This article originally appeared here.
The 2009 Major League Baseball season is upon us and teams are ready to embark on their 162 game journey towards the playoffs, and eventually the World Series. This is the third in a series of six divisional previews. Our next division has the most team in one division, the NL Central.
|St. Louis Cardinals||86||76|
The NL Central typically has two to three teams that are in the think of a pennant race all the way to the end of the season. Last year was no exception, as four teams made legitimate runs.
The Chicago Cubs ended up taking the division with 97 wins, which was good enough for the best record in the National League. Unfortunately, as the dismay of the faithful Cubs fans, they were swept in the NLDS to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It's sad to see such talent be wasted, especially with their great young pitching staff.
The Milwaukee Brewers made the playoffs for the first time since their AL Pennant in 1982. Led by great starting pitching in C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets, as well as the monsters in the lineup Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brewers were able to finish what they could not in 2007. Unfortunately, their run ended prematurely with a 4 game loss to Phillies in the NLDS.
The Astros were not picked to finish very high last season, but they played very well, especially in the second half of the season. Their 86 wins was not enough to make the playoffs, but it showed some promise for the future of the organization.
The Cardinals were also a surprise. If you looked at their roster at the beginning of the season last year, you would have only recognized Albert Pujols and Troy Glaus. They got great contributions from Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel in the outfield and their pitching was solid enough for 86 wins.
The Reds and Pirates rounded out the bottom of the NL Central, as they traded away most of their marquee players at the trading deadline.
Predicted 2009 Standings
|St. Louis Cardinals||88||74|
Individual Team Previews
Chicago Cubs - Lou Piniella has done a great job with this team over the last few years. The problem he has is that we can't get out of the NLDS. With a rotation with the likes of Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, and Ryan Dempster, one would believe that a long playoff run would be in order. I do believe this to be the case, and Rich Harden is my favorite from the division to win the Cy Young. They didn't make a ton of transactions this winter, but the addition of Milton Bradley in the outfield is a good move. They also made a trade for ex-Marlins closer Kevin Gregg, and he'll start out the season as the Cubs closer. I expect a big season out of the Cubs, and would be surprised if they didn't make it past the NLDS.
Cincinnati Reds - The Reds will not have the services of aging stars Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn. Instead, they will be building from within and staying young, which usually doesn't translate to a ton of wins. However, they do a have a very promising young rotation, including last year's breakout Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, and leader Aaron Harang. They bolstered the staff (and lineup!) with Micah Owings. I believe they can stay pretty competitive with good pitching, but I just don't see a winning record for this group. Next year should be a great year.
Houston Astros - I think this Houston Astros team completely overachieved last year. Just looking on paper, they are extremely average. Yes they have a pretty potent lineup, with Berkman. Tejada, and Lee. And I think the addition of Pudge Rodriguez can only help the pitching staff. However, behind Roy Oswalt, are you afraid of anyone else on that staff? Wandy Rodriguez? Mike Hampton??? I just don't see good enough pitching to stay in the race all season.
Milwaukee Brewers - The Brewers made their run last year on the great quality starting pitching. This offseason, C.C. Sabathia left for the Yankees and Ben Sheets' arm might as well have fallen off. The staff is in shambles, in my humble opinion. I mean, Yovani Gallardo is their defacto ace. They're lineup is going to be plenty potent, which I'm sure will carry them in a ton of games. Ryan Braun is a beast, and after a slow start last season, Prince Fielder showed why he's a prized member of this young offense. I expect a drop off from last year's wild card winner.
Pittsburgh Pirates - The Pirates have become a joke of a franchise. Is there another franchise in sports that is worse? I mean, even the Clippers made the playoffs a few years ago. Pittsburgh hasn't had a winning season since 1992. Last season, they sold off a bunch of their best and bright young stars, including Jason Bay and Xavier Nady. The only shining light from last season was the emergence of center fielder Nate McLouth. He enjoyed a wonderful season (especially on my fantasy team). I think their staff is better than their record showed last year. I'm a fan of Zach Duke and Ian Snell, and I believe Jeff Karstens will be a stud some day. However, this team is just WAY to young to compete. I think they'll have another disastrous finish.
St. Louis Cardinals - The Cardinals come into this season with a lot of promise, especially with their surprise run last year. Tony LaRussa is a great manager and should have them poised to make a playoff run. Albert Pujols is a freak of nature. He won his 2nd MVP award last season. He did have offseason elbow surgery, but I think he'll be ok. Last year's breakout player was Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick finished the season with a .299 average, with 37 HRs and over 100 runs and RBIs. Also, former pitcher Rick Ankiel had a surprising season at the plate hitting 25 HRs. Their pitching is pretty good. I think Adam Wainwright will have a monster season, and I'm also predicting that Chris Carpenter will be healthy for the first time in years. Kyle Lohse was great last season, and having him stay strong in the middle of the rotation will be key.
Divisional All-star Team
If I was to make an all-star team with the best players at each position (including the bench and bullpens) it would look like this:
|C||Ryan Doumit (S)||Pirates|
|1B||Albert Pujols (R)||Cardinals|
|2B||Brandon Phillips (R)||Reds|
|3B||Aramis Ramirez (R)||Cubs|
|SS||Miguel Tejada (R)||Astros|
|LF||Ryan Braun (R)||Brewers|
|CF||Nate McLouth (L)||Pirates|
|RF||Ryan Ludwick (R)||Cardinals|
|B||Darin Erstad (L)||Astros|
|B||Aaron Miles (S)||Cubs|
|B||Jeff Keppinger (R)||Reds|
|SP||Roy Oswalt (R)||Astros|
|SP||Carlos Zambrano (R)||Cubs|
|SP||Rich Harden (R)||Cubs|
|SP||Edinson Volquez (R)||Reds|
|SP||Chris Carpenter (R)||Cardinals|
|RP||Kevin Gregg (R)||Cubs|
|RP||Ryan Franklin (R)||Cardinals|
|CL||Trevor Hoffman (R)||Brewers|
Best Lineup: Cubs
Best Fielding: Astros
Best Bench: Astros
Best Starting Five: Cubs
Best Bullpen: Cardinals
Best Manager: Tony LaRussa, Cardinals
Individual Player Superlatives:
Divisional MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
Divisional Cy Young: Rich Harden, Cubs
Divisional ROY: Colby Rasmus, Cardinals
Breakout Hitter: Joey Votto, Reds
Breakout Pitcher: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
What are your projections for the NL Central? I'd love to hear them!