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2010 Baseball Previews: NL Central – The Cardinal Rule? Hitting Needs Pitching

Posted on March 29, 2010 by Don Spieles

One week left to go!  As we head back across the Midwest for a preview of the NL Central, we examine the division that boasts the most teams and the potential for the most surprises.

1. St. Louis Cardinals

San Diego Padres vs St. Louis Cardinals

Holliday and Pujols will be featured in a lot of pitchers nightmares in 2010.

Arguably the two biggest moves this off season were for near-homonyms Roy Halliday and Matt Holliday. In face, the Holliday signing holds significance on several levels.  First of all, most of the talking heads agree that the Cards spent too much money and contracted too long with Holliday.  There is the added pressure that expenditure will make when Albert Pujols, arguably the best player in baseball, becomes a free agent after the 2011 season.  Most importantly, if Holliday has a season like his 2007 and like his time in St. Louis last season, the Cardinals taking the division is all but carved in stone.

On the mound,the Cards will look to continue and extend the success that they saw last season with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright at the top of there rotation. Brad Penny, will try to continue the NL success that began when he was traded to the Giants last season and avoid the mediocrity that he displayed in Boston.  The Cardinals pen is not a weak spot by any means, but on a team with such positives elsewhere, the relief crew gets the worried man’s attention. The bottom line for St. Louis is that if you add up the big bats (Pujols, Holliday), big enough bats (Rassmuss, Ludwig), then factor in the very good rotation, the Cardinals will be almost impossible to topple.

Who Will Win the NL Central?

  • St. Louis Cardinals (43%, 3 Votes)
  • Cincinnati Reds (29%, 2 Votes)
  • Chicago Cubs (14%, 1 Votes)
  • Milwaukee Brewers (14%, 1 Votes)
  • Houston Astros (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 7

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2. Chicago Cubs

Florida Marlins vs. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs will look to Zambrano to surpass last season's 9-9 performance.

Regardless of what is said, or by whom it is said, Milton Bradley was a gigantic mistake for the Cubs.  Most likely, he a gigantic mistake for Seattle, too.  Bradley is never anything but a distraction and his being gone is a big positive if you believe in clubhouse chemistry and such. When you consider that the Cubs picked up Marlon Byrd, a very stable journeyman player who will play and not throw tantrums, the effect is significant. Most of the reason is that their offense became so anemic last season.  The top offense posted a collective .255 average (26th), .350 OBP (16th), .407 slugging (19th) and 161 home runs (14th). So, pitching will be crucial once again for a Cub team that underperformed in 2009.  The rotation (Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Demster, Ted Lilly, Randy Wells, and most likely Ted Gorzelanny) had a combined record of  48 wins in 146 starts – not to promising. Zambrano’s 9 and 9 was the worst of his career.  The Cubs need their pitching to be razor sharp to have any chance of keeping up with the Cardinals. If they play like last season, second place could even be in question.

Brewers Fielder Grounds Out in Denver

Prince Fielder

3. Milwaukee Brewers The secret to the Brewers the last few season has been their tenacity.  Not too many people expect a whole lot out of the Brew Crew in 2010, but the same thing could have been said last year and yet they were still in the discussion until late summer.  They finished two games under .500, but they were scrappy and look to be so again.

Two losses include J.J. Hardy (to Minnesota) and Mike Cameron (to Boston).  Neither is a marquee player, but they were both solid offensively and, especially in Cameron’s case, very good in the field. The biggest addition for the Brewers isn’t all that earth shattering – starter Randy Wolf.  This long time Philly starter has changed uniforms no less than five times since 2006.  Last year with the Dodgers he posted a very respectable 11 and 7 record in 34 starts.  He pitched over 200 innings for the first time since 2002.  Beyond last season, however, Wolf has posted a 48-40 for a .600 winning percentage.  That would still be an improvement for Milwaukee who went 80-82 last season (.494) and should be better if not for suspect pitching.  The Brewers were ninth in runs scored last season (785) but gave up the fifth most runs (818) to opponents.

Wolf falls into the Brewer rotation a number two, behind Yovanni Gallardo.  Doug Davis (from Arizona) and Jeff Supan come next, followed by either Dave Bush or Manny Parra, depending on how things progress.  The only one of those four with a 2009 ERA under 5.00 was Davis with 4.12.

They do have some hitters, though, and what hitters they are.  They have four returning players  with double-digit homers in 2009 – Prince Fielder (46), Ryan Braun (32), Casey McGehee (16), Corey Hart (12), and the team was in the top 10 (whole league) in triples, home runs, on-base percentage, and slugging.  As mentioned above, scoring is not the issue.

The Brewers should slide in around .500 again.  However, if the rotation over achieves, the Cubs and Cardinals may keep an eye on Milwaukee right until the end of the season.

4. Cincinati Reds

World Baseball Classic- Mexico City Day 3

For better or worse, the Reds will have Aroldis Chapman on the mound in 2010.

Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman is currently penciled in as the number five starter for the Reds.  There is still some time left to change that, but it seems clear that Chapman will be with the big club on opening day.  The scuttlebutt on Chapman is that his fastball is wonderful and his other pitches are more or less nonexistent.

If you listen too the talking heads, many will tell you this is a decent, gutsy decision by Cincinati on a player they have a lot invested in.  He’s young, strong, and will pull in some fans if only for his novelty.  Cincinati is looking for big things out of Chapman and are hoping that can begin this year. Some disagree, citing stories like that of David Clyde.  Clyde was a phenom out of Westchester High in Houston Texas.

He was drafted first overall in 1973 and rushed into service because the Rangers were really horrible and needed either a spark for the players, a gimmick for the fans, or a little of both.  Clyde had a lackluster career in Texas and Cleveland and was out of the game by 1980.  Many believe (including Whitey Herzog) that the decision to rush Clyde in that first season contributed greatly to his quick demise.

Beyond Chapman, the rotation looks less impressive.  Aaron Harang and Johnny Cueto should have decent seasons – if the Reds are lucky, it will be both.  Some Reds fans have high hopes that this is the season where Homer Bailey come out. too.  His 4.53 ERA and 8-5 record could just be the beginning for this right-hander. Cincinati also picked up Orlando Cabrera, a veteran presence with some big game experience and decent defensive skills.  His presence will help a young Cincinati team. All in all, the Reds are a group of “not-yets”, a few “used-to-be’s” and a few “who-can-tell’s”.  Look for them to miss the playoffs for the 15th straight season.

3/31/10 Update: News out this morning that Chapman will start the season in the minors after all.  After having issues with back spasms, the Reds don’t want to have him start the season without having been fully stretched out by enough warm-up starts.  Look for Chapman to come up sooner than later.

5-6 Toss-up ~ Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros

Trying weed out the ultimate placement of these two teams is like deciding which rotten eggs smells worst.

For the sake of positivity, it should be pointed out that the Pirates have Andrew McCutchen.  This out fielder looks like a star just waiting to shine.  They also picked up Akinori Iwamura in an off season trade.  The funny think about that move is that when they picked up Iwamura’s $4.85 million salary it made him the highest paid Pirate! While he’s no Utley or Pedroia, but he’s a solid player. The Pirates rotation has one hope for glory this season and that is if they were sign an endorsement deal (as in, “Yeah, we lost 100 games, but we did save a ton of money by switching to Geico.)

Houston Astros vs St. Louis Cardinals

Roy Oswalt will lead a meager Astros rotation.

Pittsburgh Pirates vs Colorado Rockies in Denver

Pirates lone star, Andrew McCutchen.

The Astro’s have Lance Berkman who, despite some health concerns, is still one of the highest rated hitters in most fantasy leagues.  They still have Roy Oswalt to make the All-Star game and Hunter Pence still holds a good deal of promise.  They picked up Pedro Feliz from the Phillies to cover third and Kaz Matsui is high on a lot of smart people’s list of second basemen.

Since it’s necessary to choose, the Pirates have to get the nod for most losses, not only in the division, but in the NL and AL together.  But never underestimate the Astros’ ability to stink up the place.

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