Looking (Far) Ahead: Part Deux
I know everyone in Brewers Nation has been waiting with bated breath, so here it is – the conclusion to the only NL Central Power Rankings you will ever need – until the season starts or something changes. Or I decide that I was wrong.
This one was a little tougher, as numbers four through two could have switched places indefinitely. So feel free to question any/all decisions made hereafter. Your comments, discussion and dissection are highly appreciated.
I think I’ve said enough, we must press on.
It’s year 102 A.W.S. (After World Series for those needing clarification) for the northsiders, and as usual they confuse the hell out of me. This year they picked up Matt Garza, one of the big targets in pitching around the majors. They also signed Matt “Buy a Vowel” Szczur – after talking him out of playing football professionally. He did have good minor league numbers, but will most likely need a bit of work to be an everyday guy. It’s always that way with the Cubs – it looks good on the surface, but something is missing underneath.
What’s Right: They made some good moves in the off season, and if Zambrano can keep his numbers – and temper – in check, their pitching staff will be one of the best in the division. Last year they were in the top ten in the National League in batting average and home runs, so the offense can put in work. If all of Pena’s off season work proves fruitful, their season might be on a positive trend. And they have Fukudome. Say what you will, the name alone is locker room gold.
What’s Wrong: Where do I begin? The new manager Mike Quade is inheriting a team on the brink. If ESPN had a gossip column, the Cubs would be their Lindsay Lohan. Tempers, melodrama and scandal are common occurrences in the Windy City, and a minor league manager may not be the best man to helm this ship. Beyond that, Cubs players consistently under perform – call it hype, high expectations, or something else – players like Lee, Ramirez and Soriano never seem to measure up to their contemporaries.
Final Standing: 3rd
There but for the grace of their pitching. Things need to click really well to get here, and they need to be phenomenal to get any better. If you’re a Cubs fan, get ready for a bumpy ride. Of course, if you are a Cubs fan, I probably didn’t need to tell you that.
St. Louis Cardinals
I love following trends. Whether it’s skinny jeans, no-carb diets, or the Cards finishing in the top of the division, I’m all in. Look, manager Tony LaRussa most likely sold his soul for a lifetime top three finish and that is something we all need to deal with in our own way. Besides that, most of the team stays the same which made it a lot easier to put them back in the same place.
What’s Right: Pujols and Holliday. Plus a lot of other people. The offense is a well oiled machine, even on its off days. They landed in the top ten in almost every offensive category last season, even if the pitching did not always hold up its end of the bargain. Picking up Theriot – and letting him play shortstop – was a move to bolster the team on both sides that may pay off dividends down the road.
What’s Wrong: They lost Jeff Suppan to free agency (hold for laughter). But seriously, the Cardinals do have one problem, but it is a problem that all of us face. They’re old. The long, slow march of time will begin to wear down on the St. Louis clubhouse – if not this season then in the next few for sure. Picking up Lance Berkman certainly did not put a fresh face on the ball club, and not even he’s sure he can stay healthy. Avoiding injuries gets harder when you get older in sports, but it will be essential for keeping St. Louis on top.
Final Standing: 2nd.
LaRussa’s Faustian bargain notwithstanding, I think the Cards simply have most of the division outmatched on offense. If the bats are working, there isn’t a lot you can do against this club. They rolled the dice in free agency with some veteran players, and they seem to think there’s enough in the tank with this roster to compete again. Seeing as how I don’t own an MLB team, I’m inclined to agree.
Which just leaves your division winner….
I’m not just saying it because I want to believe it – like I did every year since 1994, when I first started following the Crew. I’m saying it because they are honestly the front runners in this division up until now. Mark Attanasio has gone all out in the off season, and it paid off in spades. Avoiding arbitration with Prince was nothing short of a miracle financially, and everyone in Milwaukee hopes it will work out that way on the field as well. To be honest, I don’t know a lot about new skipper Ron Roenicke, but I know the Angels system churns out managers like Klement’s churns out sausage – that is to say in high volume and high quality. Excitement is at an all-time high in Milwaukee, and with good reason.
What’s Right: Obviously we have to start with pitching. Greinke and Marcum give the Brew Crew exactly what we were missing for years – high level pitching. Giving Prince Fielder a one year deal was great, as it essentially makes this a contract year for the slugger. Contract years = elevated numbers. It’s just science. Also worth mentioning is the fact that all of this off season dealing got the team big name players without completely destroying our farm system.
What’s Wrong: I have to be fair – this team is not without its issues. Most of them lay in every pitcher other than those I have mentioned. Gallardo, Greinke and Marcum do not erase a 4.58 ERA. At Least not yet. Also on the list are veterans Corey Hart and Rickey Weeks. Yes, last year both played well above expectations. Unfortunately, both Hart and Weeks have had wildly inconsistent careers, to put it nicely. Two good, healthy years from them are not just expected, they are mandatory for success.
Final Standing: Do I need to say it? OK. 1st.
Man, that feels good to say! I walked around my apartment today saying it to myself, and for once it just feels right. They have good chemistry, an improved pitching staff, a lineup filled with talent and an owner who is committed to winning again. If they stay healthy and stay consistent this is their division to lose.
So, there you have it. The NL Central, all wrapped up in a little bow. I expect there will be a few more write ups on this in the months to come, but for now we have something to discuss. Speaking of discussion, how did we do? Let me know what you think of the picks in the comment section. It only takes a minute, and you get to see your opinion on the internet, just like me!