1. Cincinnati Reds – Wanna know what’s sad? I’m not sure I spelled Cincinnati right but I’m too lazy to check. Anyway, I put the Reds here more out of attrition than anything else. No team in this division convinces me. But they have Joey Votto. True, he’s only the second best player in the division, but if there’s one guy I don’t want to face with the game on the line, it’s him. They also have some really nice arms on the staff. Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, fireballer Aroldis Chapman, last year’s rookie stud, Mike Leake to just name a few. And then you have pseudo hippie guitar player Bronson Arroyo, who is perhaps the most unheralded 17 game winner in baseball. Sure, when he’s bad, he’s awful and that inflates his ERA and WHIP, but he’s good more often than not. How he does it with an 83 MPH heater is beyond me, but he’s done it long enough and consistently enough for it not to be a fluke. There are some glaring flaws here. Drew Stubbs has a nice combination of power and speed, but he does not seem to be able to hit for average. I’m never surprised when Jay Bruce launches a 500 footer into the upper deck, but any time he rips an opposite field RBI single in a late inning, clutch situation, my face looks like that guy in the really creepy Monet painting from a billion years ago. I’m just not convinced that he’s clutch. Lastly, Paul Janish is a decent shortstop, but he pronounces his last name’s J like it’s a Y, and that pisses me off much the same way it does when people add silent letters to their names… like spelling Roger with a D. Like Rodger. Did you really need that D? Come on…
2. Milwaukee Brewers – Again, my laziness takes over. I just changed my mind and picked Milwaukee to win this division, but I don’t feel like doing the necessary cutting and pasting to re-order this post. Zach Grienke moves to the National League, likely knocking half a run from his already sterling ERA, and will form a fearsome one two with Yovanni Gallardo. Shawn Marcum was an excellent pickup also. And they still have Randy Wolf, who has always been a little overrated if you ask me, but isn’t altogether awful either. They picked up the awesome (if ancient) Takashi Saito who will provide insurance if John Axford’s excellent rookie closing season turns out to be a one and done. Don’t think Saito is awesome? Look at his career ERA and K to BB ratio. Unmatched for someone who was considered over the hill for the JAPANESE LEAGUE!!! Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Casey McGeeheeheehee or however you spell it, and Cory Hart provide a nice offensive punch, that will be even nicer if Rickie Weeks can improve his on base percentage. The achilles heel is huge though. Shortstop and catcher are huge question marks, unless you consider 40 year old Craig Counsell, perennial suck monster Yunieski Betancourt, George Kottaras and Wil Nieves answers. If not a division title, a wild card berth is a real possibility.
3. St. Louis Cardinals – The Albert Pujols deadline for a contract extension passed without, well, an extension. Rumor has it he wants 300 million, and while nobody deserves that kind of money, the Dominican equivalent to Roy Hobbs comes close. I’ve never been a big believer in nonsense like clubhouse chemistry or “intangibles,” but it’s going to get tiresome for this team to be fielding questions about this situation after every single game. And by every single game, I mean twice on Sunday’s too. That sad, the offense should be okay with Matt Holliday, last season’s revelation John Jay, and the improving Colby Rasmus. Lance Berkman was a sneaky good acquisition also. On the rotation, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook form a solid quarted, which immediately becomes worse when you look at Kyle Lohse in the fifth spot, but Kyle McClellan might take over that job before long. The thing that would scare me if I was a Cards fan is the 235 innings Chris Carpenter logged last season. He’s always been very very good, but never has proven himself as a model of durability. Like Milwaukee, they could win this division, or they could fall apart with all the Pujols scrutiny wearing on them and the fact that Ryan Franklin still figures to close. I wonder if they have Troy Percival’s number on file. Or Lee Smith. Or Bruce Sutter.
4. Chicago Cubs – The only reason I don’t have them ranked lower is the fact that the Pirates and Astros also play in this division. They did make a nice move by adding post-season proven Matt Garza to a rotation that was relying too heavily on Ryan Dempster and headcase, Carlos Zambrano. But it’s just not enough. It’s nice to have a thoroughbred like Carlos Marmol at the back end of the pen, but I just don’t see them getting enough games to the ninth inning with a lead to really maximize the weapon he is. Kerry Wood remains an x-factor, if healthy, but how often does that happen? On to the offense. This is going to be short. Aramiz Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, and Marlon Byrd are nice pieces to a good team, but would be much better if a superstar (think the aforementioned Votto or someone like that) was sandwiched in between them. The addition of slugging first baseman Carlos Pena replaces the departed Derek Lee’s pop and outstanding defense at first base, but he’ll need to bump his average way above the Mendoza line to have the impact this team needs him to have to be a competitor. Not to look too far ahead, but do you think Albert Pujols would stab St. Louis in the heart and sign with the hated Cubbies in 2012? I just smiled while typing that. Does that make me a bad person?
5. Pittsburgh Pirates – How long can a team be bad? Check that, how long can a team be awful? There are players here with some great potential. Andrew McCutcheon, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata are a future trio who are going to do some damage. But offseason acquisitions Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz are better suited to platoons, and are likely going to play way more than that. Garrett Jones has nice power… for a guy who is third or fourth on his team in long balls, but he led this squad with 21 last year. That’s not enough. Speaking of not enough, Paul Maholm led the team in wins last season. With nine. Yup. Nine. And Ross Ohlendorf just WON his arbitration case with the Pirates after going a sparkling 1-11. One. Freaking. Win. Yeah, Ohlendorf is better than his numbers would indicate, but he’s not part of any rotation that is going to compete in September. Ever. And neither are Kevin Correia, James McDonald, and Jeff Karstens, and a healthy and sane Scott Olsen is pushing it. I don’t think they’ll lose 100, mainly because God is benevolent and can’t continue in good conscience to punish the Pirates faithful so harshly. On the bright side, they don’t have anyone on their team who (allegedly) assaults women in bathrooms like the local football squad.
6. Houston Astros – They may not finish last. But they should. You don’t trade your best pitcher, your best hitter, not get any real top level talent in return (I don’t consider J.A. Happ top level, mainly because he should ditch the initials and just go with Jim, or whatever his first name is. My philosophy is beer over research) and expect to get any better. True, Hunter Pence put up bigger numbers than Berkman did last year, and he’s a very nice player. Chris Johnson is an intriguing and powerful prospect at the hot corner, but what message are you sending your fans when your big offseason offensive pickups are Bill Hall and Clint Barmes? Even though the left field porch is about arms reach from home plate, no way Barmes duplicates the deceptive power he showed in Colorado. And no way Bill Hall becomes anything other than the shining example of mediocrity he has been his whole career, save for one monster, 35 dinger year. I’m just going to say a couple things about the pitching. One, it’s terrible. Wandy Rodriguez would be a nice guy to fill out a rotation with, but they’ll need him to lead it. Not good. Brandon Lyon is a nice guy to have around if you need a couple outs in the 7th inning, but they need him to close. He’s done that before and failed miserably at it. If I’m forgetting to mention someone, I don’t care. They can’t possibly make a difference for this suffering franchise.
Offensive Player of the Year Other than Votto or Pujols – Had to throw that disclaimer in there. I might be selling out by picking Prince Fielder here, but I have a theory. There are perpetual trade rumors following him, and I don’t know why. The Brewers would demand a king’s ransom for him in return, and given the fact that aside from his power, his numbers are only a little better than pedestrian, and nobody will pay that. The only thing I can think of is that he might want out of Milwaukee, realize that in order for a likeable destination to pay what it would take to get him, he’d need to have a monster of a year. I think he’ll end up dropping 20 pounds and getting serious this year. If he does, look out.
Pitcher of the Year – Plenty to choose from here and I’m going to go with the obvious choice in… well, is it obvious? Ok fine, Zack Greinke. His struggles with anxiety are well documented but he can thrive in the relative anonymity of Milwaukee, and his devastating arsenal of pitches is matched by precious few. If Milwaukee scores some runs, and they figure to, he could win a boatload of games. Very few pitchers pitch better with a lead than Greinke. You wouldn’t know this unless you really paid attention because Kansas City rarely led anyone, but it’s eerie. His command goes from excellent to impeccable. His movement goes from baffling to just plain evil. Tune in to a game this year when he’s on the mound, hope the Brewers get the lead, and watch. Tell me I’m wrong. You won’t be able to.
Rookies of the Year – Pedro Alvarez and Jordan Lyles. Alvarez has the starting gig at third base in Pittsburgh, and since they figure to suck, they will stick with him through any struggles. He has mythic power and can hit to all fields. True, I did kind of pick him because I don’t see any John Jay or Chris Johnson type guys in the rookie class for the NL Central this year, but if someone is going to blow up, it could be Alvarez. Lyles is barely out of his teens, and his selection here is predicated on him making the big league club at some point, but the Astros have invited him to major league camp as a non-roster invitee, and I don’t think they would have done that if they weren’t going to give him a shot at winning a rotation spot. The Dodgers did it with Clayton Kershaw and that worked out okay, so why couldn’t it with Lyles. I’ve seen a couple youtube videos of him and he can get big league hitters out now. If he can do it for a full season without fading is a question mark right now, and the ‘Stros would likely limit his innings, but he’s a future all star.
Surprise Player of the Year – Johnny Gomes. Why? This guy seems to have to win a spot in camp every year, despite always having shown good power, first in Tampa and now in Cincy. There are certain guys who if you give them 400 plate appearances, are virtual locks to hit 20 home runs. He’s not much different than guys like Russ Branyan, Marcus Thames, and isn’t much worse than Minnesota’s Michael Cuddyer if you ignore batting average. Gomes can hit home runs in bunches, rakes lefties, and if he gets consistent playing time, could really have a big year. You’ll have to live with some strikeouts and an inability to lay off fastballs above the letters, but the upside is worth the risk.
Random, Non-Baseball Related Blurb That I Felt Like Writing – I hate irresponsible journalism. Calling what Shaun and I do here “journalism” would be a stretch, but whoever the moron is that wrote the piece about Mark Sanchez having sex with a 17 year old is an embarrasment to anyone who writes, for a living or otherwise. In New York, 17 is above the age of consent. The only reason anyone would write that would be to start a furor about Sanchez possibly going to jail. I ask, why? Why be a douche like that? While it might make you raise an eyebrow, it’s not illegal. Not in NY anyway. Age, in my opinion, is a lousy way to determine ability to consent, but I guess you have to do it somewhere. I know 40 year olds with the maturity of a toddler who should never be allowed to do anything where procreation is a possibility, but they can. In ten years, Sanchez will be about 33 and the woman he allegedly had relations with will be 27, and nobody would bat an eyelash. Don’t get me wrong, kiddy diddling is one of the most despicable things anyone can do. In my opinion, that’s exactly what the guy who wrote the article about Sanchez was trying to get people to think of Mark Sanchez. Anyway, I should come up with an original sign off to my articles. How about, good night, and good luck. Okay, that’s totally unorignal. I’m open to ideas.