Is this the year the Cubs finally win another World Series? Chicago fans sure think so, but they’ve been thinking that since 1908. The Cubs should win the weak NL Central, but the Brewers could make them work for it. Fortunately for the rest of the division, Pittsburgh has already volunteered to come in last place. Thanks, Pirates.
1. Chicago Cubs
2007: 85-77, 1st place
2008 Projected: 87-75
Every professional sport needs that historically bad team that hasn’t won a championship forever. The Cubs winning the World Series would completely throw U.S. sports into a state of anarchy. What next? The Arizona Cardinals winning the Super Bowl?
The Cubs signed Japanese star Kosuke Fukudome to complement their big 3— Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez. Felix Pie has been the Cubs’ can’t miss prospect for a couple seasons and he’s been penciled in as the Cubs’ starting CF.
Don’t you just love Carlos Zambrano? Me neither. He’s a good pitcher most of the time, but sometimes takes a day off on big games. With Ted Lilly and Jon Lieber as the next best starters on the team, the Cubbies better score a lot of runs this season.
2. Milwaukee Brewers
2007: 83-79 2nd place
2008 Projected: 82-80
I love watching the sausage race in the bottom of the 6th inning when Brewer games are televised. If I owned the Brewers, I’d make Prince Fielder race the sausages every game. It may not fly now, but you could have totally slipped that into his contract when he was a rookie. Last season they added a new sausage to the race—Cinco the Chorizo. He even wears a sombrero! Pure genius, Bud Selig, pure genius. I now see why you are commissioner.
Along with Prince, the Brew Crew have some young talent worth paying attention to. Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy, and Corey Hart have the potential to be household names (in the greater Milwaukee area) and they picked up Mike Cameron and Eric Gagne in the off-season to give them some veteran leadership. Cameron’s already shown the young guys how to make a red bull and amphetamine power shake while Gagne’s trying to rebuild his reputation after the Mitchell report disgrace.
3. Cincinnati Reds
2007: 72-90 5th place
2008 Projected: 75-87
The Reds, Astros, Cardinals, and Pirates are essentially the same team. They’re all worse than Chicago and Milwaukee and probably slightly better than Pittsburgh.
Dusty Baker left his cozy ESPN job to manage the Reds? For you non-baseball fans, that’s like Angelina Jolie quitting her acting gig to become a drug mule. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Angelina exploring new endeavors, but nobody should be forced to swallow heroin filled balloons…or manage the Reds.
Griffey Jr.’s as old as dirt, Adam Dunn hits the ball far but strikes out once every three at-bats, and once you get past Aaron Harrang, the pitching staff is in shambles.
It’s a good thing there are a lot of fantastic things to do and see in Cincinnati, because going to watch the Reds isn’t one of them.
4. Houston Astros
2007: 73-89 4th place
2008 Projected: 70-92
The Astros were busy this off-season, but being busy doesn’t necessarily mean improving this 4 th placed team from a year ago. Miguel Tejada is a nice addition and with or without steroids he’s still an offensive force at a position that doesn’t usually carry a strong bat. Along with Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee, the ‘Stros have a decent 3-4-5 punch. But other than that, there isn’t much going on in Houston.
Perennial Cy Young candidate, Roy Oswalt, and newly acquired closer Jose Valverde are the only bright spots on an otherwise woeful pitching staff.
Second year outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn hope to make an impact, and for Houston’s sake, they better.
5. St. Louis Cardinals
2007: 78-84 3rd place
2008 Projected: 70-92
It’s hard to believe this team won the World Series 17 months ago. The now mullet-less Tony LaRussa will really earn his money this season if he can produce a competitive team. All-Star manimal Albert Pujols is the Cardinals offensive key and he looks very fragile with his nagging elbow problem that will most likely require surgery at some point. Trading Scott Rolen for Troy Glaus might bring more offense to the hot corner, but they’ll miss Rolen ’s glove.
To put the Cardinals pitching staff in perspective, their best pitcher is center fielder Rick Ankiel.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
2007: 68-94 6th place
2008 Projected: 70-92
Without looking, name one Pirate player other than Jason Bay. Sorry, Jason Kendall doesn’t play for them anymore.
This off-season, Pittsburgh brought in a new manager, new coaching staff, and a new general manager. Unfortunately for Pirate fans, it looks like a “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” situation. They did absolutely nothing during the winter to improve this team.
The good news is, they might be a year or two away from having the best starting pitching staff in the NL Central. Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell are the real deal and though lefties Paul Maholm and Zack Duke haven’t been able to put together a solid full season, this might be the year they turn the corner.
Offensively, Pittsburgh management has asked the league if Jason Bay can bat leadoff, 3rd, 5th, and 8th each game.
Note: I lied about Cincinnati having fantastic things to do and see.