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Looking (Far) Ahead: The 2011 NL Central Part I

I’ve been holding on to this idea since I signed up for this gig, and I can’t wait any longer. I have an overwhelming urge to start stacking up the division. Now I know that all of this is looking far into the future, but this may be more of a therapeutic exercise for me than any thing else.

Whatever the case, here is my very early edition of the NL Central’s standings. Please note that this based highly on conjecture and/or opinion, and I’m sure it will be highly contentious. Opinions and discussion are highly encouraged.

So without further ado, here is how I see the bottom 3 in the NL Central this season.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Yes, Pittsburgh still has a baseball team. People may not notice them after August, what with the successful teams in other sports starting up around that time of the year, but years of following disappointing sports teams has allowed me to keep sharp focus on forgotten teams like this. I’d love to say this team is poised for turn around, but I’d also love to win the lottery. Some things just aren’t going to happen.

What’s Right: There are a few bright spots in the roster in The Pitt. Andrew McCutchen,Lastings Milledge, and Ronny Cedeno come to mind immediately. These three have played very well both on the field and at the plate, and if they can all up their numbers, The Pirates may climb out of the cellar.

What’s Wrong: Pretty much everything. They fell in the bottom five of pretty much every statistical category. The glaring stat has to be the  team ERA of 5.00. It’s astonishing to look at, and I imagine it must be gut-wrenching to experience. (Don’t Laugh Brewers fans, they only edged out Pittsburgh by .42)

Final Standing: 6th.

Take a pitching staff that gets beat on worse than Glass Jaw in Punchout, an offense that exists mainly because you have to bat in order for the game to continue, and you don’t have a very good foundation. They have made moves in the free agent market, but Lyle Overbay hardly counts as a splash. Whether it’s a lack of funds or lack of spirit that’s getting Pittsburgh down, they need to get something – anything – on the right track if they’re going to slide in any higher than last year.

Houston Astros

The ‘Stros are a pretty young team, and as youngsters go, they seem at times to be prone to mistakes, flighty and uncomfortable. Sure you can see the potential there, but for every shining moment there is also a moment of frustration. This team is dying for direction and consistency, but these things take time.

What’s Right: Hunter Pence, Keppinger and Carlos Lee keep the offense moving – or at the very least attempt to. Houston also managed to make a few moves to bolster their bullpen in the offseason by picking up a few relievers. In a more intangible sense, there is great sense of teamwork, enthusiasm, and energy on this team. Does that win games? Not necessarily, but it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling when you have to sit on 86 losses for a whole winter.

What’s Wrong: Right now, it’s the looming arbitration situation. Five players, and possibly over 25% of the payroll hang in Houston. That’s a lot of money for anyone, but especially a team that struggles to attract and keep star power in their dugout.  Beyond that, the fact that they failed to pick up any of the bigger starting pitchers on the market this winter is a decision which may haunt them sooner than they think.

Final Standing: 5th.

This team is far from the Astros teams earlier in the decade that vied for the division title consistently. That’s not to say that can’t shake things up this year, they just need to make a few fixes. They need consistent pitching, and that young talent needs to step up big. If they can make a move or two in free agency, we may be talking about them like the 2010 Reds later down the road.

Cincinnati Reds

True, they took the division last year. What’s also true is they caught a lot of people off guard. Part of me thinks that Votto can repeat his performance, and there are a few good performances left in Scott Rolen and Orlando Cabrera. It just seems unlikely, however, that all of the stars will align for this team one more time.

What’s Right: A lot. This team has a good mix of young talent and veteran leadership. Last year they were an offensive juggernaut, and their pitching backed them up. The pitching staff caught a huge break when they avoided arbitration with Johnny Cueto, agreeing to a four year deal. Whether you like it or not, Dusty Baker knows his way around these kinds of teams, and knows how to get them to perform.

What’s Wrong: Many of the things that made this team so great last year were a slew of breakout performances. Unfortunately, over the course of multiple MLB seasons, this kind of lightning is hard to keep in the bottle. Take Cueto for instance. He pulled out more than a few excellent performances, but his career ERA is still over four. Consistency is going to be the key factor.

Final Standing: 4th

What happened last year was baseball magic. It was fun, shocking, and kept people interested in the NL Central all year. Last season in Cincy was like a real-life version of  Major League. The problem with the movies, of course, is that the credits have to roll sometime. I’m not saying they can’t make a splash two years in a row, I’m simply saying that I don’t think their performance this year can match up with all the improvements in our top 3.

Part II is forthcoming and will cover the top three teams in the NL Central. Did I get this right? Did I get it totally wrong? We’d love to hear about where you think everyone will stack up in the division. Leave a comment!

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  • Ryan

    Why you hatin on my boy Lyle? Cinci at 4 is probably the only questionable choice if at all. I think they are still strong enough enough to finish top 3… you could make an argument for the cubs to be down here, because… well f chicago. also lol @ “an offense that exists mainly because you have to bat in order for the game to continue”

  • Lou Olsen

    I will agree with Ryan, that I think the Cubs will be in worse shape than the Reds. Starting pitching is the key to this division all of a sudden. If you would have told me that 4 months ago, I probably would have peed my pants with laughter. You make some good points.

  • Mike H.

    Agree with other comments cubs could really be in that 4 spot or perhaps even cardinals. Cards and cubs are full of aging veteran players. Brewers catching on to ace cardinal pitchers and cub pitchers too. Cincinnati has a host of young flame throwers. As a brewers fan I’m biased and hope you pick them to win division as they are an exciting offense at home and have a great mix of been there veterans and young confident hitters that have great clubhouse chemistry and love (maybe a little too much) to swing for the fences. I think the brewers will edge out a close Cincinnati ball club followed closely by cardinals. Ron Roenicke will make a huge positive impact as new brewer skipper this year and lead the crew to its first nl central crown ever.

  • Colin Bennett

    First things first -

    Thanks for the comments.

    Second – Part 2 will be up sometime tomorrow (read: whenever I roll out of bed)

    Also, I had a hard time with 4-2 because I feel like they may be fairly interchangeable. But time will tell on that one.

    @ryan: Lyle Overbay gave us good times, but facts are facts lol.

  • Jason Robbisky

    The Reds finishing 4th?????

    You are out of your mind if you think the Cubs are going to finish in front of the Cincinnati Reds. Come on man! Youre smarter than that. I know that because of everything else on this site. Its quality. But 4th for the Reds. Im from Seattle, Washington and know that that is ridiculous. I predict the NL Central like this
    1-Cincinnati
    2-St. Louis
    3-Milwaukee
    4-Houston
    5-Chicago
    6-Pittsburgh

  • I’m with Jason

    Im with Jason…4th for the Cincinnati Reds!!?? No way homie

  • Reds fan

    First off Orlando Cabrera does not play for the Reds anymore.

    Second off Johnny Cueto’s wins and ERA have improved every year he has been in the majors. In his first three seasons he has more wins and a lower ERA than Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb, and Dan Haren had.

    Thirdly, all their young players are still improving. Jay Bruce could easily homer 30 times and drive in 100 in 2011.

    Drew Stubbs had one of the quietest 20 homer/30 steal seasons in MLB history.

    Edinson Volquez will get a full season this year for them. He won 17 games in 2008 and with the success rate of Tommy John surgeries now, I’d expect that 15-17 is a realistic goal in 2011.

    They have a catcher named Devin Mesoraco who will break into the majors this season and he is a special hitter that really came on and almost hit the bigs in 2010.

    They also have a lethal back end of the bullpen with Francisco Cordero, Aroldis Chapman, Nick Masset, and even the youngster Logan Ondrusek.

    Can I give you any more reasons why they will not come in 4th??????????????

  • jay-dog

    I CAN unfortunately imagine my beloved Redlegs finishing 4th in 2011. However, I can also see them winning the division. It looks like a competitive year. You’re pretty off on everything specific (players) that you mention. The things that went magically right for the Reds last year and can’t possibly be repeated are Scott Rolen, Johnny Gomes and Mike Leake. The “career years” had by Arroyo, Votto, Bruce and Cueto were not dramatically different from expectations. The offense was not tops because of elite hitters, it was productive end to end. They are not a team of stars, they have depth and quality at almost every point. .. If they don’t win it I definitely want the Brewers to. You guys are definitely the best fans in the division.

    • Mike H.

      To jay-dog: Thanks for the props about faithful brewer fans… we are a positive bunch. I can’t see cinci finishing 4th either. I have particular concern with the end of the bullpen and cordero. He did have some issues, he is getting older, and he’s been in nl central for some time so hitters begin to make adjustments. The strike zone is only so wide. I do agree thy it is a three-way race although anything can, and will happen that will change the course. However, I think Milwaukee has just enough spark with off-season moves to put them over the top. Three hitters had 100 rbi’s for brewers last year and none of them were named prince or weeks. They only hovered around 90. Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh (that’s right), then Houston.

  • Thor

    I think it will be either Reds, Brewers or Cards winning the Central. I don’t trust the Cubs. And, unfortunately for the Astros and Pirates. They will most likely be at the bottom.

  • Colin Bennett

    You leave a story for a few days, and things go wild. Thanks for reading and for the discussion, it is greatly appreciated.

    Here is my main reason for the Reds finishing 4th (and remember: it’s January/February)

    Dusty Baker. Dusty has a resume full of good, dependable teams who suddenly fall off the map even though they are stacked with talent. He has never given me reason to suspect that he can sustain excellence with a club over a period of time. I think the 4 and 3 positions in the division standings will probably switch places a few times during the season. It will be insanely competitive this year.

    If I’m wrong, and the Reds make a big showing again this year, I will have to think of something silly and publicly embarrassing to do for you readers. This is my pledge.

    @ Reds Fan: I apologize for the mistake with Cabrera, sometimes I shoot from the hip.

  • jay-dog

    Colin, I’ve dabbled in some Dusty hating, but looking at his record, it’s really only in Chicago that he was unsuccessful, and Chicago is Chicago. One of the biggest criticisms of him has been his handling of pitchers. If last year was any indication, I don’t think you can possibly say he still has this problem. The Reds had numerous rookie pitchers and all were treated and used well last year. He did make some big changes, against his habits, last year too. We have lacked a viable leadoff hitter forever, and for a long time Dusty insisted on leading off with the speedy center fielder (Taveras and then Stubbs), despite consistent failure. Finally, in may of 2010 i think, he budged, and started mixing it up, and it was very successful. Dusty’s good and bad decisions both kind of go along with him being a “players’ manager”, loyal and friendly guy. But with Harang and Cabrera gone, and Janish already declared starting SS, there are not many substantial decisions Dusty could make to screw things up. The Reds might not be able to count on as much magic as last year, but virtually all of the destructive and messy situations that slowed them down then have now been eradicated. I suppose the closer might be an exception. But hopefully 2010 was an anomoly for Cordero. The Reds maybe don’t match up well in a short post-season series, but they are an incredibly robust team, with legitimate and comprehensive depth – 25+ super talented people. Matching the Brewers IDK, bc it seems like the Brewers had such pitching problems last year, that the Reds were able to capitalize on, which presumably won’t be a deficiency in Milwaukee this time around. ? Has your bullpen changed much?

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