Monday, March 07, 2005

MLB Preview 5: NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals

David Eckstein SS
Larry Walker RF
Albert Pujols 1B
Scott Rolen 3B
Jim Edmonds CF
Reggie Sanders/Roger Cedeno LF
Mark Grudzielanek 2B
Yadier Molina/Einar Diaz C

Matt Morris
Mark Mulder
Jason Marquis
Chris Carpenter
Jeff Suppan
Al Reyes
Rick Ankiel

I don't think a team could be more stacked 2-6. Eckstein is a great addition to this team for his heart and hustle - so don't listen to what the fat, bald computer nerd baseball "fans" have to say about him. Grudzielanek is a decent veteran pickup. Their choices at catcher aren't much, but bother #3 of the Fabulous Catching Molinas may surprise some people. The bench is OK, but if I recall correctly, Tony LaRussa isn't a big bench man. Bo Hart, Cedeno, and defensive replacement So Taguchi highligh the bench bunch.
The rotation may not look overly impressive, but believe me when I say that those starters can put up some good numbers. They have 4 good starters (all 4 were on my fantasy draft board), and Suppan is a good #5. Anything Ankiel can do is a bonus (laugh all you want, Dave). There were no major changes in a bullpen that features an underrated Jason Isringhausen,

Houston Astros

Craig Biggio LF/2B
Adam Everett/Jose Vizcaino SS
Jeff Bagwell 1B
Lance Berkman CF
Morgan Ensberg/Mike Lamb 3B
Jason Lane RF
Chris Burke 2B/Orlando Palmiero LF
Brad Ausmus C

Roy Oswalt
Roger Clemens
Andy Pettitte
Pete Munro
Tim Redding
Brandon Backe
Carlos Hernandez
Brandon Duckworth

I'm not sure what you do with the lineup here. It looks like Houston will keep Biggio in left and start Baseball America Top 100 prospect Burke at second. However you slice it, this lineup is not nearly as good as last year's, and if Biggio and Bagwell don't have it, Berkman will have to carry this team. That is, if pitchers just don't pitch around him every at bat. Bench? Well, they're all up there, other than Houston's other BA Top 100 guy, OF Willy Taveras.
So, the Astros have a pitcher on their 40-man named Mark McLemore. I see this and I think, "Is McLemore making the switch just like Mark Lemke, who was last seen as a coach/knuckleballing reliever in High-A ball?" No, it turns out that this is a different McLemore - the Mark McLemore we all know and love is still with the A's. Of course, with the utility McLemore born in '64, it's somewhat possible that the pitching McLemore is a Junior. OK, back to the guys who actually have player pages on The top 3 in this rotation can be as good as any - if they stay healthy. After that, it's not so certain. Munro was mediocre last year. Redding is a veteran stopgap. Duckworth has to find a form that may be lost. Only Backe, who I became a big fan of last year, shows a glimmer of hope. The bullpen may not be Lidge-Dotel-Wagner any more, but John Franco-Lidge isn't bad at all. That's especially due to the "Lidge" part. Not only did Lidge blow away the single-season strikeout record for a reliever, but he was also an absolute hoss in the playoffs - he never even looked tired, and he just shut down anyone he faced. Lidge could be the difference maker in the battle for second place in this division, and for the wildcard.

Chicago Cubs

Todd Walker 2B
Corey Patterson CF
Nomar Garciaparra SS
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Jeromy Burnitz RF
Derrek Lee 1B
Michael Barrett C
Todd Hollandsworth/Jerry Hairston, Jr. LF

Kerry Wood
Mark Prior
Carlos Zambrano
Greg Maddux
Glendon Rusch
Sergio Mitre

With the downgrade to Houston's lineup this year, the Cubs have a major chance to pass them up. Do they have the team to do it, though? Burnitz/Alou were dead even stat-wise last year. Are Nomar/Hollandworth better than Gonzalez/Sosa? Does it matter if the rotation puts up? How many random middle infielders will the Cubs sign this year? (They look to break camp with Jose Macias and Neifi Perez coming off the bench.)
Who's the Number 1 in this rotation? More importantly, who's the Number 5? Only 7 guys started for the Northsiders last year, and these are the 6 left. Wood, Prior, and Maddux probably couldn't survive a 4-man rotation, so can Rusch and Mitre step up? Or does it even matter. The bullpen may be the most important part of this team. Who will close? (No, really, I'm asking - it's probably been decided, but I haven't seen anything.) Who will set up for him? Unless a Joe Borowski or a Ryan Dempster can prove he can get the job done, don't be surprised to see a move for a big closer if the Cubs are still in it for the wildcard come July.

Cincinnati Reds

D'Angelo Jimenez 2B
Sean Casey 1B
Ken Griffey, Jr. CF
Adam Dunn LF
Austin Kearns/Wily Mo Pena RF
Joe Randa 3B
Jason LaRue/Javier Valentin C
Filipe Lopez/Anderson Machado SS

Paul Wilson
Eric Milton
Ramon Ortiz
Aaron Harang
Luke Hudson
Jose Acevedo
Brandon Claussen
Luke Hudson
Josh Hancock
Jung Bong

Give me Jimenez, Casey, Dunn, LaRue, and Valentin. The rest I could do without. Why, tell me, do you sign Randa and stick him in front of Ryan Freel? The bench of Valentin, Pena (even if he's a nutcase), Machado, and Freel isn't too bad, but don't confuse this team for a contender.
Wilson is an underrated starter, especially on a bad team. Milton was probably overpaid for (I don't have the numbers - I'm just assuming). Ortiz is a decent fit on this team. Harang is another in a long line of washed-up prospects who found their way to the Cincinnati rotation. That being said, his numbers last year (10-9, 4.86 ERA) look good. The bullpen is better than you might think (maybe). Ben Weber and Kent Mercker pave the way for Danny Graves. Last year, Graves had 41 saves, even if his method wasn't pretty at first. (He had a 5+ ERA at the beginning of the season before ending at 3.98.)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Matt Lawton RF
Jack Wilson SS
Jason Bay LF
Craig Wilson 1B
Rob Mackowiak 3B
Benito Santiago C
Tike Redman CF
Jose Castillo 2B

Oliver Perez
Kip Wells
Josh Fogg
Ryan Vogelsong
Mark Redman
Sean Burnett
Dave Williams
John van Benschoten

Interesting lineup here. Normally, Lawton bats 1st on a good team and 3rd on a bad team. But then I realized that Pittsburgh doesn't have a leadoff hitter (Redman's .310 OBP last year disqualifies him). So, I moved Bay up to 3rd (although Craig Wilson may end up there), filled in the next few guys, and the next thing I new I didn't need Santiago until the 6 hole. Not too bad. Not great, but not too bad. The bench features Freddy Sanchez (formerly a great middle infield prospect, but he still has time) and Ty Wigginton (formerly a great 3B prospect - sensing a pattern?)
The rotation looks pretty good on paper, especially with Top 100 prospect van Benschoten. But who will setup for Jose Mesa, and when will Mesa again realize that he sucks?

Milwaukee Brewers

Junior Spivey/Rickie Weeks 2B
Bill Hall/JJ Hardy SS
Carlos Lee LF
Geoff Jenkins RF
Lyle Overbay 1B
Wes Helms/Russ Branyon 3B
Brady Clark CF
Damian Miller/Chad Moeller C

Ben Sheets
Doug Davis
Victor Santos
Chris Capuano
Ben Hendrickson
Wes Obermueller
Jorge de la Rosa
Gary Glover
Matt Wise
Jose Capellan
Ben Diggins

I'll count Bobby Crosby, Khalil Greene, Kaz Matsui, and Jose Reyes as established players. That being said, here are the top three Gammonsesque double play combinations:
1. Weeks/Hardy
2. BJ Upton/anyone
3. Brandon Phillips/Jhonny Peralta
This team has some talent, it's just not there yet. And Weeks and Hardy only count for 2 of the 5 Brewers on the BA Top 100 list, which also includes Capellan and Prince Fielder. (By the way - add Prince to the impressive list of "we saw him when"s that we saw at ND - Carmelo, Wade, Tom Brady, the list just goes on.)
Now that we know of the far future, what about the near future - namely this July? Whose jersey will Ben Sheets be wearing on August 1st, and who will step up to take his place? Can Ricky Bottalico take the place of Danny Kolb? Why haven't I mentioned RP/OF Brooks Kieshnick yet? Why do I ask so many questions?