MLB 2009 Division-by-Division Preview, Pt. 5: NL Central

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MLB 2009 Division-by-Division Preview, Pt. 5: NL Central

National League Central Division 2009 Breakdown 
No. 5 of 7

1. Chicago Cubs
Key Addition(s): Aaron Miles, Aaron Heilman, Kevin Gregg and Milton Bradley 
Key Loss(s): Rich Hill, Felix Pie, Jason Marquis, Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa 
Off-Season Grade: B+ 
Projected Lineup: 
Alfonso Soriano LF
Aaron Miles 2B 
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Derrek Lee 1B 
Milton Bradley RF 
Kosuke Fukudome CF
Geovany Soto C 
Ryan Theriot SS 

Key Backups: Mike Fontenot and Reed Johnson 
Top Pitchers: 
SP: Carlos Zambrano 
SP: Rich Harden 
SP: Ryan Dempster

RP: Aaron Heilman 
SU: Carlos Marmol 
CL: Kevin Gregg

Young Player to Keep an Eye On: Jeff Samardzija, P

Notes: A give some, take some type of offseason this year for Chicago’s north side team.  The Cubs picked up Aaron Miles, who nearly carried the Cardinals on his back last season to the playoffs, to platoon at second base.

They aquired Aaron Heilman in a trade from the Mariners and signed slugger Milton Bradley and former Marlins closer, Kevin Gregg to potentially close out games with the loss of Kerry Wood to free agency. 

The lineup only got better over the offseason. The switch from Mike Fontenot to Aaron Miles at second will add a more consistent hitter at the top of the order. Milton Bradley brings a big stick to the middle of the lineup to help Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

Kosuke Fukudome will likely move from right to center to cater to Bradley’s lack of mobility. Last season’s NL Rookie of the Year, Geovany Soto adds a different dimension to the lineup in the seven slot, where he can use the entire field. 

There is a phenomenal group at the top of the rotation for the Cubbies. Zambrano, Harden and Dempster teamed up for a 41-14 record last season with just a 2.98 ERA.

With Aaron Heilman coming over from Seattle, it adds multiple things to the pitching staff. Heilman can be a spot starter, a long reliever or middle reliever. Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg will most likely battle it out for the closer role in Spring Training.

2. St. Louis Cardinals 
Key Addition(s):
Khalil Greene and Trevor Miller 
Key Loss(s): Aaron Miles 
Off-Season Grade: C 
Projected Lineup: 
Skip Schumaker LF
Rick Ankiel CF
Troy Glaus 3B 
Albert Pujols 1B 
Yadier Molina C 
Ryan Ludwick RF 
Khalil Greene SS 
Brendan Ryan 2B

Key Backups: Jason LaRue and Brian Barton 
Top Pitchers: 
SP: Adam Wainwright 
SP: Kyle Lohse 
SP: Joel Piniero

RP: Ryan Franklin 
SU: Kyle McClellan 
CL: Chris Perez 

Young Player to Keep an Eye On: Colby Rasmus, OF

Notes: Not quite what St. Louis fans wanted this winter. A rotation that is desperate for a top-notch pitcher didn’t get any help and will rely on former closer, former starter, and former reliever Adam Wainwright to right the ship again.  

The only player the Cardinals really need is Albert Pujols. The guy hit .357 last season,  belted 37 homers and drove in 116 base runners, winning the NL MVP. If Pujols can keep healthy, he may be able to help St. Louis into the Wild Card spot for the National League.

New comer Khalil Greene won’t have any pressure on him, as he fills in the shoes of Brendan Ryan, who didn’t really make many fans last season. 

Most likely, this is one of the worst rotations in this division. Adam Wainwright is never sure if he’ll be starting a game or closing it out. Kyle Lohse and Joel Piniero are decent at best.

The youth at the back end of the bullpen may not pay off this season, but it could come around in seasons to come. Kyle McClellan and Chris Perez will fight for the closer spot all season long. Don’t be surprised if the Cardinals try to sign a proven closer during the season. 

3. Milwaukee Brewers 
Key Addition(s):
Trevor Hoffman, Trot Nixon and Jorge Julio 
Key Loss(s): C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets and Salomon Torres 
Off-Season Grade: D+  
Projected Lineup: 
Rickie Weeks 2B 
Bill Hall 3B 
Ryan Braun LF 
Prince Fielder 1B 
Corey Hart RF 
J.J. Hardy SS 
Mike Cameron CF 
Jason Kendall C 

Key Backups: Tony Gwynn Jr. and Craig Counsell 
Top Pitchers: 
SP: Manny Parra 
SP: Dave Bush 
SP: Yovanni Gallardo

RP: David Riske 
SU: Jorge Julio 
CL: Trevor Hoffman 

Young Player to Keep an Eye On: Alcides Escobar, SS/2B

Notes: What a devastating offseason for all of Brewers Nation. After making a run to the playoffs last season, the Brewers lost their two top starters, C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets, to free agency.

Through all the losses, Milwaukee did bring in future Hall-of-Famer Trevor Hoffman to close out games, and they also made sure to re-sign slugger, Prince Fielder. 

The Brew Crew will come out with the same lineup as last season. The big boys, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, will anchor the middle of the lineup. The other role players around them will have to do something to be able to compete with the Cubs and the Cardinals this upcoming season.

Corey Hart’s All-Star season will have to be copied and most likely upgraded so that Milwaukee has another big bat in that lineup. Look out for either Mike Rivera or Vinny Rottino to take over the catching duties if Jason Kendall slips at all. 

Milwaukee will definitely miss Sabathia and Sheets. The Brewers will look to young Manny Parra and Yovanni Gallardo to really step it up.

A loss of plenty of relievers will now open the door for newcomer Jorge Julio to play a big role. Eric Gagne, Derrick Turnbow, and Salamon Torres have all split ways from the team. Former Red Todd Coffey could play a large role for the Brewers this season, so fantasy owners take notice.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates 
Key Addition(s):
Eric Hinske and Ramon Vasquez 
Key Loss(s): Ronny Paulino 
Off-Season Grade: C-  
Projected Lineup: 
Nate McClouth CF 
Freddy Sanchez 2B 
Craig Monroe LF 
Adam LaRoche 1B 
Jack Wilson SS
Brandon Moss RF 
Ryan Doumit C 
Andy LaRoche 3B 

Key Backups: Steve Pearce and Ramon Vasquez 
Top Pitchers: 
SP: Paul Maholm 
SP: Ian Snell 
SP: Tom Gorzelanny

RP: Sean Burnett 
SU: John Grabow 
CL: Matt Capps 

Young Player to Keep an Eye On: Jose Tabata, OF

Notes: I guess a C- was a bit rough of an offseason grade for the Pirates, since they don’t have much money to work with. Letting Ronny Paulino move to the Phillies is no big deal since Ryan Doumit had such a break out season last year. Doumit hit .318 and 15 home runs in 2008. Adding Hinske could pressure Brandon Moss and Craig Monroe to have better seasons. 

I don’t have much to say about this Pittsburgh lineup Freddy Sanchez will have to pick up the pace from last season to have the Pirates become last season’s Rays. A Craig Monroe, Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson 3-4-5 is most likely the worst of its sort in the majors. 

This rotation has potential. If Ian Snell can get back into the swing of things after a 7-12 2008 ,this rotation may carry the Pirates to third in the division if the Brewers slip.

Career 30-35 starter Paul Maholm and lefty Tom Gorzelanny will most likely need to be at .500 or better to get anywhere. Expect big numbers from Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens as the potential No. 4 and No. 5 starters.

5. Houston Astros 
Key Addition(s):
Jason Michaels, Toby Hall, Clay Hensley and LaTroy Hawkins 
Key Loss(s): Ty Wiggington and Reggie Abercrombie 
Off-Season Grade: C 
Projected Lineup: 
Michael Bourn CF 
Hunter Pence RF 
Miguel Tejada SS 
Lance Berkman 1B 
Carlos Lee LF 
Geoff Blum 3B 
Humberto Quintero C 
Kaz Matsui 2B 

Key Backups: J.R. Towles and Ramon Vasquez 
Top Pitchers: 
SP: Roy Oswalt 
SP: Wandy Rodriguez 
SP: Brian Moehler

RP: Tim Byrdak 
SU: LaTroy Hawkins 
CL: Jose Valverde 

Young Player to Keep an Eye On: J.R. Towles, C

Notes: Houston, what happened? A few seasons ago, you were competing in the World Series, and now, in 2009, you’re being predicated to finish fifth in the NL Central.

The Astros added multiple role players to the 2009 roster this winter, including backup catcher Toby Hall and back end starter Clay Hensley. The loss of “Wiggy” at third base will add insult to injury for this Houston lineup. 

Through two seasons in the big leagues, Hunter Pence has hit .292, belted 42 homers and drove in 152 runners. With him and Berkman being the bright spots in the tattered Astros lineup, they will nearly have to drive in a combined 215+ runs this season to get some numbers up on the board.

Miguel Tejada and Carlos Lee will still be threats, but they’re not getting any younger, and it has been showing the last few seasons. Ramon Vasquez may start at third base instead of Geoff Blum as well. 

Roy Oswalt continues to quietly be one of the best starters in the entire league. Oswalt, a career 129-64 pitcher, will need to have a 20 win season to attempt to carry this pitching staff which is weak up and down. Another player to watch for the Astros is closer, Jose Valverde, who posted 44 saves last season.

6. Cincinnati Reds 
Key Addition(s):
Jonny Gomes, Arthur Rhodes and Ramon Hernandez 
Key Loss(s): Ryan Freel 
Off-Season Grade: B- 
Projected Lineup: 
Willy Taveras CF 
Brandon Phillips 2B 
Jay Bruce RF 
Joey Votto 1B 
Ramon Hernandez C 
Jonny Gomes LF 
Edwin Encarnacion 3B
Alex Gonzalez SS 

Key Backups: Norris Hopper and Jeff Keppinger 
Top Pitchers: 
SP: Aaron Harang 
SP: Edinson Volquez 
SP: Bronson Arroyo

RP: David Weathers 
SU: Arthur Rhodes 
CL: Francisco Cordero 

Young Player to Keep an Eye On: Jay Bruce, OF

Notes: Nearly a flawless off-season for the Reds, other then giving up valuable utility man, Ryan Freel. The newcomers to Cincinnati will most likely make a big difference, and could move the Reds from their predicted cellar spot to maybe fourth place in the division.

Arthur Rhodes will add another solid reliever late in the game that isn’t named Cordero. After multiple seasons of Jason LaRue and David Ross, it will be refreshing to have an everyday catcher who can put up numbers like Ramon Hernandez.  

Jay Bruce was nearly unstoppable last season when he was called up from the minor leagues. He played in 108 games in 2008, hitting .254 with 21 long balls. Bruce, All-Star, Ramon Hernandez, solid hitter Brandon Phillips, and sophomore Joey Votto could add up to big runs in Cincy. But don’t get me wrong, by mid-season, Reds fans will be crying for Adam Dunn. 

Edinson Volquez made a name for himself last season, going 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA. Volquez will combine with Aaron Harang for at least 35 wins this season and the rest of the role players will need to pick it up (*cough* Arroyo *cough*).

Don’t think Francisco Cordero has the closer role locked up. I believe Arthur Rhodes could take over if Cordero blows a few chances.

Next up…National League West Division 

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