NL Central Preview

The Cardinals look like the heavyweight champion in the Central Division in 2011.

Chris Carpenter

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St. Louis Cardinals

Key additions: Ryan Theriot, Lance Berkman, Brian Tallet

Departures: Brendan Ryan

The Cardinals will look a lot like the 2010 squad. The team should benefit from a healthy David Freese and the continued development of Colby Rasmus. Obviously the major blow in spring training was losing 20-game winner Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery which will sideline him 10-12 months. Pitching staff will rely on Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, Kyle Lohse, and Kyle McClellan. 86 wins a year ago, I think it is a safe bet to improve on that number slightly. Is it a 90 win ballclub? Not sure. Staying healthy will be huge for this team.

Milwaukee Brewers

Key Additions: Zach Greinke, Shawn Marcum, Yunieski Betancourt

Departures: Alcides Escobar

Brewers have a chance to score a lot of runs in 2011. Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks on the right side of the infield bring some serious run production. All-star left fielder Ryan Braun is a phenomenal player. The additions of Greinke  and Marcum (who are currently battling injuries) will help a pitching staff that  yielded a 4.58 team ERA in 2010. Ron Roenicke takes over as manager for the Brew Crew. They will likely improve from their 2010 faulter.

Chicago Cubs

Key Additions: Carlos Pena, Matt Garza

Departures: Carlos Silva

I like how the Cubs were able to get a pair of former Rays that are difference makers. Matt Garza is a top starting pitcher. His stuff is nasty and keep in mind he has been pitching against a solid AL East division. Pena will not hit for a high average but he will hit a lot of homeruns in a friendly park like Wrigley Field. They need Aramis Ramirez to bounce back from an off 2010. Ramirez hit just .248 in 124 games. I think the Cubs benefit when Tyler Colvin is in the lineup. Colvin, a young outfielder, hit 20 homeruns and drove in 56  during his rookie campaign. The Cubs have the potential to be a good team–but can they overcome the Windy City curse?

Cincinatti Reds

Key Additions: Edgar Renteria

Departures: Arthur Rhodes, Orlando Cabrera

The reigning NL Central division central champs look to rebound from their quick exit from the playoffs in 2010. Swept in the divisional round, Cincinatti did not do much to improve a roster that is flooded with young potential. Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen, and Drew Stubbs are the heart of the offense.

I am not sold on the Reds’ pitching staff. I do not see a legitimate #1 ace on the roster. It’s a team filled with question marks. Can Johnny Cueto or Edinson Volquez step up to be the big game pitcher? Is Bronson Arroyo a true opening day starter? They have depth–but with good, not great talent.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Who cares. The Pirates are a complete joke and will embark on what will probably end in their 19th consecutive losing season.

Andrew McCutchen is the best player the Pirates have. His speed and athleticism combined with unique power and OBP makes him a fascinating player to watch.

The pitching staff is just bad. Opening day starter Kevin Correia rocked a 5.40 ERA for San Diego in 2010. In fairness, the team does have young talent that will hopefully improve. Jose Tabata hit .299 in 405 at-bats last season and also swiped 19 bags. Garrett Jones possesses intriguing talent but struck out 123 times last year hitting .247.

Houston Astros

Houston will struggle in 2011. They lack the offensive fire power they once had  (Berkman, Biggio, Beltran, etc.). They need Hunter Pence to return to 2009 form and will certainly need Carlos Lee to get off to a faster start than he did in 2010. Brett Wallace is an interesting prospect. Drafted by St. Louis, Wallace is on his fourth major league team in 2 years. He has the potential to hit for serious power but lacks the defensive skills to be an elite first baseman.

Houston’s rotation features a quality arm in Wandy Rodriguez. Brett Meyers and J.A. Happ are solid back of the rotation guys but the ‘Stros have them penciled in as the #2 and 3 starters.

Could manager Brad Mills be in trouble in only his 2nd season as manager? Tough situation.

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