The NL Central has no sure fire winner in 2010. However, the Cardinals appear to be the most talented team followed by the Brewers. The Reds though have potential to play themselves into contention as well.
Here is how I see the division shaking out.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Let’s be honest. The Pirates are the consensus pick for last. Yes they have a budding all star in Andrew McCutchen who had a great rookie season last year, but they have a rotation that features Ross Ohenlendorf and Cub reject Kevin Hart.
That is simply not good enough to contend. Pedro Alvarez, the team’s top prospect, will probably get some time to play at third this season, so the two interesting things for this team will be monitoring the development of future studs Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.
5. Houston Astros
The Astros sill have some very good players on their team. Having been perennial contendors over the last 5-6 years, the team still has the likes of ace Roy Oswalt, sweet-swinging Lance Berkman, and Carlos Lee. Hunter Pence will also look to take another step forward in 2010. The ‘Stros will be able to hit but in looking at their roster from top to bottom, they simply have too many holes to compete.
Roy Oswalt could be a blue chip summer trading piece if the team is out of contention and he could bring back good prospects in return.
4. Chicago Cubs
Cubs fans think that the departure of Milton Bradley will be a form of addition by subtraction, and it will. However that will not simply return there team to 2008 form.
They have not adjusted to the loss of Rich Harden, and with Ted Lilly out atleast a month, there rotation is set to start out Zambrano, Dempster, Wells, Gorzelanny, and who knows who else.
The back end of that rotation is simply not up to standards and Lou Piniella will have his work cut out for him closing out games as well. Carlos Marmol was atrocious last year with his control. Too many holes=not enough wins.
3. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have perhaps the most potential in the division, but I believe they will still be a year away from putting everything together. However, I do think this is a year where the Reds will hang around and make some noise in the division. The signing of Cuban-phenom has energized the Reds base and at Spring Training all eyes will be glued on the Cuban lefty. Whether he starts in the majors or not, the Reds just may not be able to click totally this year. The loss of Edinson Volquez until mid-summer at the earliest hurts, but the Reds have plenty of young pitchers waiting in the wings. Contending or not, I think the Reds will unload Harang before 2011 so this is his last hoorah in a Reds uniform. That will allow the Reds to unload 12 million of payroll and make room for them to make key additions to what should be a solid team down the road. The Reds front office is unified in the direction is wants to go, and Votto, Phillips, Bruce, Cueto, Bailey, and Chapman give them the horses to get there.
2. Milwaukee Brewers
Braun and Fielder. Braun and Fielder. Braun and Fielder. Alcides Escobar and Yovani Gallardo. The Brewers have a great mix of established stars and young athletes coming up through the system. They get the nod for the two spot because they just simply have fewer noticable holes than the Reds or Cubs. Casey McGeehee another Cub reject will look to build on his strong rookie season, and Ricky Weeks is still looking to breakout. I think he will, and Gallardo will be a star, leading to a 2nd place National League Central finish.
1. Champion-St. Louis Cardinals
A full year with Matt Holliday and another year with one of the best hitters ever will equal a NL Central title for the Cards in 2010. Also the Cards have one of the best one two punches on the mound in baseball if both Wainwright and Carpenter stay healthy. They were both stellar last year down the stretch. Expect youngster Colby Rasmus to hit lefties better than he did last season and be a strong complement in the lineup to the power of Holliday and Pujols. Too much offense and a great rotation with the best pitching coach in the game will help the Cards overpower the rest of the NL Central.
There are few pitching staffs in baseball better top to bottom than the Cincinnati Reds. As a 12 man pitching staff, there is no doubt in my mind that the Reds have one of the best staffs in the NL. Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker both share the belief that teams may have a better one or two than the Reds top men, but few teams are better from one to twelve.
The Reds starting rotation has depth like the Reds haven’t had in years. I will bet anyone Aaron Harang will return to the Harang of 2, 3 and 4 years ago. The sky is the limit for Volquez and Cueto and Arroyo is one of the more underappreciated pitchers in the league. And Micah Owings, having won the 5th starters spot has great talent and just has to find consistency for a whole season which is easier said than done.
The Reds have depth as well in the bullpen. Two good lefties are down there for Dusty Baker: Arthur Rhodes and Bill Bray. Rhodes was a nice signing by the Reds this offseason to give the Reds plenty of options. Also in the pen is bright young star, Jared Burton and David Weathers. Burton is the guy who will get the ball in the eighth inning to get the ball to Fransisco Cordero to lock it down in the ninth. Burton finished last year with a 3.22 ERA after bursting on to the scene the year before with a 2.51 ERA. An interesting stat is that when Burton came in in the 8th inning last year and the Reds had the lead, the Reds lost only once. Cordero saved all but 2 games last year when Burton came in before him.
The wild card of the staff is Cueto though. He showed flairs of greatness last year like when he started the season off with a 10 K performance. Keeping pitch counts down and attacking the hitters when he gets ahead will be keys to his success. Go Reds! Its Skyline time! Feel free to comment