NL Central Preview: In Review

As I look at the NL Central Preview, I’m fairly happy with the results as they line up with what I expected to get. I hope everyone enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed researching the other teams in the NL Central. Here is a look at the final standings:

1. Milwaukee — 65 pts
2. St. Louis — 58 pts
3. Cincinnati — 52 pts
4. Chicago — 52 pts
5. Houston — 35 pts
6. Pittsburgh — 32 pts

The question will be how will they stack up after a year of wear and tear on their teams. Some teams are already feeling it.

Milwaukee has lost Zach Grienke from their rotation for a few weeks after he broke and bruised his ribs during a game of pickup basketball in the offseason. He is expected to start the season on the Disabled List, but the rest of that pitching rotation should be able to keep winning for the month of April while Grienke is expected to be out.

St. Louis on the other hand has lost their ace, Adam Wainwright. Wainwright had Tommy John surgery last week and begins the year long rehabilitation process. While several guys say it is unrealistic to expect him to be a starter at the beginning of next year, I look at Jaime Garcia. Garcia had his Tommy John after the season ended in 2008 and was starting for Memphis in the AAA playoffs in 2009, under a year later. We should get nearly a season out of Wainwright next year.

That means expectations need to be adjusted when I sit here and actually call out win totals.

1. Milwaukee (93 wins)
Grienke’s injury hurts, but not very much. The rest of this team is still very solid and very good. Milwaukee definitely went all-in in what is likely to be Prince Fielder’s last season in a Brewers uniform. They dealt their young talent away in order to restock their rotation with the addition of Grienke and Shaun Marcum, both of whom were #1 pitchers on their staffs in 2010. This is a team very capable of pushing 100 wins, but I think low-90s is a much more realistic expectation.

2. St. Louis (88 wins)
I still think the Cardinals are #2 in the NL Central, even with Wainwright’s injury. It’s hard to replace Adam Wainwright, but I expect Lohse to step up as he did in 2008 with Carpenter’s absence. I also think that McClellan will step up in the #5 role and get to double-digit wins. Getting to the high-80s in wins is very possible and if Milwaukee slips, the Cardinals will be right there to grab them. As always, it will depend on the Cardinals’ offense. Last year they were disjointed and Pujols and Holliday never got hot at the same time, which is good in theory. Pujols killed the sub .500 teams, and Holliday killed the above .500 teams. There is the potential for more threats in the lineup this year, but it’ll be interesting to watch the defensive regression and just how bad it may be.

3. Cincinnati (86 wins)
I expect the Reds to fall off a little bit this year. Only by 6 wins too. On paper, they should be better than last year, but while that may be true the effects of age will likely show on Scott Rolen, who despite putting up an impressive season last year, only hit 3 home runs in the final 3 months of the season. Rolen is a key part of this Reds offense, and I don’t see the other young Reds players improving enough to assume the loss of offense at his position. Also, I don’t expect Joey Votto to put up another year quite as good as he did last year. He is still a great player and worthy MVP, but he should regress from his 2010 numbers.

4. Chicago (81 wins)
Just above .500 for the Cubbies in 2011. Their rotation is upgraded, but the team still has huge personality issues that they need to overcome. The fact that there is conflict emphasizes that there are still some players in Chicago that care about playing good baseball and care about winning. However, fighting with your teammates in the dugout is not the best idea. They have the talent, but they continually struggle to put it all together and perform, and that sounds more and more like the Cardinals’ every day.

5. Houston (69 wins)
The Astros’ win totals will fall off this year without Berkman or Oswalt on the team for the first half of the season, but I don’t think it will be that great. Brett Wallace will get his opportunity to sink or swim at first base and J.A. Happ is a suitable replacement for Oswalt. The Astros team is pretty good, but they are young and still have holes to fill.

6. Pittsburgh (62 wins)
Pittsburgh is another young team. They have talent at their offensive positions, but will have to wait for some of their young pitching to show up. The lack of a reliable starting rotation is what will do Pittsburgh in, but I still expect their win total to improve over last years as some of their young pitchers will get a full season in and begin to show what they have.

Make sure to check back at the end of the season when I will go over all of these predictions with what actually happened. Then I will subsequently make excuses as to why I’m really correct and why they failed to meet my expectations.

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If you wish to go back and read any of the previous articles in the series, here are some quick links to them: