Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fearless Predictions - NL Central

With apologies to Gene Hackman...

I'm sure Villanova winning the National Championship is beyond [our] wildest dreams, so let's just keep it right there, OK?

The United Cardinal Bloggers are predicting the standings throughout MLB this week. The family spent last week in Monterey, CA, where I expected my hotel to have internet access. It did - if your computer was wireless capable. Alas, this one isn't (don't ask why - let's just say the government won't spring for it and leave it at that). It's awfully hard to blog on an iTouch, so I didn't.

It also meant I couldn't keep up with work email. When I downloaded my email Monday, I had over 1000 messages vying for my attention. So much for predicting the AL and NL East. However, today, all that is in the past, so I will attempt to beat the odds and predict the order of finish in the NL Central.

1. Chicago Cubs. As much as it pains me to say, this team is still the class of the division. Zambrano (even with arm questions), Harden, Lilly, Dempster, make up a solid rotation. Sean Marshall should be an upgrade over Marquis. Even with Wood gone, the bullpen is still formidable - Gregg closing, Marmol still setting up, Heilman, Samardzija, et al. Questions do abound in the lineup. Why did they trade DeRosa away? Can Bradley stay healthy for a whole season (I say no)? Can Fukudome hit at all (again, not at the ML level IMHO)? However, Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, Soto are legit, Theriot will set the table, and that should be enough.

2. St Louis. Carpenter is back, and that bodes well for the team. Rotation looks solid, assuming Wainwright can regain his pre-finger injury form, Lohse didn't have a "once in 5 year" season in 2008, Wellemeyer continues to progress, and Piniero pitches like a man in a contract year (in other words, for food beyond 2009). Loss of Glaus, with no timetable for return (as reported today in the Post-Dispatch), hurts a lot. Hope Freese is as good as we think he is. Hope Rasmus starts the season in LF. Hope Ludwick can protect Pujols. Hope Khalil isn't just a March Mirage.

The bullpen should be adequate to great (depending on how Motte develops as a closer with Perez in AAA). This team should be good enough to win the Wild Card. I've predicted 90 wins, and will stand by that. A few lucky breaks, and we win the division, but that's a long shot.

Now it gets interesting. I don't see much difference between them, so just for fun:

3. Pittsburgh. They're due. Maholm, Duke, Snell, make a good young nucleus of a rotation. Lineup is anchored by Doumit and McLouth. The LaRoche boys and Freddie Sanchez will it out nicely. Bullpen will blow its share of saves, but this team will be competitive. And it's about time for one of the anchor franchises of the league to return to some semblance of competency.

4. Milwaukee. Let's see....Sabathia's a Yankee, Sheets is hurt again, Cardinal cast-offs Suppan and Looper make up 2/5 of the rotation, Hoffman's on the DL. This team can hit a ton, but if you can't get anyone out, who cares? .500 at best. Not a factor in the race. They will still torture the Cardinals, though.

5. Cincinnati. Another train wreck. Griffey's back having lattes (good for the Reds), Dunn is in DC (defensively good, but that's a huge hole in the middle of the order), Phillips is good, Votto and Bruce are legit, but the rest of the lineup won't make you recall the '27 Yankees. Pitching? Well, let's just say when you play in a broom closet, even having 5 Walter Johnson's isn't a guarantee of success. Their starting 5 (Harang, Volquez, Cueto, Arroyo, Owings) ain't exactly Walter Johnson incarnate. Until they modify that ballpark to give their pitching staff a fighting chance, or go exclusively with sinkerball pitchers who will cause opposing hitters to pound the ball into the ground, this franchise won't smell the playoffs again.

6. Houston. This pains me since Roy Oswalt is on my UCB fantasy league team. But disarray in spring training doesn't bode well for array in the regular season. You can't change a leopard's spots.

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