Tuesday, April 23, 2013

NL Central Preview

1st Place--Cincinnati Reds
2012 Record: 97-65
2012 Pythagorean: 91-71
2013 Projected: 93-69
The lineup is much more fearsome with on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo setting the table for Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Votto is going to hit like he did in the first half last year and win the MVP award. Bruce's home run totals have increased every year and he's one of the few sluggers with a legitimate shot at 40 homers. Brandon Phillips is as steady as the come at second base. Todd Frazier can hit, too, and represents a big improvement over Scott Rolen even if he can't play Gold Glove caliber defense like his predecessor did. Zack Cozart is a talented out-machine much like Drew Stubbs, but it is his age 27 season so maybe he takes a big step forward. The starting rotation that started 161 games last year returns intact. Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto are bona fide aces. You know what you're getting from Bronson Arroyo--200 innings of above average ball. Homer Bailey finally emerged as a legit midrotation starter last year and should be just as good, if not better, in 2013. Mike Leake is serviceable. Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Broxton head what should be a solid bullpen.

2nd Place--St. Louis Cardinals
2012 Record: 88-74
2012 Pythagorean: 93-69
2013 Projected: 86-76
Make no mistake about it; this team is built to hit. St. Louis is stacked offensively and has a wealth of starting pitching, but injuries have already struck down several key players (Rafael Furcal, David Freese, Chris Carpenter) and figure to get Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran sooner or later. Yadier Molina is also poised for regression following his career year. The rotation is just as deep as the lineup, with Adam Wainwright looking to pitch like the Cy Young candidate he was before Tommy John surgery wiped out his 2011 season. Jaime Garcia and Lance Lynn are surprisingly underrated. Shelby Miller could win Rookie of the Year. Jake Westbrook is the weakest link, and he's a perfectly fine 4 or 5 for most teams. The bullpen isn't great, especially with Jason Motte out for quite some time, but there are enough arms to keep the 'pen decent enough.

3rd Place--Milwaukee Brewers
2012 Record: 83-79
2012 Pythagorean: 85-77
2013 Projected: 81-81
The lineup is shockingly average around Ryan Braun. There are no real holes, but nobody else is really that good either except for Aramis Ramirez, who's going to be 35 this summer. Corey Hart is hurt. Rickie Weeks always disappoints. Carlos Gomez blends power and speed like B.J. Upton. Jonathan Lucroy might turn out to be a top-ten catcher in his age 27 season. The rotation gets a nice boost from Kyle Lohse, who'll have to pitch like a number two behind Yovani Gallardo (who's not a true ace). Marco Estrada is a strikeout machine and is going to have a nice year, but the bottom of the rotation is scary. The bullpen is even worse. The Brewers could hang around for awhile, but they're not going to contend.

4th Place--Pittsburgh Pirates
2012 Record: 79-83
2012 Pythagorean: 78-84
2013 Projected:77-85
I see another losing season in Pittsburgh's future. The offense features plenty of pop but little speed outside of Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen. 'Cutch is a legit MVP candidate, but his sluggish second half leads me to believe he'll slip a bit in 2013. Pedro Alvarez finally harnessed his big-time power last year, but he's a feast-or-famine hitter who whiffs way too much and is prone to lengthy slumps. Late-bloomer Garrett Jones also hits for power but is just average when it comes to getting on base. I keep waiting for Neil Walker to get better, so perhaps this is the year he bats .300 with 15 bombs. The starting rotation lacks depth and an ace to lead it. A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez are both good but hardly qualify as number ones. James McDonald is so-so, stellar first half aside. Jonathan Sanchez won't be the answer. The bullpen is unimpressive, but don't be surprised if Jason Grilli is an All-Star closer and/or leads the league in saves.

5th Place--Chicago Cubs
2012 Record: 61-101
2012 Pythagorean: 65-97
2013 Projected: 67-95
Reasons to watch: Anthony Rizzo's power, Starlin Castro's errors, Carlos Marmol's meltdowns, Jeff Samardzija's starts.
Yup. That pretty much sums it up.

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