2012 Predictions: National League Central

Predictions for the National League continue with a look at the NL Central.

The National League Central is home to six teams, one of which being the reigning World Series Champions.  A tough division to win and it’s set to be another close season in 2012.

​When Theo packed up his guitar and rode into Chicago on his white stallion, little did Boston fans know that he was only worth an injured pitcher whose name will always be prefixed by “The Other”. Well, this time Epstein hasn’t inherited a World Series capable squad nor has he created one this off-season. Don’t get me wrong, I like Paul Malholm and Brian LaHair but only for comedy fantasy team names. Clearly Theo needs to rebuild this franchise and, even though I jest, he is probably just the guy to do it. Dale Sveum might not be the manager for it but I predict the Cubs will at least contest the World Series before 2020.

Dusty Baker and the Big Red Machine have just signed 2 time all star and 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto to a 10 year contract extension worth $225 million. He joins A-Rod, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols in the $200 million contract club. With 12 years left on his contract and a full no trade clause, it seems likely that Votto will remain a Red for his whole career. Take that, LA Dodgers. The Reds were the unlucky party to sign Ryan Madson, a deal that originally looked like a steal, but they have a worthy replacement in Sean Marshall who should be capable of 30+ saves this year. Homer Bailey continues to battle with the Oakland A’s Grant Balfour for most ironic pitcher name.

Brad Mills has the pleasure of taking charge of  probably the worst team in baseball yet again.The Astros only managed 56 wins last year but they have improved; adding Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland in the trade that sent closer Mark Melancon to Boston. Lowrie has the potential to be an asset both offensively and defensively if he can stay healthy, a sprained right thumb already landing him on the DL to start the year. First year GM ​Jeff Luhnow is already talking about playing “fundamental, sound baseball” this year, so expectations are rightly tempered. This will be the last year in the National League for the Astros, they move to the American League West in 2013, which is pretty exciting news for Oakland and Seattle.

The Brewers may no longer use Fed Ex for deliveries but they are, in part, the reason that Ryan Braun is on the field as the season begins. Ron Roenicke will be hoping Braun continues to use his talents to power the Brewers offence as Prince Fielder is currently settling into his new Detroit digs with just about enough money to buy his weight in Lincoln Navigators and Martha & The Vandellas records. Reports on Zack Greinke suggest he hasn’t played any basketball this spring and after an exceptional 2011 he could win 20 games in a full season this year. With a strong showing heading into free agency, in the aftermath of the Matt Cain deal, Greinke could be looking at a substantial pay day if he can convince teams he is not an issue in the clubhouse.

​The black, gold and white of the Buccos hasn’t been seen with the Commissioner’s trophy since 1979 and while it’s unlikely we will see it again this year, the Pirates do have some intriguing pieces in place. Erik Bedard showed in his first game what Boston thought might have been. If he can stay healthy, he will be good. If there is one glaring weakness it’s the lack of height in the outfield, as they don’t have a single outfielder over 5’11”. My suggestion to Clint Hurdle would be to convert 6’7″ pitcher Jared Hughes into a tall outfielder otherwise this could be a tough year for flyball pitcher James McDonald. AJ Burnett and Charlie Morton have both shown good groundball percentages recently and Burnett should certainly sport a better ERA this year than he did in 2011. Just don’t ask him to bunt.

​From winning the World Series, to losing your longest serving manager and some player who was the 402nd overall pick in the 1999 draft, lately Cardinals fans have been through as much emotion as you can imagine in sports. The highs and lows of recent memory need to be put behind them as the job of doing it all again has begun. You can’t replace Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa, but you also don’t need them to win the World Series. Untried new manager and former Cardinals catcher, Mike Matheny, has to prove this theory by putting together another competitive season. Losing Chris Carpenter before the start of the season echoes the loss of Wainwright before the 2011 campaign, although it appears Carpenter will return at some point. Adversity frequently galvanises teams and the Cardinals have the feel of a team that play for each other no matter who is on the field that day. With another trip to the post season this year, there will be little talk of the hombre who walked.

 

Next time: Predictions for the NL West