I had my fantasy baseball draft this past Saturday and I look forward to my chicken dinner (winner, winner) this September, but I still need to do my duty for you fans of the Rum. Some of you clowns may not have drafted yet, or you might need to make strategic pickups throughout the season. Fear not, fans... I am here for you. Here is my preview for the National League Central!
1. Cincinnati Reds
They won the division last year. There's really no reason to believe they won't do it again. There is reason, however, to believe that they will improve on their 91 wins from a year ago.
The Cincinnati offense has a young core of players who either busted out last season, or were on the verge of such a breakthrough. The infield has Joey Votto. I took him with the 6th overall pick this year. At age 27, he's just entering his prime now and already has an MVP Award. Brandon Phillips mans 2B, where, despite a dip in 2010, he has consistently been one of the better offensive threats in the league. The cagey veteran Scott Rolen is looking to hold down 3B for one more year. If healthy, there's no reason to believe he won't. Jay Bruce is going to be a star this season. Look for him to hit 30-35 home runs. Drew Stubbs nearly went 20/30 in his first full season and there's no reason to believe he won't do it again (or even improve on it).
The pitching was surprisingly good in 2010, even without staff ace Edinson Volquez for most of the season. Everyone, from veteran Bronson Arroyo to rookies Travis Wood and Mike Leake, stepped up big time. With Volquez's long road to recovery from Tommy John surgery seemingly over, this staff should be good enough to carry them to another division title in 2011. In the bullpen, they have Francisco Cordero closing games (at least until Aroldis Chapman and his 105 mph fastball break the bullpen door down and take over). This team is almost a sure bet.
My Prediction? 93 Wins, division champs.
Fantasy Notables: Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen (3B is weak), Johnny Gomes, Drew Stubbs, Jay Bruce, Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto (once healthy), Francisco Cordero
Fantasy Sleeper: Homer Bailey. I know, i know. They say it every year. If it's ever gonna happen for Homey, it's gonna be in 2011. Keep an eye on him.
Fantasy Poison: Ramon Hernandez. He's 35, he's constantly injured, and he's got a rookie waiting in the wings to replace him at Catcher. Ramon Hernandez is poison.
2. Milwaukee Brewers
It was a very busy off-season for the Brew Crew, and they have vastly improved their team. They will definitely be contenders this year, but i don't believe they will be able to pull it out in the end.
Offensively, they are pretty much the same team this year as they were last year. The only difference is that Yuniesky Betancourt is now their starting SS. He's pretty awful, but they'll be ok. Prince Fielder, Ricky Weeks and Casey Mcgehee are among the best at their position as far as production goes. In the outfield, they have the great Ryan Braun and the alright Corey Hart (I hope he brings his sunglasses). Overall, despite questions in CF, C and SS, this is a great offense.
The Brewers overhauled their pitching staff during this off-season. They made two excellent trades, cashing in their solid farm system for a chance to win it all in the next couple of years. They already had Yovanni Gallardo, one of the best young arms in baseball, and they added both Shaun Marcum and Zach Greinke. They basically added 2 staff aces to their staff. Greinke and Marcum are having some health issues in spring, which will ultimately be what costs the Brewers this division. John Axford should be a solid bearded closer for them this year, and the middle relief will be old (Saito and Hawkins), but should be pretty reliable.
My Prediction: 91 Wins... so close!
Fantasy Notables: Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Zach Greinke, Yovanni Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, John Axford.
Fantasy Sleeper: Johnathan Lucroy... I chose him because the Catcher position is weak, and he showed some power potential in the minor leagues. Given enough ABs, he could be a good fallback option at C.
Fantasy Poison:Carlos Gomez. If he can hold on to the starting center field job, it won't be for long. He's awful. I don't care how fast he runs, he should run back to the Dominican Republic.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals underachieved last season. There's no doubt about it. This off-season they went and solidified their pitching rotation in the hopes of re-taking the division from those pesky Reds. Then Adam Wainwright decided to take the year off when his elbow exploded. Now, the Cardinals will simply try to stay relevant.
The Cardinals still have Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. That's a good start to any offense. Colby Rasmus has been given center field, and he is ready to truly shine in 2011. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the rest of their team is more defensively minded. Skip Schumaker, Yadier Molina and Ryan Theriot won't hit much, but their defense should help them save plenty of runs.
Despite the loss of Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals pitching staff should be ok. They just won't be good enough to truly contend in 2011. Jake Westbrook is not Adam Wainwright, but he's not Oliver Perez either. They still have Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia to go along with Westbrook, and they can patch the other two spots in the rotation. The bullpen should be decent, with Boggs and Motte's Applesauce setting up for the ageless Ryan Franklin.
My Prediction? 83 wins, and hope for 2012 when Wainwright returns.
Fantasy Notables: Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia, Ryan Franklin.
Fantasy Sleeper: David Freese. He didn't show it much last season, but he had enough power in the minor leagues to make him an intriguing option at a weak position, third base.
Fantasy Poison: Lance Berkman signed on to become the Cardinals' every day Right Fielder in 2011. "Fat Elvis" has probably already sang his last song.
4. Chicago Cubs
It's hard to choose who will finish 4th in the division, but the Cubs offense gives them a slight nod over the Astros. Congrats, Cubs fans!
The Offense is counting on a lot of aging veterans coming off of terrible seasons. Soriano and Aramis Ramirez still put up okay numbers, despite looking like they needed walkers at times in 2010. They are on a slippery slope, and could end up with broken hips. The Cubs did give $10MM to Carlos Peña and his .196 AVG, so that's nice.
The one good move the Cubs made this off-season was trading for Matt Garza. He's entering his prime and has the talent to dominate the weak division. He'll put up 15-20 wins this season, benefiting greatly from the move out of the AL East. He joins Ryan Dempster and a calmer (hopefully) Carlos Zambrano in a rotation that could surprise some people. Age and health will probably end up holding them back, especially the fat Carloses (Zambrano, Silva). The Cubs brought back Kerry Wood to set up for Carlos Marmol, a role reversal from just a couple of years ago. Marmol is nasty, he should be solid.
My Prediction: 78 wins... wah wah
Fantasy Notables: Marlon Byrd, Carlos Peña (he can still hit the long ball, which chicks dig), Aramis Ramirez and Rafael Soriano (for the 100 games they'll play), Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol.
Fantasy Sleeper: Starlin Castro. This kid burst onto the scene in 2010 as a 20 year old rookie. He'll look to turn himself into a real name in 2011.
Fantasy Poison: Pick a Carlos, any Carlos... well, except Marmol. Peña, Silva and Zambrano will probably either be ineffective, hit the DL, or both in 2011.
5. Houston Astros
The Astros aren't as bad as everyone thinks, and that's really all I can say about them. They do have some intriguing young players, but they won't be ready enough to impact the standings this season.
The offense will be, once again, among the worst in all of baseball. Clint Barmes and Bill Hall will be their middle infield despite being on the wrong side of 30 and, most recently, utility men. Hall was good once, but his days of solid contributions are over. Bret Wallace and Chris Johnson will man the corner infield spots as young players who had very different 2010s. Johnson burst onto the scene with his powerful bat, and Bret Wallace's promise was, once again, pushed off as something that was coming "next year." Welp, It's next year, Bret. Carlos Lee is old and might be done, but Hunter Pence is a very good option for your outfield. He has 25 HR and 20 SB potential. Feel free to lean on him.
The rotation will still have Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez, and added young J.A. Happ from Philly midway through last season. Those guys should all be solid contributers, especially in a division with such weak offenses. Um... Brandon Lyon seems like a nice guy? Go Astros!
My Prediction? 72 Wins... Deep in the heart of Texas!
Fantasy Notables: Hunter Pence, Chris Johnson, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon.
Fantasy Sleeper: Bud Norris. 158 Ks in 153 innings last season. He'll only get better in 2011.
Fantasy Poison: Carlos Lee & Michael Bourne. Lee is old and his body is falling apart. Michael Bourn should never be on a fantasy team. I don't care if he can outrun a cheetah.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Really? 6 teams? Good lord. Anywho, the pirates will be awful in 2011, just like every year since Barry Bonds left. It's coming up on 20 years of terrible in the Steel City, and it's not getting any better.
Surprisingly enough, the Pirates do have some good young players. Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are two of the better young players at their position. Look for big things from the two of them this season. Alvarez has drawn comparisons to Manny and A-Rod. That's a big deal. Andrew McCutchen might soon be one of the premier center fielders in all of baseball, and he'll continue his climb there this season. Speedy Youngster Jose Tabata could surprise some people as well.
The pirates have no pitching, at least not in the rotation. James McDonald and his farm are currently listed at the top of the depth chart on the Pirates official website. This is troubling to say the least, although McDonald showed some promise as a rookie last season. With a Fastball here, and a fastball there, he might surprise some people. Kevin Correia, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm and the like will suck. The bullpen will be the best part of this whole team, with Evan Meek setting up strike out machine Joel Hanrahan.
My Prediction? 100... losses. again.... ouch.
Fantasy Notables: Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, Joel Hanrahan.
Fantasy Sleeper: Jose Tabata. He might hit .300, he could steal 30 or 40 bases. If he can develop a tiny bit more power, he could really help.
Fantasy Poison: The starting rotation. Not worth the hassle.
Sorry folks, the extra team made this post a little longer than the others, but the information is good, so use it.