Today marks that usual part of the year where we try like hell not to be homers, and usually fail to some extent. Without further delay, our predictions for the NL Central standings in 2009:
- Chicago Cubs – Anyone not picking the Cubs at the top of this division is fooling themselves (sorry Sarah!). That’s not to say the Cubs can’t screw this up, but even after kissing favorite son Kerry Wood goodbye and inexplicably trading away Mark DeRosa, they are still the class of the division in terms of talent. Adding Milton Bradley certainly improves the lineup, but what effect will his foundering defense (think Chris Duncan, but probably worse) and moreover his clubhouse attitude, have on the team? They already have their resident headcase within the organization. Rotation is stout, when healthy. Lineup compares favorably with most in the majors. I’ll give them 96 wins and another early exit in the playoffs.
- St Louis Cardinals – Improved (overall) at shortstop. Improved offensively at second base (defense is an ongoing experiment). Outfield over-crowding has been mitigated. Somewhat. For now. For the first time in a season or two, the Cardinals can boast relative health throughout the roster *knocking loudly on wood*. Chris Carpenter, Chris Duncan, and Adam Wainwright all appear recovered from ailments that plagued them in 2008. Many of us have said all along that if Carp could make 20-30 starts, this is a different team. So far, so good. Troy Glaus’ injury situation seems to infer that it will be a luxury if he contributes anything meaningful to this team, creating an opening for the inevitable immediate evaluations of the Jim Edmonds trade when David Freese winds up as the starting third baseman. The bullpen can’t get any worse right? Will be interesting to see if Tony will stick with Jason Motte as he fights through his inevitable growing pains and hitters catch up with his fastball. I’ll give them 92 wins and the NL Wild Card, then I’d stack up Carp, Waino, and Lohse against just about any playoff rotation you’d see in MLB.
- (tie) Milwaukee Brewers
- (tie) Cincinnati Reds – both at 81 wins, these clubs are seemingly headed in different directions. The Brewers went all-in last year to make the playoffs and then fizzle out, now they’re left holding the bag. Gone are their top two starting pitchers, leaving a shell of a pitching staff with a young, explosive offense. Problem is, the clock is ticking on many of those guys already, and Milwaukee likely won’t have the capital to retain them. The Brewers will have to come up with more arms like Yovani Gallardo from within if they are to sustain any sort of successful run. In Cincinnati, Uncle Walt Jocketty has begun to work his magic again. We’re not far enough removed from Walt’s successes in St Louis to forget the job he did turning around a proud, but stale and moribund franchise into a perennial winner. He’s already established the base for a new era in Cincinnati with young talent, and as long as he can keep Dusty Baker from overusing their young starting pitchers (oh, who am I kidding?) the Reds should be on the rise for several years to come.
- Houston Astros – 70 wins (tops). Great, they signed Pudge Rodriguez. They still have Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. Is there any other reason to watch this team? Methinks ole Drayton McLane put too much energy into pursuing three months worth of starts out of Roger Clemens for too many years, and neglected the decay creeping into his franchise. A dismal spring doesn’t always predict a poor season, but in this case, I think the ‘Stros are in trouble.
- Pittsburgh Pirates – Neal Huntington has this team headed in the right direction, but the time is not now. If there is a higher power, one can only hope he/she sees fit to give Pittsburgh a Pirates team worthy of their beautiful ballpark and long-suffering fans. Perhaps they should give Barry Bonds’ agent a call? You know, for old times? Chalk up the Bucs for about 68 wins.
UCB Radio tonight at 9:30pm CT! Join us as we chat about Spring Training winding down, and we also get to spend some time with Pat from Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? about the opening regular season series with the Pittsburgh Pirates! Call in at 646.929.1758 to join in the discussion!