NL Central Preview

As a Dodger fan, I’m a bit jealous of the decent teams in this division. There are three teams that can put up nice records, and three who will be awful. And the top three will pad their records nicely by playing the bottom three to the tune of 19 times each. Jiminy xmas…

1. St. Louis Cardinals – The defending champs have to be the odds on favorite to win the division, right? I heard they lost some guy… I think I should know who, since is name is rumored to start with poo… All kidding aside, while they lost Albert Pujols’ other worldly offensive numbers, an already sturdy pitching staff regains Adam Wainright, who missed 2011 with Tommy John surgery. They astutely swooped for Carlos Beltran, who has been prematurely scrapped by many due to iffy knees, to replace some of the lost offense. John Jay playing full time should help too. And who can forget World Series hero David Freese? This team is very good, top to bottom. If there is a question mark, it may be closer Jason Motte. But it would be a lower case question mark if there were such a thing.

2. Cincinnati Reds – They paid a king’s ransom in prospects to get ace, Mat Latos from the Padres so finally the sturdy Bronson Arroyo can transition to a more appropriate role of mid-rotation guy. Between Votto, Bruce, Stubbs, Phillips, and maaaaayyyyybe Rolen, there should be plenty of runs to go around. Ryan Madson is a good pickup to step in for the departed Francisco Cordero, and Jose Arredondo might be one of the best set up guys you’ve never heard of. But some issues remain, which is why it will be as a wild card they go, IF they make it to the playoffs. I trust nobody but Votto in this lineup to come up with a clutch late inning hit (think I said this last year too and I was right) and the staff is a bit shallow beyond the obvious good guys. But they can do damage if they get hot a couple of times.

3. Milwaukee Brewers – You may not believe me, but this team got WAY better for, if not this year, the next five years by not keeping Prince Fielder. He figures to be closing in on 400 lbs before long, I’m all in on Mat Gamel, they still have MVP, Ryan Braun, who figures to have his best season ever. Just imagine how many PEDs he’ll be downing now that he essentially has carte blanche to continue unapologetically doping. Their rotation top three of Gallardo, Greinke, and Marcum is sparkling, and John Axford is one of the game’s best, if a bit anonymous, closers. Did you know that Axford has converted his last 43 save opportunities? Neither did I, but he has. There are some things that figure to go wrong. Cory Hart has some injury concerns, the middle to back of the bullpen virtually ensures that they won’t win any games that devolve into slugfests, and I don’t see this team beating up on the bottom feeders enough to hang with Cincy and St. Louis. Call it a gut feeling…

4., 5., and 6. Why not lump the Cubbies, Astros, and Pirates into one spot. They all suck about equally and have similar problems. The positives, there’s some burgeoning super stars: Starlin Castro, Andrew McCutcheon. There are a quite a few very promising youngsters: Jose Altuve, JD Martinez, Alex Presley, Brett LaHair, and a few others. But mostly, this trio is littered with overpaid and past-their-prime dinosaurs like Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Jack Cust, Sucky McSuckerson, etc. Their ideas of staff aces include AJ Burnett, Matt Garza, and Wandy Rodriguez (who actually isn’t bad if you slide him in around the third spot in the rotation). Where teams that are merely good and not great rely on proven if unspectacular veterans to hold the fort down at some key positions, these guys rely on never-really-has-beens like Clint Barmes, Chris Snyder, Jeff Baker and company. If that weren’t enough, I figure these three will all finish in the bottom five of the NL in fielding. I would have said all of baseball, but nobody will be even close the Detroit Tigers when it comes to defensive calamity. The best of these three (probably the Cubs, if you can believe that) will maybe scratch 70 wins, while the worst (probably Houston) will struggle to reach 60, and the third (probably your mom… just seeing if your paying attention) will slot in right about at 67.

 File this under unrelated but infinitely more important: Best wishes for a speedy recover for Bolton Wanderers’ midfielder Fabrice Muamba, who collapsed late in the first half of an FA cup match with Tottenham. Recent reports have him suffering a heart attack (at age 23, can you believe that?) and he’s reportedly in critical condition at the time of this smear. It’s heard to be optimistic when similar events involving players in the past (Miklos Feher, Marc Vivien Foe, and others) have ended in death, with very few endings of the happy variety. Cross your fingers and hope for the best.

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