Sunday, March 07, 2004

MLB Preview #5: NL Central

Chicago Cubs

Mark Grudzielanek/Todd Walker 2b
Corey Patterson CF
Sammy Sosa RF
Moises Alou LF
Derrek Lee 1b
Aramis Ramirez 3b
Alex Gonzalez SS
Michael Barrett C
Kerry Wood
Greg Maddux
Mark Prior
Matt Clement
Carlos Zambrano
Juan Cruz
Well, they came close last year, so this offseason they only got better. I don't see how there's any argument at all about the second base job - it should be Walker hands down. Barrett is an improvement at catcher. The bullpen looks great with the likes of LaTroy Hawkins, and should be a good complement to this rotation. The bench looks a little shaky, but when you look at the lineup and the pitching staff, you realize the bench is good enough. Top this all off with Corey Patterson's return, and this should be another good year for the Cubbies.

Houston Astros

Craig Biggio CF
Morgan Ensberg 3b
Jeff Bagwell 1b
Jeff Kent 2b
Lance Berkman LF
Richard Hidalgo RF
Brad Ausmus C
Adam Everett SS
Roy Oswalt
Andy Pettitte
Roger Clemens
Wade Miller
Tim Redding
The Astros decided to get rid of Billy Wagner, figuring Octavio Dotel and ND grad Brad Lidge could more than make up for him. I don't know if I agree, though. If you have a lights-out bullpen, why not keep it at that? Why play revolving door at closer? We'll see how that experiment works out.
The big news this offseason was the addition of Pettitte and Clemens. Why aren't they starting on opening day? Well, Roy Oswalt has already proven himself as the Astros ace, so why give that job to a new guy? Plus, Oswalt is probably better than Pettitte and Clemens right now; he just suffers from a few injuries and lack of media attention from not living in New York.
There were few other changes to this aging ballclub. In a way, this is the other side of the Indians' coin as far as "our stars are getting older and we still haven't gotten over the hump for a championship yet." Cleveland decided to ship out the stars and rebuild, while Houston decided to keep Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, et al. around. I'm very curious to see how this turns out. And hey, if Houston does win it all this year, I think it's great that the Astros would be able to reward the "Killer B's" for sticking around and staying true to their roots.

St Louis Cardinals

Marlon Anderson/Bo Hart 2b
Edgar Renteria SS
Albert Pujols 1b
Jim Edmonds CF
Scott Rolen 3b
Reggie Sanders RF
Kerry Robinson/So Taguchi/Mark Quinn LF
Mike Matheny C
Matt Morris
Woody Williams
Chris Carpenter
Jeff Suppan
Jason Marquis
I look at this team, and all I can think is that they'll finish 3rd in the division again (barring a very possible collapse by the Astros). The lineup has highs and lows - as you can see, there's no left fielder as of right now. Bo Hart and Edgar Renteria played out of their minds last year, so there's no guarantee they'll repeat that. Plus, Jim Edmonds and Reggie Sanders have to start getting old sooner or later.
I like Suppan and Marquis at the bottom of the rotation, and with the likes of Julian Tavarez, Steve Kline, and Jason Simmontacchi in the bullpen, the staff looks very solid. But, like I said, "solid" will probably only lead them to another 3rd place finish in this tough division.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Tike Redman CF
Jason Kendall C
Craig Wilson/Randall Simon 1b
Raul Mondesi/Daryle Ward RF
Jason Bay/Rob Mackowiak LF
Chris Stynes/Chris Truby 3b
Jackie Wilson SS
Freddy Sanchez 2b
Kris Benson
Kip Wells
Josh Fogg
Oliver Perez
Rick Reed
Ryan Vogelsong
Dave Williams
So much indecision in this lineup. The Pirates have played so many no-namers in the middle infield these past few years that I'm still waiting for my callup to Pittsburgh. Third base is a charmer. Chris "my name isn't Kelly Stinnett!" Stynes is about as generic a utility infielder as you can get. Chris Truby is most famous for being a cult hero on Baseball after some ranting fan tried to use his name in an example about how the media treats Albert Belle. My was that a conversation.
As for the Rick Reed, Raul Mondesi, and Jose Mesa signings (you can't make this group up, plus Mesa is penciled in to close this year): why must you spend $5mil a year for a guy to hit .240 or have an ERA of 5.25? Can't you find someone in your minor league system who will do it for $300,000 a year? It just seems to me that the Pirates haven't been spending wisely as of late.

Cincinnati Reds

D'Angelo Jimenez 2b
Barry Larkin SS
Sean Casey 1b
Ken Griffey, Jr. CF
Austin Kearns LF
Adam Dunn RF
Brandon Larson 3b
Jason LaRue C
Paul Wilson
Corey Lidle
Jimmy Haynes
Brandon Claussen
Aaron Harang
Juan Acevedo
I should put up a huge asterisk in 72 point font that notes that this is the Reds' opening day lineup. For an example, take this SAT-style comparison:
Reds' outfield:hamstrings::
(read: the Reds' outfield is to hamstrings as...)
a. Tom Timmermans:Dutch
b. Ellen:loving Kanka
c. Boumtje:Boumtje
d. Shea Ralph:ACLs
If you answered (d), you're correct. Griffey Jr./Kearns/Dunn pretty much guarantees a hamstring pull per month. Add to that Barry Larkin's age and perennial injury problems at third (let's just say Aaron Boone's latest injury wasn't his first), and this lineup won't be together for anywhere close to 162 games.
As for the pitching staff, the only comment I have is that it appears to be a list of young "future stars" who never worked out for other clubs - Lidle, Claussen, and Harang are the big ones here. Of course, who knows, maybe they just need a little more time. It wouldn't at all surprise me, however, to see Casey Fossum pitching for the Reds by the end of July.

Milwaukee Brewers

Craig Counsell SS
Scott Podsednik CF
Junior Spivey 2b
Geoff Jenkins LF
Wes Helms 3b
Ben Grieve RF
Lyle Overbay 1b
Chad Moeller C
Ben Sheets
Doug Davis
Matt Kinney
Wayne Franklin
Wes Obermueller
So, do you come here often? Brewers fans don't. The Brewers, or as I like to call them, "the Arizona Diamondbacks split squad," don't look any closer to crawling out of the basement this year. Spivey is a solid hitter, and Counsell will be great veteran leadership. But the loss of Richie Sexson really hurts the Brewers. Stuck in a "swing for the fences" lineup, Geoff Jenkins has never been able to put of the batting average numbers he did in college, and now he has injury problems to worry about as well. Wes Helms and Ben Grieve are two more guys with an "all or nothing, but mostly nothing" swing, which won't help Jenkins at all. Add in the fact that Ben Sheets is the only halfway decent pitcher on the entire staff, and this may be another ugly year for the team that inhabits "the good land."