The National League Central race should be an interesting one all summer long. The only team that has absolutely no shot at the Central title is the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates.
Cincinnati Reds 94-68
The Reds are the defending Central champs, have the reigning NL MVP in Joey Votto, a solid young rotation and manager Dusty Baker. All this adds up to back-to-back division titles for the Reds. The offense should have no problems producing runs, and if Aroldis Chapman emerges as a reliable starter the Reds may run away with first place.
Milwaukee Brewers 85-77
The Brewers made the most changes in the off-season, and they had to after a disappointing 2010 campaign. Manager Ken Macha was replaced with rookie manager Ron Roenicke, and general manager Doug Melvin traded for pitchers Zach Greinke and Shawn Marcum. The potential loss of Prince Fielder at the end of the season to free agency gives this team a sense of urgency. If Greinke rebounds from a dismal 2010 season, the Brewers have a chance to make the pennant race a close one.
St. Louis Cardinals 81-81
The loss of pitcher Adam Wainwright (who had Tommy John surgery in February) added to a painful winter for Cardinals fans as the team was unable to re-sign the league’s best player Albert Pujols to a contract extension. The team still has the bats of Pujols, Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus, the managerial wisdom of Tony LaRussa, and Chris Carpenter in their dugout. The distraction of Pujols and the loss of Wainwright will be too much for this team to overcome.
Chicago Cubs 80-82
The Cubs finished the 2010 season nicely (24-13) once Mike Quade took over when Lou Pinella stepped down. The rotation is a big question mark, but can be effective when Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster are pitching well. The offense added Carlos Pena, and while he adds a left-handed bat he also adds age to an already aging line-up. If Zambrano melts down it could be a very long season on the north side of Chicago.
Houston Astros 76-86
The Astros did almost nothing this off-season, and for a team that could have used help that means another sub-.500 season in Houston. Outfielder Hunter Pence should have another good season, but Carlos Lee will continue to make Astros fans wonder why management gave him so much money. The entire pitching staff is questionable, but could see nice seasons from Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. It may take the sale of the team to bring changes in Houston.
Pittsburgh Pirates 60-102
The Pirates are essentially an AAAA team. Their biggest move was hiring former Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle to steer the ailing team to another 100-loss season. As long as team ownership continues to worry more about revenue sharing than winning baseball games the Pirates will continue to have triple digit loss seasons.
NL Central MVP: Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis
NL Central Cy Young: Yovani Gallardo, SP, Milwaukee
NL Central ROY: Aroldis Chapman, P, Cincinnati