The NL Central has produced the past three NL representatives for the World Series. Don't look for that pattern to continue in 2007. The better question is will the division winner finish above .500? Don't get me wrong, the division race will be tight, since every team is equally crappy, so everyone has a shot at it...except the Pirates.
To the Teams:
The much ballyhooed Alfonso Soriano joins Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez to make a potent 3-4-5 order in the lineup. He also joins Cliff Floyd, Jason Marquis, Ted Lilly, and new Manager Lou Pinella as new additions to the team. While Floyd and Lilly, aren't flashy, they certainly are solid players and fit nicely into their spots on the team. Pinella knows what a pitch count is, so Carlos Zambrano should be rejoicing. As for Marquis, well Cubs fans better hope this Chicago performance was an anomaly. Still Ryan Dempster as the closer? I'm sure after 5 blown saves in April, Kerry Wood will be convinced to take the job over by Sweet Lou. I also propose that they stitch together the working parts of Wade Miller and Mark Prior Frankenstein style. The resulting Wark Prioller should make a serviceable 5th starter.
The Reds pitchers remind me of a Cincy delicacy, Skyline Chili. At first glance it looks and sounds like a good thing, but the next morning requires several visits to the bathroom. The good looks: Bronson Arroyo looked rather impressive season with 14 wins and a top 5 ERA. Aaron Harang let the NL in strikeouts last year. No seriously, look. To make that even more impressive Harang did that without facing teammate Adam Dunn who gave 194 K's to NL pitchers. Oh but here comes the morning after: Eric Milton's 29 HRs allowed in 26 games, Kyle Lohse's stellar 5.83 ERA, and a bullpen that has Mike Stanton, Gary Majewski, and Rheal Cormier. Someone should find out if Ryan Freel's imaginary friend Farney can pitch middle relief. The Reds hope is that Dunn can make contact more than he misses, and Ken Griffey Jr. will be allowed to take the field in a uniform made of bubble wrap.
To fill the void left by Andy Pettitte and the retiring(until July when he picks a the team that is doing best and will cower to his ridiculous demands) Roger Clemens, the Astros brought in Jason Jennings and Woody Williams. Jason Jennings comes from Colorado so having an ERA above 5 is no big deal for him. Woody Williams will be in for a bit of a rude awakening when fly balls that would fall harmlessly into outfielders mitts at Petco Park, will now be landing several rows back in the stands. Also Brad Lidge is back at closer, what could possibly go wrong? The Astros are counting on free agent arrival Carlos Lee to score the runs the pitching staff concedes. He had better because Brad Ausmus sure isn't going to do it for you. But then again Houston's patented late season push, might be enough to get them in the playoffs.
Of any team in the Central, surprisingly Milwaukee is the one with the most potential. Contributions from Prince Fielder, Geoff Jenkins and Kevin Mench can fill the hole left by Carlos Lee. quality players Craig Counsell, Richie Weeks, and Bill Hall round out the line-up. As for pitching, Francisco Cordero looks to solidify the closer position, and Chris Capuano is a legit number one pitcher. If they can get a healthy Ben Sheets(a big if) that gives the Brew Crew one of the best 1-2 combos in the league, let alone the division. If Jeff Suppan is as motivated to shut down opposing hitters as he is to stopping stem-cell research then look out NL Central.
Zach Duke, Jason Bay, and Tom Gorzelanny. Other than that there isn't much to look forward to for the Pirates. I guess PNC Park is kinda cool. Oh, all the Tigers coaching staff are former Pirates, so come join Tigers fans until your team gets good. Whats a few more people on the bandwagon.
St. Louis Cardinals
The defending "champs" return a line-up without a great deal of changes. The only difference in position players is Adam Kennedy in for Rafael Belliard at 2nd base. Now I know GM Walt Jocketty can feel good knowing that he has Albert Pujols is his line-up, but this is a team that went 83-78 last year. You couldn't find any way to make the team better? I don't know maybe getting rid of Jim Edmonds for an outfielder who won't shatter like fine china. Maybe a shortstop who can actually ride a roller coaster. A third baseman who actually wants to play for his manager, perhaps? Your rotation has Kip Wells and Braden Looper as starters. Kip Wells wasn't good enough for the Pirates, and now he's more than likely the number two guy in St. Louis. Braden Looper isn't that good of a relief pitcher and you're going to stick him out there for 6 to 7 innings at a time? And for some reason your putting Jason Isringhausen back in the closer role. Were you watching what Adam Wainwright did last year? Have fun watching the playoff from home. And no I'm not bitter about the Tigers losing to the Cardinals.
1) Milwaukee (85-77)
2) Chicago (83-79)
3) Cincinnati (82-80)
4) Houston (79-83)
5) St. Louis (74-88)
6) Pittsburgh (68-94)