Spring Training Hot Questions: N.L. Central
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After a whirlwind offseason, the National League Central is a division that even Phyllis Diller can love. You know, facelifts galore.
Slugger Prince Fielder has taken his 38 homers and 120 ribbies from Milwaukee to Detroit. Future Hall of Famer player Albert Pujols and manager Tony LaRussa have left St. Louis, and should-be Hall of Fame pitching coach Dave Duncan has followed them.
Plenty of names have changed in Pittsburgh, as usual.
In Chicago, general manager Theo Epstein has assumed the reins and begun to clean house. And Houston has almost as many vacancies as the Bates Motel at the moment.
In other words, the hot questions are hotter than usual this spring.
After a Memorable Season, Are the Brewers One and Done?
The loss of Prince Fielder leaves a left-handed void in the middle of the line-up.
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In Ryan Braun and Fielder, the offense packed the most lethal right-left combination in in the league.
Even if newcomer Aramis Ramirez is healthy and productive, there's no substitute for Fielder's left-handed bat in the clean-up spot. The Crew got a reprieve when Braun's 50-game suspension was overturned this week, but for manager Ron Roenicke's team to stay in the hunt, a deep pitching staff will have to be all of that again.
For now, though, a repeat of 96 victories is out of the question.
How Will the Cardinals Cope with the Loss of Three Key Team Members?
Manager Mike Matheny faces a tall order in his rookie season.
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The defending champs say the departures of Pujols, LaRussa and Duncan will serve to motivate them, but these aren't ordinary shoes that have to be filled now.
More like size 15EEEs.
The onus is on veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, rookie manager Mike Matheny and first-year pitching coach Derek Lilliquist to pick up the load—one that will be much lighter if pitcher Adam Wainwright returns to his 20-win form after Tommy John surgery. As was the case in the stretch drive last year—when the Cardinals overcame a 10-and-a-half game deficit, the margin for error may be slimmer than slim once again.
Can the Reds Revert Back to Their 2010 Championship Season?
Former Phillies pitcher Ryan Madson brings closer stuff and championship experience.
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If the starters cooperate, then why not?
Last season the rotation ranked 13th in earned run average and dead last in opponents home runs and slugging percentage. In turn, that placed greater stress on a fairly average bullpen.
So general manager Walt Jocketty wasted no time to address the problem last winter, when he acquired starter Mat Latos, set-up man Sean Marshall and closer Ryan Madson in separate moves. At their best, all three represent significant upgrades.
Take into account the plights of the Brewers and Cardinals—the teams that finished ahead of them last season—and the Reds figure to contend again.
Are the Pirates any closer to their first .500-or-better finish in 20 seasons?
Last season Pedro Alvarez struck out 80 times, or once every 2.9 at-bats.
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If they are, then it's because the rest of the pack has come to them and not the other way around.
General manager Neal Huntington was unable to lure upper-tier free agents, which left him to pick at the leftovers once again. The biggest name is New York Yankees castoff A.J. Burnett, who will open the season as the staff ace because of his hefty contract.
This team has multiple needs, not the least of which is a left-handed power hitter. The hope is that, at 25, former first-rounder Pedro Alvarez is ready to live up to the hype.
How Long Will It Take Epstein to Build a Championship Team in Chicago?
Ex-Red Sox GM Theo Epstein has a familiar challenge ahead.
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Chill, Cubs Nation, the one-time Red Sox wonder boy may or may not be a miracle-worker, but this project will take awhile.
For now, the honeymoon will focus on the farm system and player development, areas that had been neglected too long. Meanwhile, the GM unloaded Ramirez and pitcher Carlos Zambrano – could outfielder Alfonso Soriano be next? – moves that improved team karma and hastened the youth movement.
Expect the organization to be an aggressive player in the free agent market next off-season and . . . Could 2014 be the year? Hey, when you've waited 103 years already, what's a few more?
Do the Astros Have Enough Young Talent to Turn It Around Quickly?
At 21, young gun Jordan Lyles is the face of the future.
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Pitcher Jordan Lyles and outfielder J.D. Martinez appear to be keepers. Pitcher Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and outfielder George Springer rank in the middle tier of the Top 100 prospects and are expected to arrive in the 2013 season.
Still, while the cupboard isn't bare, there aren't enough blue-chippers to turn around a team that lost 106 games and finished at or near the bottom in virtually every category last season.