NL Central Preview

So I’m sitting here on St. Patrick’s day, sober for now, and it got me thinking. At nearly 35 years old, do I need an excuse to drink? After all, I am long past the legal threshold for purchasing booze. Essentially, I can get plowed any time I want, right? Not that it would be a liver-friendly approach to life, but that’s beside the point. Still, going on Facebook this morning, I saw literally a hundred posts about it being St. Patty’s day, and party this and drinking that… I doubt more than a handful of them have any Irish at all in them. It’s like the knuckleheads well into adulthood that still get excited when the clock hits 20 minutes after four o’ clock. “420, man! Yeah…”

I have this particular friend who wears the fact that are a hardcore stoner like it’s a war medal. This friend is only a couple of years younger than me, so essentially the same generation, a parent, and a spouse. Hey, if you have a lot on your plate in life and you need to blaze it in your garage just to cope a little, fine. I probably drink a little more than the Surgeon General would recommend (ok, more than a little) and a lot of it has to do with the stress of life. I could find a more constructive outlet, I suppose, but let’s face it, I’m too lazy and while we’re being honest, I like beer. I struggle to understand many things. Bravado about getting plastered or baked into a catatonic state is just one of them.

What does this have to do with the NL Central, you ask? Not a thing. I was just sitting here watching the Dodgers and Brewers play a preseason game and it reminded me I needed to get to this.

1) St. Louis Cardinals: They’ve been the top dog in this division for a while now. They hit incredibly well, pitch well enough, and are incredibly well managed by Mike Matheny. I don’t see anything going wrong enough for them this season to finish anywhere but first in the Central. The loss of Cris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal may be a hurdle that has to be cleared, but 95 wins are within reach. If they do have an achilles heel, it’s that Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte are vulnerable at the back end of the bullpen. They both throw in the high 90s but neither fastball moves. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not terrible. Just not much better than average in my book. Trevor Rosenthal on the other hand…

2) Cincinnati Reds: There’s a lot of talent on this team too, but they’re managed by Dusty Baker… Wouldn’t that give you reason for concern? Votto, Phillips, Frazier, Bruce, and Choo make for a really potent offensive core. But two things on this team are like clockwork. Baker will mismanage the pitching staff, and start Ryan Hanigan over the superior Devin Mesoraco. Doesn’t matter how good the talent is, it has to be managed properly and I like Baker as a person, but the game has passed him by.

3) Pittsburgh Pirates: Will their historic streak of losing seasons finally come to an end? Possibly. They still won’t make the playoffs though. There just isn’t enough there. There are some great reasons to be optimistic, mainly the continued development of Andrew McCutcheon, Starling Marte, the impending arrival of Jameson Taillon, and others. But there is just too much that has to go right. Allstar closer Joel Hanrahan is gone, replaced presumably by… Marc Melancon? Clint Barmes still going to be the shortstop? If this team is going to surpass two legitimately good teams, it can’t have so many questions.

4) Milwaukee Brewers: No, I’m not ranking them this low because they’re getting grilled by the Dodgers in a meaningless game. It just really appears they got thin. There’s not much behind Yovani Gallardo in the rotation. John Axford anchors a thin bullpen. Cory Hart is hurt to start the year, and Ryan Braun may very realistically end up finally getting caught doping, and not having a procedural SNAFU and Bud Selig’s convenient presence at the top of the MLB totem pole let it get swept under the rug. All teams have weak links, but it appears the Brew Crew has more than most.

5) Chicago Cubs: I don’t doubt that Theo Epstein will eventually bring in the right personnel to right the ship here. But this stuff takes time. More time, in fact, than it will take to lock up Starlin Castro through his arbitration eligibility and perhaps the first couple years of free agency. He’d fetch an absolute king’s ransom in return from a shortstop needy team. Matt Garza, if that arm is sound, is another valuable piece. Look for Theo to mail this season in and load up on blue chippers. Think I’m kidding? Nate Schierholtz may lead this team in RBIs this season. Probably not… but he might.

Anyway, in conclusion, I managed to finish this entire article without even getting into a single beer. Don’t get me wrong, I will probably have one (or more) today. It is, after all, St. Patty’s day.

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