St. Louis Cardinals, Not the Milwaukee Brewers, are Team To Beat in NL Central

Matt RichardsContributor IJanuary 4, 2011

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 24: Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches his way to his 20th win of the season against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on September 24, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cardinals defeated the Cubs 7-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With a greatly improved starting rotation, the Milwaukee Brewers have become contenders in 2011. But do not mistake that for “division winners.”

In 2010, the Brewers ran out a consistently strong offense, while the pitching kept them in the trenches. This coming season, expect the offense to be more or less the same, but the additions of Shaun Marcum and Zack Grienke may not completely change the Brewers’ recent fortune.

The main issue is not talent, they have plenty, but rather competition. Do not forget that last year’s division winners, the Cincinnati Reds, may not even be the favorites in 2011. In addition, the St. Louis Cardinals, who underperformed in 2010, have many returning pieces that rival the Brewers.

In terms of offense, the Brewers have plenty of power in the middle of the order, but first, they need men to get on base. Carlos Gomez, a speedy center fielder, only had a .298 OBP last season, while new shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt also had an OBP below .300. By comparison, neither the Cardinals nor the Reds had a single starting position player with an OBP below .321. 

The Brewers’ biggest star, Prince Fielder, isn’t even the best first baseman in his division. In fact, he’s the third best behind the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols and Joey Votto of the Reds. With those two sluggers, the division’s best teams in 2010 will be hard to surpass.

In the pitching department, the Brewers made significant upgrades to run out a “big four” in 2011 that includes Marcum, Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf. In 2010, Marcum’s 3.64 ERA was the best of the bunch, but Greinke’s 1.07 WHIP proves he’s the true ace. It’s hard to figure that the aging Randy Wolf can be included in the “big four” which is really a “big three.”

The St. Louis Cardinals’ top four starters include a former Cy Young winner in Chris Carpenter, whose 3.22 ERA last season was better than any of the starters in Milwaukee. Then you include Adam Wainwright with an ERA of 2.42. 

The Reds’ rotation is solid, but they lack a true top of the rotation starter. With pitchers like Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, however, the Reds will run out a quality pitcher every day. 

Overall, the Brewers’ rotation projects to be the second best in the division behind the seemingly forgotten St. Louis Cardinals. Their offense, however, may prove to be the wild card. With established power, they can score runs in bunches, but consistency may be an issue without proven hitters at the top of the order. 

The St. Louis Cardinals are the best team in the NL Central division.