2006 NL Central Preview
I hate the friggin’ Cardinals. There. I’m predicting a wild card for my Cubbies based on the following: C, 1B, 2B (be it Walker or Hairston), 3B, CF, Zambrano, the back of the bullpen, and Matt Murton. With luck, Cedeno will outhit Neifi to keep his job, Jacque Jones will hit well, Jerome Williams will pitch well, Glendon Rusch will work his weird magic, Maddux will have one more good year in him, and we’ll get 25 starts from Prior. Oh, and Dempster won’t turn into a pumpkin. Enough question marks for you? I STILL believe. I’m gettin’ scared of Milwaukee; lots of young talent. Houston, on the other hand, I do not fear. Outside of Oswalt, Pettitte, Berkman, and Lidge, they’ve got “Killer Bs” so old their stingers are duct taped on, the Mirage of Ensberg, and Preston Wilson. There’s somebody else in this division – oh, the Pirates! ARRRGH! They’ll be goin’ straight to Davy Jones’ Locker! Shiver me timbers!
I may be drummed out of the brotherhood for these picks but that’s the way I see the chips falling. The Brewers rotation rivals the best in the league. Credit the brain trust for an ensemble of players laden with talent as well as a healthy dose of experience. Go ahead and laugh at my
picking the Pirates finishing 2nd. By the end of the season everyone will know the name Zach Duke. Casey and Burnitz will shine in their new digs. There will be no 100 win season in the cards for St. Louis this year. Carpenter and Pujols will shine but the rest of the team is more or less pedestrian.
The Houston trainers will be working overtime once again. Mr. Bagwell, so retire already, will ya? And take that Biggio guy with all of his body armor with you! The Reds might make some noise this year if Milton can get back on track and the club as a whole starts showing some plate discipline. I pray on everything that is holy that I am wrong about the Cubs. The Wood-Prior fiasco continues to deplete this club of any positive energy and needed capital to secure A-list pitchers. Bullpen upgrades are all very well and good. But enough is enough already. Unload and re-tool!
Okay I’m going out on a limb on this one but I think that Milwaukee will be this year’s darkhorse. The past few years the Brew Crew has been developing prospects here in Nashville so I’ve seen the likes of Prince Fielder, Weeks, Hardy…if anybody falters Nelson Cruz is ready to come up and man the outfield. I’m guessing that the Brewers will surprise most of the experts and take the NL Central. Good GMs find a way to win even during rebuilding years and that’s why the Cards will keep trucking along. They’ve lost a lot in the past two years but I think they’ve still got enough to make it to the playoffs as a wildcard team. Houston will drop off but still have enough gas in the tank to hold off the bottom three teams.
After another rash of injuries and costly field management mistakes the Cubs will be essentially out of the race by Independence Day. Prior will be nursing his shoulder and pitching out of the bullpen because Hendry thinks the Cubs still have a mathematical chance 8.5 back. Neifi will be playing every day at either second or short, the Two Mikes (North and Murphy) will be howling and hopefully Dusty will be gone by August 1st. Cincinnati can still hit but they still can’t pitch – both their rotation and their pen will be rocked on a daily basis. Pittsburgh will be improved but how can the players ramp it up when the 3000 fans that actually show up at the stadium are reading bulldog editions of the morning paper?
The Cardinals are still good enough to win this division. They lost Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders, but they only played about 100 games each last year, and a healthy Scott Rolen will make a bigger difference than either of those two. I believe that Roger Clemens will go back to the Astros this year, and with roughly the same team, they’ll finish 2nd again. It won’t be good enough to get the Wild Card this year though. The Brewers made a good pickup in Corey Koskie. He’ll provide leadership for their rookies, and keep Jeff Cirillo on the bench. If Mike Maddux keeps working his magic with the pitchers, they’ll finish over .500 this year. If Prior was healthy, I’d have the Cubs 2nd. If Prior and Wood were healthy, I’d have them 1st. But with both guys injured, and the backup plan consisting of Rich Hill and a rehabbing Wade Miller, I can’t see them doing better than fourth. As usual, the Reds needed to get some pitching this offseason, and as usual, they didn’t. they’ll score a ton of runs, and give up even more, unless they finally decide to trade one of their good hitters for a starter. Can Jim Tracy make the Pirates a winner? No, he can not.
My explanation of this whole NL Central mess can be hear on my recent appearance on Sports Bloggers Live. Here is a link to listen to the 7 minute MP3.
Saturday – NL West
Sunday – Awards and Playoffs
Monday – Book Review “The Last Nine Innings” & Guest Stats Column
Trade update: The Cubs have traded LHP John Koronka to the Texas Rangers for utility player Freddie Bynum. Freddie appears to be a jack of all trades type of guy. He’s only had seven at bats in the majors; last year for Sacramento he hit .278 2 HR 40 RBI with 23 SB. He struck out 22% of his at bats. Ryan Theriot has been sent to Iowa, thus completing the Cubs’ 25 man roster.