NL Central Preview: Starting Pitcher #2

We’ve been silent this last week at Redbird Dugout. I know I’ve been exceptionally busy, but with a little more time now I’m back to writing. So as Pitchers & Catcher’s Report on Monday, let’s continue with the Preview. Hopefully we can wrap this up this week and have some fun stuff to pay attention to as Spring Training begins to rev up this week. There were a couple pictures posted on the Redbird Dugout Facebook page this week though as we look at getting spring training going. I’m excited for 2011 like I haven’t been before.

On to the #2 pitcher. This is the guy on your staff that you hope is just your second ace. The best teams usually have a second ace, anyway. The Cardinals have been lucky in recent years to have this, but I think in 2011 the spots have finally swapped for the Redbirds.

6. James McDonald, Pittsburgh (3.51, 4-5 in 11 starts)
I almost put McDonald as Pittsburgh’s #1 because he was the best performing member of the staff in 2010, despite making just 10 starts. Before the 2009 season, McDonald was listed as the #59 prospect in baseball by Baseball America while in the Dodgers’ system. He was part of a deadline deal that sent Octavio Dotel to the Dodgers last season. He’s no stranger to that level of success either, posting a 4.00 ERA in 45 appearances for the Dodgers in 2009. He struggled in four appearances for the Dodgers in 2010 before being eventually dealt. At 26, he’s definitely a young pitcher I’ll be keeping an eye on.

5. Wandy Rodriguez, Houston (3.60, 11-12 in 32 starts)
Rodriguez performed well and was rewarded with a 3 year, $34 million contract with the Astros over the offseason. It’s become the norm for Rodriguez, who might be one of the underrated pitchers in the NL. You rarely hear his name in discussion of some of the best pitchers, but his last three seasons have been very solid for Houston.

4. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati (3.64, 12-7 in 31 starts)
Possibly the most hated active player by Cardinal nation, though Brandon Phillips could be in that discussion too, I think. With a kick of the cleats, Cueto ended the career of Cardinals’ backup catcher Jason LaRue. Many will remember that game, but Cueto turned in a solid season and was rewarded by signing an extension of his own this season. 4 years, $27 million was the deal for Cueto who posted a career best year last year.

3. Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee (3.64, 13-8 in 31 starts)
He was supposed to be the Blue Jays’ #2 pitcher behind Roy Halladay, but an injury cost him his 2009 season. Then Halladay was traded and Marcum became the staff ace. He responded with 13 wins and in his first complete season, that was a great season. The Blue Jays rewarded him by trading him to Milwaukee, who has a much improved starting rotation this season. For Marcum it should be a good move. He’ll get a chance to contend for the NL Central title, whereas there was really very little chance of the Blue Jays sneaking into a playoff spot in the AL East.

2. Carlos Zambrano, Chicago (3.33, 11-6 in 20 starts)
I wanted to move him down the list because of his meltdown, but 11 wins in 20 starts for the struggling Cubbies last season and I couldn’t bring myself to. While researching these, I was surprised to find that he is just 29 years old right now. He used to be viewed as one of the top pitchers in the National League, but I think that last season’s tiff that result in him starting just 20 games has labeled him a bit unstable. I’m sure regaining that position as one of the top pitchers in the NL is one of his main focuses this year.

1. Chris Carpenter, St. Louis (3.22, 16-9 in 35 starts)
Though some of my fellow Cardinal fans have had their confidence shaken in Chris Carpenter last season, and I’ll admit I was worried too after watching his September fall off. But then I looked at the stats. He had a 2.92 ERA and was 14-5 in the first five months of the season before falling off in September, going just 2-4. He started an MLB high 35 starts and threw more innings than he had since 2005. Carpenter might not be the 240 inning workhorse anymore, but he’s still capable of being an ace pitcher in this league. He was my no doubt number 1 #2 pitcher.

And tallying up the results so far:

St. Louis — 44 pts
Milwaukee — 43 pts
Cincinnati — 41 pts
Chicago — 33 pts
Pittsburgh — 26 pts
Houston — 23 pts