NL Central

UCB Project: NL Central Predictions

MESA, AZ - MARCH 06:  Milton Bradley #21 of the Chicago Cubs at bat during a Spring Training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at HoHoKam Park on March 6, 2009 in Mesa, Arizona.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Daniel ShoptawAnalyst IApril 1, 2009

After a day of the AL and a day of the NL East, we come back to the only division that matters.

Sure, we'll keep going the rest of the week, but we know the NL Central is where most of our attention is going to be focused this year.

Same method as before, ranking players against their counterparts in the division, and I'm fairly content with the way everything shook out.

 

1. Chicago (34 points)

Well, I'm not glad the Cubs wound up on top. But on paper, they have to be the favorite for the division.

It may not be as large of a gap between them and the rest of the teams as it was in the last couple of years, and they aren't infallible, but they are going to be a tough team yet again.

A lot of the Cubs' season boils down to the pitching staff.  If Carlos Zambrano and/or Rich Harden go down for an extended period of time, and if Ryan Dempster reverts to his career numbers, this could get ugly quick on the North Side.

Their offense is still good, but it's not necessarily overpowering, especially if Milton Bradley gets hurt or goes psycho...again.

Top players: Geovanny Soto, Aramis Ramirez, Bradley, Sean Marshall.



2. St. Louis (41 points)

Not much to say here that you don't already know.

Right now, the offense looks pretty goodthese points aren't including the boost they might get if Troy Glaus returns before Septemberand the pitching staff is better than it's been in a while.

If you need a rundown on the Cardinals, there are 100 other posts here that can help you out.

Top players: Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter.



3. Cincinnati (49 points)

I was one that expected a Reds resurgence last season. While that didn't happen, the Reds are well-positioned to make some noise this summer.

They've got young studs like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, a solid pitching staff, assuming Aaron Harang bounces back, and some speed for Dusty Baker to use, assuming Willy Taveras can actually get on base.

If that ballpark doesn't hurt their pitching too much, I think they could be in the hunt until at least September.

Top players: Brandon Phillips, Edinson Volquez.



4. Milwaukee (51 points)

Losing two studs in the rotation leaves a mark, especially when you try to fill that hole with Braden Looper. Not that we don't like Loop' here in St. Louis, but he's never been confused with C.C. Sabathia.

The pitching staff will probably be what drags the Brew Crew down. The offense is decent, with some real stars in it, though it also includes Jason Kendall.

I like Yovani Gallardo heading up the staff as well. But it drops off a lot after that.

I don't think the Brewers will be doing a lot of shirt-untucking this year.

Top players: J.J. Hardy, Ryan Braun.



5. Houston (52 points)

This year, we are going to try to have a partnership with Astros County, so we'll probably keep an eye on Houston throughout the year.

That said, there's potential for some ugliness here.

Any time you can run out Lance Berkman, you aren't likely to be completely terrible, but that offense has a lot of holes in it.  If Miguel Tejada can halt his career slide and Carlos Lee can stay healthy, there could be some punch, but that's about it.

On the pitching side, Mike Hampton is supposed to be the No. 3 starter, which is fine for the three minutes he's on the mound.

The rest of that rotation is a little on the shaky side and I don't know who will get the call when Hampton goes down.

Top players: Roy Oswalt, Jose Valverde.



6.
Pittsburgh (67 points)

I don't think you'd find too many people, even rabid Pirates fans, who would say that Pittsburgh won't set the record for most seasons under .500 this year.

If they could get their pitchers to take that next step, they could be a spoiler team for some playoff hopefuls, but that's about it.

Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, and Zach Duke could be an intimidating threesome, but so far the results just aren't there, though Snell did start to figure out Pujols last year.

Until those guys get it together though, a lineup of Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, and the Pirate replacement players won't get the job done.

Top player: McLouth.

 

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