2011 National League Central Preview
Strengths: Everyone on this team is young and a work in progress. 2B Neil Walker, 3B Pedro Alvarez, and OF Garrett Jones all have shown promise, but as long as they are playing in Pittsburgh, they won’t get much recognition. The addition of 1B Lyle Overbay will give the offense a much-needed boost.
Weaknesses: Pitching. They had a team ERA of 5.00 and lost 105 games last season. Need I say more?
Analysis: Hang on Pittsburgh fans, you are in for another long season. It probably won’t be as bad as last year, but you can expect another bottom-of-the-barrel performance. You have to give them credit for trying.
Prediction: 6th in NL Central
Strengths: SP Brett Myers and SP Wandy Rodriguez hope to put together good seasons at the top of the Astros’s rotation. The problem is that after those two starters, the Astros have too many guys fighting for the remaining three positions. 3B Chris Johnson is making a name for himself and will need to help protect the big boppers, OFs Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence.
Weaknesses: Second-year players C Jason Castro and 1B Brett Wallace will need to fill in the gaps for the Astros who had a relatively quiet off-season. RP Brandon Lyon is a big question mark as the closer, and if he can’t do the job, they may need to resort to an undesirable closer by committee situation.
Analysis: The Astros weren’t able to address all of their problems via free agency and trades, so they will be putting their season in the hands of a lot of young guys. The starting rotation could be a revolving door, and the Astros could get buried in the NL Central early in the season.
Prediction: 5th in NL Central
Strengths: The Brewers picked up SP Zack Greinke who will give them a much needed number one starter. He will be great insurance for an offense featuring 1B Prince Fielder, OF Ryan Braun, 3B Casey McGehee, 2B Richie Weeks and OF Corey Hart, all of whom had 20+ HRs and 80+ RBIs in 2010.
Weaknesses: Middle relief caused problems last season and the Brewers can expect much of the same in 2011. The Brewers hope that picking up SS Yuniesky Betancourt can sure up the middle of the field.
Analysis: The Brewers can hit, that much we know. They will need Greinke to have a stellar season along with SP Yovani Gallardo if they want to contend. Closer John Axford will be the x-factor in helping them save close games.
Prediction: 4th in NL Central
Strengths: The reigning NL MVP, 1B Joey Votto, returns along with OFs Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce, the three of whom combined for 84 HRs and 260 RBI last year. SP Edinson Volquez, who missed half of 2010 due to a drug suspension and injury, looks to regain the stuff he had during his 17-win performance in 2008. Flame-throwing rookie RP Aroldis Chapman prepares for his first full season.
Weaknesses: The Reds didn’t have problems scoring runs last year, but they did strike out a lot. Their bench isn’t very deep and will need to rely on their starters to carry them most of the way.
Analysis: Taking the NL Central crown away from the Cardinals or Cubs is tough to do once, let alone for two years in a row. That is what the Reds are hoping to do in 2011, and they are bringing back most of their players for the fight. Manager Dusty Baker seems to win wherever he manages, so don’t count out a repeat from the Reds.
Prediction: 3rd in NL Central
Strengths: The Cubs landed power-hitting 1B Carlos Pena and SP Matt Garza this off-season. They also re-acquired RP Kerry Wood to shore up the bullpen. The Cubs hope to make a strong push for the division with a mix of young guys, like SS Starlin Casto and OF Tyler Colvin, and veterans, like 3B Aramis Ramirez and SP Ryan Dempster. Having the fire-baller Carlos Marmol closing out games is always a plus.
Weaknesses: SP Carlos Zambrano is a wild card. He was forced to take anger management classes, missing part of the 2010 season, but then returned to finish out the season 8-0. If he implodes again, so could the team. OF Alfonso Soriano’s production has been declining in recent years and could be a drag on the team if they continue to play him only because of his big contract.
Analysis: Another year, another chance to break the curse and win a World Series for the first time since 1908. New manager Mike Quade showed signs of hope in 2010, helping the team finish out the season with a 24-13 record. Adding Garza to the rotation should help make up for an offense that can be stagnant at times.
Prediction: 2nd in NL Central
St. Louis Cardinals
Strengths: The addition of OF Lance Berkman will help perennial all-star 1B Albert Pujols and OF Matt Holliday get some more hitting opportunities in 2011. SPs Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Jaime Garcia are three of the best starters in the NL. Facing them in a three-game series is most NL teams’ nightmare.
Weaknesses: Closer Ryan Franklin looked human in 2010, and the Cardinals are still searching for a reliable fourth and fifth starter. SS Ryan Theriot could prove to be a bust after he had a career year in Chicago last season.
Analysis: The Cardinals want to bring the NL Central title back to St. Louis, and they can do it with their pitching. Young guys like OF Colby Rasmus and 3B David Freese stepped up last year, and another year playing with Pujols will only make them better.
Prediction: 1st in NL Central