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Article:National League Central Preview

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1st Place, Chicago Cubs

Lineup:
SS Ryan Theriot
LF Alfonso Soriano
1B Derrek Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
RF Kosuke Fukudome
2B Mark DeRosa
C Geovany Soto
CF Felix Pie

Rotation:
RHP Carlos Zambrano
LHP Ted Lilly
RHP Ryan Dempster
LHP Rich Hill
RHP Jason Marquis
SU: Carlos Marmol
CL: Kerry Wood

The Cubs brought over Kosuke Fukudome from Japan this winter to help solidify the middle of their order. It's still tough to tell what kind of power numbers he will put up in America, but he should be around .300, providing speed and solid defense. If Derrick Lee rebounds this year and can stay healthy, the Cubs should score plenty of runs. I like Theriot and Soriano at the top of the lineup. While their offense may not have quite the weapons that Millwaukee does, they have the better pitching. Carlos Zambrano and Rich Hill haven't even hit their prime yet and both are among the better starters in the NL already. Lilly is very steady in the 2 spot. It will be interesting to see how Dempster makes his return to the rotation, but the Cubs are banking on 30 starts from him. Their bullpen is finally settled as Kerry Wood takes over the closers role with Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry setting him up.

2nd Place, Cincinnati Reds

Lineup:
CF Corey Patterson
SS Jeff Keppinger/Alex Gonzalez
RF Ken Griffey Jr.
LF Adam Dunn
2B Brandon Phillips
3B Edwin Encarnacion
1B Joey Votto/Scott Hatteberg
C David Ross

Rotation:
RHP Aaron Harang
RHP Bronson Arroyo
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Edinson Volquez
RHP Homer Bailey
SU: David Weathers
CL: Francisco Cordero

I think the Reds are primed to surprise people this year. With all that young talent in the lineup and rotation, I will actually be surprised if they aren't challenging the Cubs for the division in September. The second half of their starting rotation is very raw and that is the only thing that will be holding them back this year. Their lineup is going to score plenty of runs with veterans Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey and Brandon Phillips anchoring the middle of the order and youngsters like, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce all looking to break onto the scene in '08. The Reds have so many hitters that they don't have room for them all which is why Bruce will start the year in AAA. Their bullpen should be the strongest it's been in years with the addition of Francisco Cordero which moves Dave Weathers into his more comfortable set-up role. They also have the trading chips to acquire another starting pitcher if need be at the trade deadline. Things are definitely on the up in Cincinatti.

3rd Place, Milwaukee Brewers

Lineup:
2B Rickie Weeks
SS J.J. Hardy
LF Ryan Braun
1B Prince Fielder
RF Corey Hart
3B Bill Hall
CF Mike Cameron/Tony Gwynn Jr.
C Jason Kendall

Rotation:
RHP Ben Sheets
RHP Jeff Suppan
RHP Yovani Gallardo
RHP Claudio Vargas
RHP Dave Bush
SU: Derrick Turnbow
CL: Eric Gagne

The Brewers should be in the wild card mix as well as the NL Central race this season. The have some question marks regarding their pitching, but their offense could be the best in the National League. Rickie Weeks should rebound and be the lead-off hitter he's been touted to be this season. They have a very deep, young lineup that doesn't really give you a break until you get to Jason Kendall down in the 8th spot and even he can be a tough out when he's on. Their pitching is a whole different story. Ben Sheets is still answering health questions after injuries only allowed him 24 starts last season. Jeff Suppan is a nice veteran presence to have on the staff as a number 4 starter, but asking him to be a number 2 is probably a reach. I like Gallardo and Villanueva, but I don't think their starting pitching will hold up against the Cubbies. Their bullpen isn't in much better shape. Eric Gagne hasn't been healthy this spring and it's still uncertain if he will be healthy to start the season. If Gagne and Sheets can stay healthy all year long, the Brewers should make some noise.

4th Place, Houston Astros

Lineup:
RF Hunter Pence
2B Kazuo Matsui
1B Lance Berkman
LF Carlos Lee
SS Miguel Tejada
3B Ty Wigginton
C J.R. Towles
CF Michael Bourn

Rotation:
RHP Roy Oswalt
LHP Wandy Rodriguez
RHP Brandon Backe
RHP Woody Williams
RHP Shawn Chacon
SU: Doug Brocail
CL: Jose Valverde

The Astros undoubtedly have the offense to keep up with any team in this division, and any team in major league baseball for that matter. They could hit 250+ home runs as a team this season if they stay healthy. Not only do they have power, but they get on base and have 3 or 4 guys who should steal 20+ bases. If only their pitching had the same kind of quality. Instead of giving Carlos Lee 100 million dollars last winter, it would have been in the Astros' best interest to invest that money in pitching to surround Roy Oswalt. Wandy Rodriguez has come on to be a serviceable left handed starter, but outside of him and Oswalt, the Astros are paper thin in the rotation. Their bullpen isn't much better. Jose Valverde is a quality young closer, but the Astros have no clear set-up man or any real structure to their bullpen outside of Valverde. Even with the offensive fire power, it should be a long year in Houston.

5th Place, Pittsburgh Pirates

Lineup:
CF Nate McLouth
SS Jack Wilson
2B Freddy Sanchez
LF Jason Bay
1B Adam LaRoche
RF Xavier Nady
3B Jose Bautista
C Ronny Paulino

Rotation:
RHP Ian Snell
LHP Tom Gorzelanny
LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Matt Morris
LHP Zach Duke
SU: Damaso Marte
CL: Matt Capps

The Pirates look like they have a young rotation in place that could be there for years. Snell, Gorzelanny, Maholm and Duke are all 27 years of age or younger and all have proven themselves to some degree at the major league level. The Pirates are hoping this is the year they can all stay healthy and grow together. Their lineup won't allow them to compete with the better teams in this division, but they still have some talent there. I would expect bounce back years from Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche and Freddy Sanchez is one of the most underrated hitters in the game (when healthy) so they will score some runs, but not enough. Their bullpen is still a work in progress but they believe they have found their closer of the future in Matt Capps. The Pirates, like the Reds, are certainly on their way up, but it may take another year or two for them to be legit contenders.

6th Place, St. Louis Cardinals

Lineup:
RF Skip Schumaker
2B Adam Kennedy
1B Albert Pujols
CF Rick Ankiel
3B Troy Glaus
LF Chris Duncan
C Yadier Molina
SS Cesar Izturis

Rotation:
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Todd Wellemeyer
RHP Brad Thompson
RHP Braden Looper
RHP Kyle Lohse
SU: Russ Springer
CL: Jason Isringhausen

It's tough to pick a team lead by Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa to finish last, but the Cardinals pitching is in such bad shape that it will take a small miracle for them to even finish at .500 this season. Not to mention Pujols is hurting and could cut his season short to have surgery on his arm in order to be ready for spring training in 2009. I like Adam Waiwright and they have some other young quality arms, but they aren't ready to win any divisions.

The Giants Baseball Blog-http://giantsbaseballblog.blogspot.com/

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