With all due respect to Wally and Cindy the Pocket Doppler Kangaroo, here is one man’s predicted order of finish in the National League Central Division:

1.) Chicago Cubs:   Pretty much by default; there’s just too much pitching and overall talent there to assume otherwise.  As of this writing, they have the look of the best team in a weak National League.  The only thing that can stop the Cubs from winning this division is the Cubs themselves.  Of course, being the Cubs and possessing such volatile personalities as pitcher Carlos Zambrano and newly acquired outfielder Milton (Games) Bradley, not to mention fiery manager Lou Piniella. that’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

2.)  St. Louis Cardinals :  Much to my chagrin, the Cardinals always seem to be better than the sum of their parts.  Don’t expect pitcher Kyle Lohse to have another year like last one but with the return of Chris Carpenter, he won’t need to.  Bullpen is still a question mark but if they can get 20 starts out of Carpenter, admittedly a big ‘if’, they should have enough pitching to surpass the Brewers.  Everyday lineup appears to have a little less speed than usual but the middle of the order has plenty of home run potential, starting with perennial MVP candidate Albert Pujols.

3.)  Milwaukee Brewers:  Welcome back to the ’80s, Brewer fans.  Actually, that’s not quite accurate; those teams had better pitching.  If the Brewers are going to return to the playoffs, offense is going to have to carry most days.    New manager Ken Macha plans to emulate the old Earl Weaver philosophy of playing for the 3-run homer.  The problem with that is, there have to be two runners on base prior to that jack.  Second baseman Ricky Weeks is going to have to live up to his long awaited potential for that to happen.  They’ll also have to overcome their typically shaky defense.  At the risk of being pessimistic, I’m afraid the Brewers will struggle to reach .500 this season.   And that’s assuming everyone stays healthy.

4.)  Houston Astros :  Cooooop’s team has some key pieces; just not enough of them to make a run at the playoffs.  Hitters Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence are bright spots, but there are too many holes elsewhere in the everyday lineup for them to overcome.  Look for convicted steroid user Miguel Tejada to take a step backward this season.  Top of the starting pitching rotation is solid with Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, though Oswalt isn’t the dominant ace he once was.  This team needs the Mike Hampton of 1999.  Unfortunately for them, they’re stuck with the one from 2009.

5.)  Cincinnati Reds :  After years of trying to win with offense, the Reds are trying to build around a young pitching staff with the emergence of righthanders Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto.  Volquez was lights out last season and Cueto has potentially great “stuff”, though he was inconsistent at best last year.  The problem is that, at the time those two were coming around, holdovers Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo started to fade.  Everyday lineup has some good young players too, but none of them appear to be destined for greatness.  It figures to add up to another also-ran finish for Cincinnati.

6.)  Pittsburgh Pirates :  As a kid, my favorite ballplayer was legendary Pirates rightfielder Roberto Clemente.  It’s sad to see what has happened to this once proud franchise.  Pirates haven’t even been within 3 games of .500 for the last 15 years; making the Brewers look like the New York Yankees by comparison.  This year’s squad profiles pretty much the same as the last ten.  CF Nate McLouth had a breakout season last year but there’s little else here.  Young starting pitchers show some potential but we’ve heard that before.  Pirates fans will be focused on Steelers training camp by the All-Star break.

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We always suspected that Brewers fans were special (25 years between playoff appearances must say something about us); now we have proof.  According to an ESPN poll, only 1% of baseball fans questioned listed the Brewers as their favorite team, ranking 22nd in the poll.  Actually, I’m amazed it was that high.  Imagine if they hadn’t made the postseason last year.  Not surpisingly, the New York Yankees finished first with just under 7% of respondents followed by the Boston Red Sox at just over 5.  Considering that the “four-letter” has them on 6 times a week, that could be considered a self fulfilling prophecy.

Even though the Brewers final roster is now set, it’ll be interesting to see which pitcher gets sent down once closer Trevor Hoffman comes off the disabled list.  The first two weeks will essentially be an audition for the bullpen.  The logical choice right now would be reliever David Riske, who was largely ineffective before getting injured last season and has continued to struggle this spring.  But Riske has two years remaining on his contract, making a demotion problematic.  That should serve as a warning to general manager Doug Melvin about the risk(e) of giving multi-year contracts to mediocre relief pitchers.

Just a guess:  the Chicago Cubs will regret letting Casey McGehee go to the Brewers on waivers, especially with the departure of uber-utility man Mark DeRosa to the Indians.  In fact, they’ll miss DeRosa a lot as well. 

And, speaking of the Cubs; I know I’m contradicting myself here but there has to be at least a little concern in Chicago that two of their top line starters got shelled at the new baseball palace that is Yankee Stadium.  Rich Harden and Ted Lilly combined to give up 6 home runs to the Yankees in their final tuneups this weekend.  Sure, it’s only exhibitions but it’s never too early to panic, Cubs fans.  Of course, it could be just further evidence of the disparity in talent between the American and National Leagues.

With the aforementioned Zambrano, Bradley, and Piniella what’s the over/under on fights in the Cubs dugout this season?

By the way, someone should ask MLB.com what’s the point of buying the MLB TV package when the local market games are blacked out.

It’s time to enjoy the season.  Let’s play ball!

 

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  • chris

    Third place for the Crew? Sure. I’ll buy that. I think 81 wins should be doable, but with luck (health) I don’t want to take 85 wins off the table.