The NL Central is one of the more evenly matched divisions in baseball. The top three teams in the division have a legit shot at reaching the playoffs, which should make for an exciting regular season.

1st Place: Chicago Cubs



  1. LF Alfonso Soriano
  2. SS Ryan Theriot
  3. 1B Derek Lee
  4. RF Milton Bradley
  5. 3B Aramis Ramirez
  6. C Geovany Soto
  7. CF Kosuke Fukudome
  8. 2B Mike Fontenot

RHP Carlos Zambrano
RHP Rich Harden
LHP Ted Lilly
RHP Ryan Dempster
LHP Sean Marshall
SU: Carlos Marmol
CL: Kevin Gregg

The Cubs are once again loaded with talent, top to bottom. The problem they've had over the last couple of years though is keeping everybody healthy, especially their starting pitching. Zambrano and Harden are a potentially great 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, but it's really anyone's guess as to whether or not these guys will last the whole season. Their bullpen should be a strength, as they have two guys who can close in Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. Lou Piniella has hinted that Gregg could open the year in the closer's seat, as Marmol has struggled this spring, but they could flip-flop at some point in the year, depending on performance. The lineup got a nice addition in Milton Bradley, but he has health issues of his own to worry about. Now, if the Cubbies can keep these guys off the disabled list in 2009, they have the talent on paper to win over 100 ballgames, but we know that injuries happen in baseball, and chances of them staying healthy are slim. They need to minimize their health problems and get strong seasons from Harden, Zambrano, and Soriano, or else they'll lose their grasp of this division.

2nd Place: St. Louis Cardinals


  1. 2B Skip Schumaker
  2. CF Rick Ankiel
  3. 1B Albert Pujols
  4. RF Ryan Ludwick
  5. LF Chris Duncan
  6. SS Khalil Greene
  7. C Yadier Molina
  8. 3B David Freese

RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Chris Carpenter
RHP Kyle Lohse
RHP Todd Wellemeyer
RHP Joel Pineiro
SU: Ryan Franklin
CL: Jason Motte

The Cardinals are led by Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa and I've learned to never count those guys out, even when they may not have the best talent in the division. That's the case here as the Brewers might have more all-around talent than the Cards, but having a %100 healthy Pujols in the lineup and a healthy Chris Carpenter in the rotation should be enough to overcome some of their other weaknesses. Losing Troy Glaus until at least May hurts, but he'll be back at %100 after 4-6 weeks of rehab. I really like how they've constructed their lineup as they have one of the most powerful offensive lineups in baseball. Their starting rotation is a lot better than people give them credit for as well. Wainwright, Wellemeyer and Lohse were rock-solid last year and the addition of Carpentar will only help. They do have some questions in the bullpen, where they don't have a sure thing at closer, but they're hoping Jason Motte and Chris Perez take the initiative there.

3rd Place: Milwaukee Brewers

Braun 3


  1. 2B Rickie Weeks
  2. SS J.J. Hardy
  3. LF Ryan Braun
  4. 1B Prince Fielder
  5. RF Corey Hart
  6. CF Mike Cameron
  7. 3B Bill Hall
  8. C Jason Kendall

RHP Jeff Suppan
RHP Yovani Gallardo
LHP Manny Parra
RHP Braden Looper
RHP Dave Bush
SU: Seth McClung
CL: Trevor Hoffman

The Brewers could have been one of the NL favorites had they figured out a way to retain C.C. Sabathia, but unfortunately for them, it was never going to happen. What I don't understand is why they didn't try and replace him or Ben Sheets with someone else, and there were options (Derek Lowe, A.J. Burnett, Randy Johnson, and Oliver Perez, just to name a few). They did add the ancient Trevor Hoffman to the back-end of their bullpen and although he's ancient, Hoffman is still a decent pitcher and a better than average closer. I think Rickie Weeks is primed for a big year and the four guys following him are all-star caliber hitters, so offense won't be an issue. But every other facet of the game will be. They lack both the starting pitching, and the relief help to be able to match up with the Cubs and Cards, and they aren't the best defensive bunch in the league. If they make another mid-season blockbuster acquisition this July though, all bets are off, but as they sit now, they're a .500 team, but not quite a playoff one.

4th Place: Houston Astros


  1. 2B Kaz Matsui
  2. CF Michael Bourn
  3. 1B Lance Berkman
  4. LF Carlos Lee
  5. RF Hunter Pence
  6. SS Miguel Tejada
  7. C Ivan Rodriguez
  8. 3B Geoff Blum

RHP Roy Oswalt
LHP Wandy Rodriguez
RHP Brian Moehler
LHP Mike Hampton
RHP Russ Ortiz
SU: LaTroy Hawkins
CL: Jose Valverde

Like seemingly every other team in the division, offense won't be a problem for the Astros. The addition of Pudge gives them a veteran heavy squad who shouldn't hesitate to put up runs. However, when you move down the roster to the pitching department, you see their gaping holes. Outside of Oswalt and Rodriguez, their rotation is made up of castoffs and wash-ups. Brian Moehler and Mike Hampton would have been great adds....8 years ago. The bullpen is rock solid though as Jose Valverde is one of the more underrated closers in baseball, but their starting pitching won't keep them close enough for that to matter much.

5th Place: Cincinnati Reds



  1. CF Chris Dickerson
  2. LF Jerry Hairston Jr.
  3. RF Jay Bruce
  4. 2B Brandon Phillips
  5. 1B Joey Votto
  6. 3B Edwin Encarnacion
  7. C Ramon Hernandez
  8. SS Alex Gonzalez

RHP Edison Volquez
RHP Aaron Harang
RHP Bronson Arroyo
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Micah Owings
SU: David Weathers
CL: Francisco Cordero

The Reds are starting to fill their roster out with home grown talent, and they're still a few years away from being legit contenders. I like Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Chris Dickerson, but after those guys, the lineup is pretty thin. The one spot where the Reds do have an advantage on some of the other teams in the division is in the rotation. They have put together a nice array of veterans and youth with Arroyo and Harang providing leadership and Cueto and Volquez are the young power arms of the future. They also have stability in their bullpen, which is more than a lot of teams can say. I just don't see them scoring enough runs to keep up with the teams I have ahead of them here.

6th Place: Pittsburgh Pirates


  1. LF Nyjer Morgan
  2. 2B Freddy Sanchez
  3. CF Nate McLouth
  4. C Ryan Doumit
  5. 1B Adam LaRoche
  6. 3B Andy LaRoche
  7. RF Brandon Moss
  8. SS Jack Wilson

LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Ian Snell
LHP Zach Duke
RHP Ross Ohlendorf
RHP Jeff Karstens
SU: John Grabow
CL: Matt Capps

The Pirates are one of the least talented teams in the National League, no two ways about it. Their everyday lineup lacks power and run production. They also have very little team speed to speak of and they don't have many hitters who hit for particularly high averages. I like Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit but those guys aren't nearly good enough to carry this offense by themselves. The bullpen is probably the strength of their team heading into the season, and even that isn't a very strong group. They have major questions surrounding their starting rotation. Their top 3 (Maholm, Snell and Duke) are solid when they're on, but they've all been very inconsistent in their careers. Snell (7-12, 5.42 era) and Duke (5-14, 4.82 era) both need to rebound in a big way if the Pirates are going to avoid being reawarded the #1 pick in June 2010's Amateur draft.

Giants Notes:

H Correa

As was expected, the Giants traded reliever Jack Taschner this Friday, and actually got something halfway decent in return for him. At first they got Ronny Paulino and it looked like he was going to be Bengie Molina's back-up, but then they flipped Paulino to the Marlins for 21 year-old right-hander, Hector Correa. Now, Correa isn't a premiere prospect by any stretch, but he's had some success as a pro and only turned 21 a week ago. The 6'4", 175 pounder struggled in 2008 as he battled an arm injury for most of the year, but really showed his potential when healthy in 2006/07. He's a tall, hard thrower, who averages 91-93 mph on the fastball with a big hook, but his secondary pitches need work. In the rookie league in '06, he carried a 1.76 era through 41 innings in his brief stint after being drafted in the 4th round of the amateur draft. The following year, in low-A ball for Florida in '07 (the same level Madison Bumgarner pitched at for the Giants in 2008), Correa made 11 starts, going 6-2 with a 3.22 ERA, striking out 83 batters in just 58 innings of work. Last year he only threw a combined 12.2 innings in the low minors in Florida's system as he didn't really get healthy all year. I would expect to see the Giants start Correa off in either low-A Augusta or high-A San Jose and he should be an intriguing arm to follow in 2009.

Trevor Cole The San Francisco Giants Blog

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