In 2010, the Cincinnati Reds captured the National League Central over under achieving teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers. This year might be a bit more difficult for the Reds to repeat and the Chicago Cubs have a lot to prove. Oh, and a SPOILER ALERT: The Pittsburgh Pirates will still be horrible.
1st – Milwaukee Brewers – The Brew Crew finally made improvements where they needed them: their pitching staff. During a busy off season, Milwaukee traded for Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum to give their pitching staff some much needed help. Along with Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers can now compete with the pitching staff of St. Louis. The bullpen is average as they hope LaTroy Hawkins can regain his 2009 form and John Axford can repeat what he did last year. Those moves with their starting pitching could be what keeps free agent to be Prince Fielder in Milwaukee. Along with Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, and Rickie Weeks, the Brewers can put up a lot of runs. Now, they have the pitching to stop giving them up.
2nd – St. Louis Cardinals – The Cardinals’ top two of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter is one of the best in the game. After that with Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse is a bit of a drop off, but in the NL Central, that should get them by. Their bullpen is decent with Ryan Franklin closing out games, but they will need to stay competitive to keep Albert Pujols in town if he doesn’t get his extension by his deadline. Besides Pujols, St. Louis has Matt Holliday…and that’s about it. Colby Rasmus had a decent 2010 and if he can build on that, St. Louis can make a run at the Wild Card.
3rd – Chicago Cubs – I’m torn between the Cubs and Reds, but I think the Cubs just have better pitching. The Cubs added Matt Garza, which was a nice move, to go along with Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano (provided he doesn’t lead the league in temper tantrums). With Carlos Marmol at the back end of games, and Sean Marshall with Kerry Wood bridging the gap to Marmol, Chicago’s bullpen looks pretty good. Offensively, if their players can live up to their contracts, they should be fine. Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, and Geovany Soto can push some runs across, which might even put them in the Wild Card conversation.
4th – Cincinnati Reds – I put the Reds below Chicago because I think last year was a bit of a fluke. Scott Rolen played in the most games since 2006, and I seriously doubt he will do that again this year. Cincinnati still has reigning MVP Joey Votto at first base, and with the help of Drew Stubbs, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips, they can still score a lot. I think Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez will do well, but I just don’t see Bronson Arroyo winning 14 games this year, let alone the 17 he won last year. The bullpen looks good with Francisco Cordero and Aroldis Chapman, but that won’t get them back to the playoffs this year.
5th – Houston Astros – The Astros have decent starting pitching with Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, and J.A. Happ, but I’m not too sure who will score runs for them. Carlos Lee’s home run totals have dropped every year since 2007 and he isn’t getting any younger. Michael Bourn was an All Star in 2010, thanks to the MLB Pity Rule, and Hunter Pence is pretty good, but I’m not sure where the rest of the runs will come from. The ‘Stros bullpen is average, but it won’t matter anyway as they’ll be struggling to give their bullpen a lead in the first place.
6th – Pittsburgh Pirates – Andrew McCutchen should sue for punitive damages. I’m not sure I really need to write anything about a team that has been in last place the last four years in a row and has not had a winning season since 1992. So I won’t.