Wednesday, March 23, 2011

2011 MLB Final Standings Predictions: NL CENTRAL

Cincinnati Reds 87 - 75
Why is this team interesting?  They  have one of the best young hitters in baseball in Joey Votto and they have the most exciting young non-Stephen-Strasburg arm in Aroldis Chapman.  OFers Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs are good young players as well.

That's where the excitement ends.  The rest of the lineup is solid throughout, Johnny Gomes excepted.  The starting rotation isn't flashy, but it is very deep with Johnny Cueto (looks like Cueto will start the season on the DL.  This is when a deep rotation comes in handy), Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Travis Wood.

Milwaukee Brewers 85 - 77
Why is this team interesting?  Now...THIS team IS interesting.  The Brew Crew had one of the most exciting off-seasons of any team.  They added Shawn Marcum and Zack Greinke to their rotation.  Greinke is known, Marcum less so.  Greinke isn't the 2009 Greinke that everyone knows about, but he is very very good.  Marcum missed 2009 but came back last year to post a 3.5 WAR season in the AL East.  A move to the NL Central should only help his cause.  These two are added to holdovers Yovanni Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson.  Those three would be a passable front 3 for a rotation, that they are 3rd, 4th, and 5th fiddles to Greinke and Marcum is proof that the Brewers should be able to pitch this season.

Takashi Saito won't be racking up saves like he did in LA, but he' pitching about as well.  The saves will go to John Axford who is channeling his inner, and outer, Rollie Fingers.

The Brewers aren't just a bunch of hurlers though.  They carry some lumber.  Big Prince Fielder is in the best shape of his life.  Regardless of the shape he takes you can pencil Prince in for something like a .400 OBA and .500+ SLG.  LFer Ryan Braun (not to be confused with P Ryan Braun) can be counted on to put up similar numbers.  Second baseman Rickey Weeks broke out last season with 29 home runs fueling a .368 wOBA.  He also played in a career high 160 games.  Brewer's fans will hope that Corey Hart's 2010 represents a improvement over 2008 and 2009 and not just a fluke.  3B Casey McGehee probably over performed last year but 20 home runs and a .340 wOBA in 2011 would be just fine.

That's 5 of 8 starters.  Those 5 range from good to very good.

C Jon Jucroy, CF Carlos Gomez (not to be confused with the Rockies' Car-Go (Carlos Gonzales), and SS Yunieski Betancourt range from meh to ewww.

Chicago Cubs 82 - 80
Why is this team interesting?  100 years and counting.  They better keep counting, because this isn't the year.  The Cubbies have some good players, but no great ones, and no terrible ones.  C Giovanni Soto is probably their best player.  Soto has legitimate pop and on base abilities.  Aramis Ramirez was a steady performer from 2004-2008, but injuries (2009) and ineffectiveness (2010), took tolls the last 2 seasons.  Alfonso Soriano had a resurgence last year be he's never again going to be the 40-40 man that the Cubs paid $136 million for.  CFer Marlon Byrd had an excellent season last year, but there is not much in his history to indicate that he will perform consistently at that level.  Kosuke Fukudome was supposed to be Hideki Matsui v1.5 but it hasn't worked out that way.  He's still a solid player.  Cubs fans will probably be happy to see him go though.  Young SS Starlin Castro isn't a star yet, but if he can increase his walks and stolen bases he could soon be.  First baseman Carlos Pena brings his sub .200 batting average (his ISO was an even higher .211 though) to Wrigley to replace Derrek Lee.  Jeff Baker beat out Blake DeWitt for the 2B job...if anyone cares.

The pitching staff is interesting.   First there is Carlos Zambrano.  He could do anything next
Break a bat
Meltdown on the field
Meltdown in the dugout
but on the mound we know that he's NOT going to.  He's not going to throw 200 innings of 5 WAR ball like he did in the early 2000's.  Matt Garza, acquired from the Tampa Rays, might pitch 200 innings but he's a fly ball pitcher in the 'Friendly Confines'.  Expect a few home runs.  Randy Wells might actually be the Cubs best starter.   Unless that title goes to Ryan Dempster, who is currently what Zambrano was formerly.  The 5th starer will either be Carlos Silva, Braden Looper or Andrew Cashner.  None of them provides much more than any of the others.  Chris Carpenter might get a look later in the season.

The bullpen has overused-adjective-flame-throwing Carlos Marmol as the closer.  Marmol struck out 138 batters in 78 innings last year.  Randy Wells struck out 144 in 194 innings for comparison.  He also walked 52.  Roy Halladay walked 30 in over 3 times as many innings for comparison.  The zombie of Kerry Wood returns to Chicago.  He can still strike guys out, but too many walks (and injuries) to truly be effective.  Sean Marshall and Jeff Smardzija are also good relievers.

St. Louis Cardinals 80 - 82
Why is this team interesting?  Where to begin?  The Cardinals were expected to contend for the NL Central this year after finishing 2nd to the Reds in 2010 after being expected to run away with the division.  Then they lost Adam Wainwright, and his 5-6 WAR, for the season.

Then there is the Albert Pujols contract situation.  If the Cardinals aren't competitive in the division this year will they be forced to trade the best player in baseball?

But the Cards are interesting not only because of the players they won't, and might not, have but also because of some of the players that they do have.

While the Cardinals lament losing Adam Wainwright, plenty of teams would be thrilled to have Chris Carpenter at the top of their rotation.  2010 rookie Jaime Garcia will regress from the 2.70 ERA he put up last year, but is still a solid pitcher.  Reliever Kyle McClellan joins the rotation.  We'll see how he fares; I'm guessing not THAT well.  Pitching coach Dave Duncan will have more time to work his magic on Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook.

Albert Pujols, aka 'The Machine', is the most consistent performer in MLB right now.  Check out his career wOBA (which measures total offensive output).
Some people have speculated that the loss of Wainwright, and subsequent possibility of non-competitiveness in 2011 will lead to a financial situation that will make it even less likely for the Cards to re-sign Albert.

Matt Holliday is the Cardinals second best position player, he had a near 7 WAR season in 2010.   CFer Colby Rasmus and C Yadier Molina are good players as well.  After that...

Lance Berkman replaces the mediocrity that took over in RF after the Cards traded Ryan Ludwick to SD last year.  Berkman is a big hitter, though he had a down season last year, but he hasn't played OF regularly since 2007.  While he's probably no Vlad Guerrero out there,

 it could be an adventure at times.

3B David Freese looked good in the half season that he played before injury.  A .376 BABIP seems optimistic though.  Second base will be manned by Skip Shumaker, a converted outfielder who can hit-at least before last year, though struggles to defend in the infield.  The short stop figures to be former Cub Ryan Theriot.  He's been a productive player in the past, but was worthless (0 WAR) last year.

Pittsburgh Pirates 70 - 92
Why is this team interesting?  Because, believe it or not, are on their way up.  The Pirates have produced a few young players over the last couple of seasons.  Most people know about CFer Andrew McCutchen, who could possibly become a full-fledged star this season.  He gets on base, he runs, he has power, the only question is his defense; and it is a question and not a problem.    Hopefully Pittsburgh will lock McCutchen up long-term here pretty soon.  Third baseman Pedro Alvarez didn't exactly burt upon the scene last season but he was productive.  The power is legit.  The defense and ability to make contact with pitches need to improve.  LFer Jose Tabata should be a better player than Xavier Nady (whom he was traded for) starting last season and continuing into perpetuity.  He's not a start, but he is a major league quality talent-which is the bar the Pirates first need to clear.  The same can be said of 2B Neil Walker.

OF/1B Garrett Jones is another young Pirate but despite his 21 home run-in-half-a-season 2009, he's really not that good of a player.

The Pirates also added 1B Lyle Overbay and C Chris Snyder.  Overbay is an underrated player and a good get for the Pirates who might soon decide that Alvarez is a 1B and not a 3B.

The pitching isn't as good as the hitting in Pittsburgh.  The Pirates stole James McDonald from the Dodgers in the Octavio Dotel trade.  McDonald isn't any kind of ace but he belongs on a major league roster, and remember-THAT is an improvement over recent Pirates clubs.  Paul Maholm has been a quality starter for the Pirates for a while.  180-200 innings with a 4.00 ERA is reasonable to expect, though this 3-year trend is worrisome.  The rest of the guys in the rotation, Correia, Ohlendorf and Olsen, aren't really guys that you want starting the season in your rotation-though Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke and maybe Brian Morris should get shots later in the season.

Houston Astros 69 - 93
Why is this team interesting?  Honestly, they aren't.  From top to bottom, this is the worst team in baseball.  And from 'top to bottom' I mean they are the worst team in baseball each step of the way.  It's a tossup between the Astros and the Royals for who will field the worst major league team this year.  I give the Royals a slight advantage because of the possibilities that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas bring.  Since the Astros have the worst minor league system in baseball they have no similar players in waiting. This goes directly to GM Ed Wade who's done nothing to improve the team since taking over in 2007.

The Astros aren't completely devoid of talent.  OFers Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn are solid players, but not terribly exciting-unless you really like Bourn's blazing speed.  Pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers are both better than average but neither figures to get much better than they showed last year.

Unfortunately for the Astros their #1 prospect, C Jason Castro:
A) figures to be more solid than star
B) had knee surgery and will likely miss the season.

The Astros have a couple of young players at the corner infield spots; 3B Chris Johnson and 1B Brett Wallace.   Johnson put up good numbers in half a season last year but his BABIP was .387 and he struck out about 7 times as often as he walked-doesn't bode well for extended success.  Wallace has been traded 3 times in the last 2 seasons; probably because once teams get a look at him up close they see that he can't hit at the big league level.

It's going to be a long time before the Astros are good again.

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