1. Cincinnati Reds
Highlights: The Reds led all of baseball in WAR (wins above replacement) at 33.7 and won the Central with a 91-71 record. Joey Votto put together an MVP season belting 37 home runs with a .324/.424/.600 line while contending for the NL Triple Crown for most of the year. Jay Bruce continues to improve at the plate and even got his OBP way up to .353 this season. Aroldis Champman finally arrived and hit 100+ MPH at every appearance. Chicks dig the fastball. Mike Leake skipped the minors all together going straight from the draft to the majors. He pitched admirably, considering, with a 4.23 ERA and 4.68 FIP (fielding independent pitching). Even Homer Bailey progressed and pitched better than his 4.46 ERA suggested according to his 3.74 FIP.
Lowlights: Got swept out of the playoffs by the Phillies and became only the second team in history to get no-hit in the post season thanks to Roy Halladay. The combination of T.O. and Ochocinco is more obnoxious than I initially feared. Edinson Volquez remains ineligible to win Rookie of the Year. For whatever reason, Jonny Gomes was allowed to spend way to much time wandering around in the outfield like a drunken hobo.
Hot Stove Outlook: The Reds could use a short stop after wisely declining the option on Orlando Cabrera and probably another starter after also declining Aaron Harang's option. Unfortunately the market isn't bursting with great/affordable players that fit their needs. They also need to hope Scott Rolen can stay durable after rounding the corner of his mid-30's.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
Highlights: MVP seasons from Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Pujols hit 42 homers to go with a .312/.414/.596 line and competed with Carlos Gonzalez and Joey Votto for the Triple Crown until nobody could claim it. Holliday wasn't too shabby either with 28 home runs and a .312/.390/.532 line of his own. Adam Wainwright was fantastic and should finish in the top three of Cy Young voting. Rookie pitcher Jaime Garcia established himself as a solid number three behind Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.
Lowlights: Finishing five games back of the Reds and missing the playoffs. And that's in part due to Tony LaRussa's resistance to playing Colby Rasmus. Just strange.
Hot Stove Outlook: The core is solid if TLR will play Rasmus everyday otherwise they'll be in bigger trouble. They don't have much payroll flexibility considering Pujols is a year away from free agency and will likely require the Arch to re-sign. Maybe they try to hang on to Jake Westbrook. Deal with the inevitable LaRussa DUI. I like the ones where he falls asleep at a red light.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
Highlights: Was this the year that Rickie Weeks turned the corner? I'm inclined to believe that is was and this is his true potential. Weeks slugged 29 home runs and hit .269/.366/.464 while staying healthy. Yovanni Gallardo looks like an ace. Guido, the Italian sausage, won the most sausage races with 22.
Lowlights: Just about everything else. Trevor Hoffman was downright old and miserable. The only pitchers with a WAR above one were Gallardo, Jon Axford and Chris Narveson. Brett Wurst, the bratwurst, trailed the rest of the pack with only 11 sausage race victories.
Hot Stove Outlook: Pitching. At some point, just like the Padres, the Brewers need to trade their big slugging first baseman. Prince Fielder is a free agent after next season and all of the fatty foods in Milwaukee won't keep him around. He'll also command big money for a body type that won't age well.
4. Houston Astros
Highlights: Used smoke and mirrors to win 76 games.
Lowlights: Paid Carlos Lee $19 million to produce -0.8 Wins Above Replacement. They would have been better off sticking a traffic cone in left field. And they still owe him another $38 million over the next two years. Oopsy. No talent in the minors anywhere close to contributing.
Hot Stove Outlook: Pray for rain.
5. Chicago Cubs
Highlights: Starlin Castro is going to be a star short stop. Geovany Soto recovered from his nightmare 2009 season to hit 17 homers and a .280/.393/.497 line. The season, mercifully, ended.
Lowlights: Carlos Zambrano is a crazy person and the Cubs are on the hook for another $36 million over the next two seasons. Even funnier than that contract? The Cubs owe Alfonso Soriano $19 million per season until 2014 at which point he'll be even less valuable than Houston's traffic cone. The Cubs sent off retiring Lou Piniella with a 16-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves. They should have just lit his shoes on fire as well.
Hot Stove Outlook: Do nothing. The Cubs could use a cheap first baseman but won't be writing blank checks anymore. They could try to deal Carlos Zambrano for a bag of balls. Crazy Carlos pitched well after returning to the rotation on August 9. In his last 11 starts, he posted a 1.41 ERA and a 1.5 K/BB ratio.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Highlights: Drafted and signed Jameson Tallion and Stetson Allie. Andrew McCutchen. Secured the number one draft pick in the 2011 amateur draft. Ben Roethlisberger did not try to rape them. Allegedly.
Lowlights: Finished with the worst record in baseball at 57-105. Finished with a losing record for the 18th consecutive season. Forgot to employ any Major League caliber pitching. Pedro Alvarez struck out at a 35% clip.
Hot Stove Outlook: Do nothing. The Pirates are doing a good job building through the draft and in a few years should be able to try to make some savvy moves like the Rays have been doing recently. Until then, it's unfortunately more years of futility. Learn to embrace the draft, Pirates fans. You're going to have a lot of high picks.