2010 NL Central Preview
In what is the largest division in the majors, the N.L. Central comes down to three or four teams. The Pittsburgh Pirates are done for the season before they ever take the field and the Cincinnati Reds will need an amazing array of fortuitous situations to make it to the playoffs. It’s unlikely that the Houston Astros will be competitive, but of the three bottom teams, they have the best shot. That leaves, from the club most likely to least likely take the division, the Saint Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, and Milwaukee Brewers in the mix.
The Cardinals have pitching aces lined up, a deep bullpen, Tony La Russa at the helm and Albert Pujols all ready to go. This is the best team in the N.L. Central, partly because it is so deep and partly because it is so well run. Additionally, the Cards took a swan dive in the playoffs last year and now have unfinished business to which they have to attend. The only way they’ll do that is by taking the division and then the pennant.
The Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers are next in line. Both are a threat to the Cardinals. The Cubs possess an overall solid team and with Lou Piniella at the helm, you know they’re bound to have some fight in them. If they don’t, he’ll insult them until they do. This club has to stir up its offense and it desperately needs ace Carlos Zambrano to stay healthy.
The Brew Crew possesses the offensive punch provided by Fielder and Braun. There’s plenty of pop in this team’s bats. But there’s very little to hold off the opposition, as the team’s starting rotation is thin. Top pitching coach Rick Peterson joins the organization; he could make a difference.
New Astros coach Brad Mills, who spent years as the Red Sox bench coach, will be looking to build a team around a bunch of overall young and pretty much talented players. He’s got the start of something good with the speedy, talented leadoff hitter Michael Bourn and left-handed starter Wandy Roderiguez. The aging Roy Oswalt needs to have a good 15-win season and Kaz Matsui must get that batting average back up. These guys could have some surprises for the opposition.
The Cincinnati Reds are young and it’s doubtful that Dusty Baker will be able to do much with this team. There’s a lot of potential but potential tends to take years to develop. This team has an outside chance of winning, but they would have a better chance with a more aggressive, disciplined manager.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington pretty much blew up the team last season and is rebuilding on a limited budget, investing in rookies and prospects. This is a team that will have a tough time winning 70 games. If they do, that will be a sign that they are on the right track.
If the Cards don’t play it right, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves. The rest of the teams simply don’t compare to Saint Louis. The wild card will most likely come from the East, but both Milwaukee and Chicago will compete for the National League’s only runner-up prize.
2010 National League Central Predictions
Projected Order of Finish:
1) St. Louis Cardinals
2) Chicago Cubs
3) Milwaukee Brewers
4) Houston Astros
5) Cincinnati Reds
6) Pittsburgh Pirates