Offbase editors Derwood Morris and MTD haven't had much luck previewing things lately-MTD incorrectly predicted Gary Discarcina would come out of retirement to help the Angels win the 2009 World Series and Derwood thought Teen Wolf 3 would be the 2010 summer blockbuster. But here are division previews anyway.
Today we take a crack at the NL Central, home of the Pirates, and five other teams.
Cincinnati (2010: 91-71)
The Red Stockings won the division last season and then pulled a 1998/1999 Texas Rangers against the Phillies in the division series. Joey Votto had a monster 2010 and won the NL MVP, but really the guy's been fantastic since he broke in during the 2007 season (162-game average: .314/.401/.557, 151 OPS+). The Reds led the NL in runs scored a year ago and have some of the best young pitching in the big leagues, namely Travis Wood, Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman. Things on the roster that aren't young: Edgar Renteria, Miguel Cairo, Scott Rolen.
The Cubs parted ways with Carlos Silva and the other man living underneath Carlos Silva's shirt when both were released a few days ago. Once Ted Lilly was traded to Los Angeles on the trade deadline last July, Silva became the Cubs' best starter, but now a number of people will be trying to grab that title.
1. Carlos Zambrano. The rooster in Carlos Zambrano's ear reported Carlos Zambrano is 4% less crazy, but there's a 100% chance that percentage goes down a few minutes after Chicago's season begins.
2. Ryan Dempster. Had a monster 2008 season and got paid for it (3-year, $38 million contract through '11), but fell off a bit in '09 and '10. He'll get the opening day start for the Cubbies, and if you believe morons, that means certain HOF entry for the right-hander if he keeps getting those types of assignments.
3. Matt Garza. Was traded from Tampa Bay after consecutive 200-inning seasons for the Rays. Going from the AL East to a division with the Pirates and Astros has to make a starting pitcher happy.
Chicago should have a good bullpen with erratic/electric Carlos Marmol (52 BB, 138 K in 77 2/3 IP) closing, Sean Marshall coming off an excellent season and Kerry Wood back in the red, white and blue for the first time since 2008.
St. Louis (86-76)
Albert Pujols' contract status was a major topic of discussion this past off-season, but what about Nick Punto's contract status?!
The Brewers were picked by many to challenge and perhaps win the Central when they traded for right-hander Zach Greinke from KC in December. Greinke was expected to join Yovani Gallardo as an excellent 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, but that will have to wait. During spring camp, Greinke suffered a cracked rib playing basketball and will start the season on the disabled list.
Brewers person: "Hey Zack, we're just thrilled to have you in Milwaukee. By the way, there's plenty of BRATWURST available in this city. I don't know if you were aware that Milwaukee has BRATWURST. Anyway, we think adding you to our rotation gives us a great chance to win. Oh, you'll be making $13.5 million this year. Not all at once! (laughs to himself). Now, if you wouldn't mind playing some basketball, injuring yourself and missing the start of the season, we'd really appreciate it."
Milwaukee has a number of other players on the disabled list to open 2011, including terrible pitchers Manny Parra (strained back) and Latroy Hawkins (right shoulder), right fielder Corey Hart (strained oblique) and young catcher Jonathan Lucroy (broken finger). No truth to the rumors that the four were injured during a spirited game of capture the flag.
Seems like a long time ago when Houston was playing in its first World Series, but it was only 2005. Since then, the Astros have been close to a .500 team (391-418) and haven't finished higher than third in the Central. This is the fifth year of Carlos Lee's six-year, $100 million contract and so far he's unofficially earned $63,491 of it.
Maybe the franchise should change its name back to the Alleghenys, or bring back Bobby Bonilla to coach first base. Put a Pirates hat on a chimpanzee and have it play third. Try something, because whatever they've been doing in Pittsburgh hasn't been working. The Bucs haven't had a winning season since 1992 (18 consecutive under .500), and there's nothing to suggest that streak won't be extended to 19. The Pirates have some good, young talent in Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, but if Kevin Correia, he of the -1.8 WAR for San Diego a year ago, is your opening day starter, then I'm afraid you're in for a Season of Alvaro.
Season of Alvaro - Comes from the Latin phrase "Alvaro Espinoza" meaning terrible results expected from April-to-September.