Albert Pujols, Starlin Castro, and The New Big Red Machine: A Comprehensive NL Central Preview

As pitchers and catchers report all over baseball, now is a great time to look forward to the summer with a little baseball talk.

Here's a comprehensive look at the National League Central.

(new players on each team are bold)

S Castro.jpg

Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs

2010 Finish: 75-87 (5th)

Manager: Mike Quade

Lineup

  • C - Geovany Soto (Koyie Hill/Max Ramirez)
  • 1B - Carlos Pena
  • 2B - Blake DeWitt (Jeff Baker)
  • SS - Starlin Castro
  • 3B - Aramis Ramirez
  • LF - Alfonso Soriano
  • CF - Marlon Byrd
  • RF - Tyler Colvin (Kosuke Fukudome)

Pitching Rotation

  1. Matt Garza
  2. Ryan Dempster
  3. Carlos Zambrano
  4. Randy Wells
  5. TBD

Bullpen

  • Carlos Marmol - closer
  • Kerry Wood
  • Sean Marshall
  • John Grabow

The Story

Castro, quietly, put up numbers that haven't been seen from a teenager in decades last year and could become the exciting player Cubs fans have been praying for since... ever. The question for Quade will be where to hit Castro and everyone else in a lineup that, despite only having one new face to begin this year, is dramatically different than 12 months ago.

A lot of the hopes in 2011 will be placed on the shoulders of two former Tampa Bay Rays: Pena and Garza. Garza posted good numbers in the most offensive division in the game last year, and Pena could benefit from playing at Wrigley Field.

Spring Training will determine a big part of the pitching staff: where does phenom Andrew Cashner fit? Will it be as the team's fifth starter, bumping Carlos Silva, James Russell, Justin Berg and Jeff Samardzija to the pen (or Iowa), or will he give Quade another lethal arm at the end of the pen?

Do they have what it takes to win the division? On paper, probably not. But it's the intangibles - health, luck and consistency - that do more in the baseball season than talent.

Make sure to check out Steiner Sports for great Cubs Memorabilia and Gifts.

Votto.jpg

Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds

2010 Finish: 91-71 (1st)

Manager: Dusty Baker

Lineup

  • C - Ramon Hernandez (Ryan Hanigan)
  • 1B - Joey Votto
  • 2B - Brandon Phillips
  • SS - Edgar Renteria (Paul Janish)
  • 3B - Scott Rolen
  • LF - Jonny Gomes
  • CF - Drew Stubbs (Fred Lewis)
  • RF - Jay Bruce

Pitching Rotation

  1. Edinson Volquez
  2. Bronson Arroyo
  3. Johnny Cueto
  4. Homer Bailey
  5. Travis Wood

Bullpen

  • Francisco Cordero - closer
  • Aroldis Chapman
  • Nick Masset
  • Bill Bray

The Story

Well, they ran away with the division last year without one of the most electric pitchers on the planet in the majors. Just like Quade's decision with Cashner in Chicago, Baker will have to choose whether Chapman's 102 mph fastball is coming out of the bullpen or starting games.

Votto was an MVP last year, and Phillips puts up some of the most impressive numbers at second base in the National League. The offense is there, the defense is there, the pitching appears to be there.

If they can stay healthy, it's going to be hard for anyone in the division to take them off the top.

Greinke.jpg

Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers

2010 Finish: 77-85 (3rd)

Manager: Ron Roenicke

Lineup

  • C - Jonathan Lucroy
  • 1B - Prince Fielder (Mark Kotsay)
  • 2B - Rickie Weeks (Craig Counsel)
  • SS - Yuniesky Betancourt
  • 3B - Casey McGehee (Mat Gamel)
  • LF - Ryan Braun
  • CF - Carlos Gomez (Chris Dickerson)
  • RF - Corey Hart

Pitching Rotation

  1. Zack Greinke
  2. Yovani Gallardo
  3. Shawn Marcum
  4. Randy Wolf
  5. Chris Narveson

Bullpen

  • John Axford - closer
  • LaTroy Hawkins
  • Takashi Saito
  • Kameron Loe

The Story

If anyone in the division is going for broke this year, it's Milwaukee. They mortgaged their farm to get a former Cy Young winner in Greinke and a solid #3 starter in Marcum, and added a decent veteran replacement at shortstop in Betancourt.

With Greinke and Marcum in the mix, Milwaukee's rotation is as deep as any in the division. Their question will continue to be their bullpen, where Hawkins has consistently won back fans at Wrigley Field ever since he started pitching in crucial situations for a rival.

And while the entire free world is staring at Pujols in St. Louis, Fielder is 11 months away from being a free agent as well. If this ship goes south, the fire sale could be epic in Milwaukee.

Pujols.jpg

St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals

2010 Finish: 86-76 (2nd)

Manager: Tony LaRussa

Lineup

  • C - Yadier Molina
  • 1B - Albert Pujols
  • 2B - Skip Shumaker
  • SS - Ryan Theriot
  • 3B - David Freese
  • LF - Matt Holliday
  • CF - Colby Rasmus
  • RF - Lance Berkman

Pitching Rotation

  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Chris Carpenter
  3. Kyle Lohse
  4. Jake Westbrook
  5. Jaime Garcia

Bullpen

  • Ryan Franklin - closer
  • Jason Motte
  • Kyle McClellan
  • Trever Miller

The Story

Will Pujols stay or go?

That's pretty much it in St. Louis this year. He isn't the selfish public persona that LeBron James is, but the same season-long hype that surrounded James' pending departure from Cleveland last year will cover the St. Louis area if the two sides don't work anything out.

Which looks doubtful.

They could win the division, they could implode. The only story that matters is what jersey Pujols wears in 2012.

For the fun, non-Pujols stories, former division rivals Theriot and Berkman are now in St. Louis, adding more mediocrity to a lineup surround the game's best hitter.

El Caballo.jpg

Houston Astros

Houston Astros

2010 Finish: 76-86 (4th)

Manager: Brad Mills

Lineup

  • C - Jason Castro
  • 1B - Brett Wallace
  • 2B - Bill Hall (Jeff Keppinger)
  • SS - Clint Barmes
  • 3B - Chris Johnson
  • LF - Carlos Lee (Jason Michaels)
  • CF - Michael Bourn
  • RF - Hunter Pence

Pitching Rotation

  1. Wandy Rodriguez
  2. Brett Myers
  3. JA Happ
  4. Bud Norris
  5. Nelson Figueroa

Bullpen

  • Brandon Lyon - closer
  • Wilton Lopez
  • Alberto Arias
  • Mark Melancon

The Story

Berkman's in St. Louis, Roy Oswalt's in Philadelphia, and Carlos Lee is still playing outfield. there isn't a lot of hope in 2011. Houston has a problem.

McCutchen.jpg

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates

2010 Finish: 57-105 (6th)

Manager: Clint Hurdle

Lineup

  • C - Jason Doumit (Chris Snyder)
  • 1B - Lyle Overbay
  • 2B - Neil Walker
  • SS - Ronny Cedeno
  • 3B - Pedro Alvarez
  • LF - Jose Tabata
  • CF - Andrew McCutchen
  • RF - Garrett Jones

Pitching Rotation

  1. Paul Maholm
  2. Ross Ohlendorf
  3. Kevin Correja
  4. James McDonald
  5. Charlie Morton

Bullpen

  • Joel Hanrahan - closer
  • Evan Meek
  • Chris Resop
  • Scott Olsen

The Story

The Pirates haven't been good since Barry Bonds left... when he weighed 185 pounds. That won't change this year.

HOWEVER

There are probably three players in this entire division that, on a daily basis, are worth paying to watch in 2011: Pujols with the Cardinals, Castro with the Cubs, and McCutchen with the Bucs. He might be the fastest player in all of baseball, and can turn a routine double into an inside-the-park home run. Alvarez, at third, is also a special talent.

Predicted Finish

  1. Cincinnati
  2. Milwaukee
  3. Chicago
  4. St. Louis
  5. Pittsburgh
  6. Houston
Advertisement:

Leave a comment