost unchanged from last year and that is definitely not a good thing.Â Â However if Jason Bay rebounds from an off season last year, the Pirates offense could be somewhat stronger than they were last season.Â Still this is one of the worst teams in all of the National League despite some promising young players including Nate McLouth, Chris Duffy, Nyjer Morgan, and Steve Pearce whoâ€™ll get their chance to shine at points this season.
St. Louis Cardinals:Â The Cards have the potential to be a dreadful team, or a mediocre one, but really donâ€™t seem to have made any significant improvement since last season.Â Theyâ€™ve gotten rid of veterans Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, their would be pitching staff is in need of a M.A.S.H unit on full time call.Â Â Almost every starter is coming off significant injury and the questions about when they can pitch, and if they can pitch, is very much in question.
That surgical unit will also be on call for Albert Pujols, who desperately needs elbow surgery - and may well decide to do it around mid season when the Cards are wallowing down near the Pirates at the bottom of the division.