With all the talk surrounding football and the playoffs, the baseball off-season has taken a breather. But one must not forget about some of the amazing races that we could see in 2008. My first look at the 2008 MLB season will be the NL Central.
This may be one of the weaker divisions in the MLB but it is only getting better and soon the competition will be so tough it will be the new AL East. When I first took a look at the division last year I thought for sure the Cardinals would run away with it again, they had some solid pitching, great hitting and an amazing defense. But to my surprise it was a race between the Cubs and my beloved Brewers.
This year however I expect a much different race in the Central. I believe one team will walk away with the title but a couple of sleeper teams could give them a match.
At first look:
If an outsider were to take a look at all the rosters in the Central and give me the winner, they would most likely pick the Cubs or Astros. The Astros look good on paper, they have some young talent in Pence, they have a very good first baseman/outfielder in Lance Berkman and now have added a perrenial all-star, Miguel Tejada. But when we actually get past the first few good players we look...and find nothing else. I would even say Tejada is past his prime and is on the very fast downward slope. His bat isnt quick anymore, his power is much weaker, his range is decent enough to be considered average and his arm is getting weaker year by year. He is an average SS and wont add much to the Astros season. Most baseball fans told me the Astros got a lot better with the trade for Jase Valverde, but I tell them, if you dont have any starting pitchers to get you to the 9th inning, how can you use Valverde? And thats my biggest problem with the 'stros lineup. They have almost no pitching as they gave all of it away in trades or they just left the team for free agency.
What do I expect from the Astros, next to nothing, be prepared Astro fans because your going to be seeing a lot of the cellar this year.
I looked at the Central for any potential sleepers and I found one. The Cincinnati Reds. They have some great talent on their team, I like their combination of speed an power, young and old. Those combinations spell divisional title, but what I think is even more important is what they got this year. They signed free agent Francisco Cordero, a dominant closer to back up a steady bullpen and starting rotation. Unlike the Astros the Reds actually have starters to get to their All-Star closer. Harang had an excellent season and will continue his sucess but I also expect Bronson Arryo to bring back his 2006 success. He is an excellent pitcher who had a down year but I think he can recover.
Get ready Reds fans, you're in for a good ride!
Finding a Winner:
The Central will probably see some major competition between the Brewers and the Cubs. Both have stacked lineups, OK coaches and the two best ballparks. But what will seperate the men from the boys is the pitching staff. The Brewers come in with major loses to their bullpen, Cordero leaving for the Reds and Linebrink leaving for the Whitesox. However, they have made enormous efforts to make their bullpen steady and strong by adding Guillermo Mota, David Riske, Salomon Torres, and closer Eric Gagne. Gagne I believe was in the wrong situation in Boston and will bounce back. The cubs on the other hand, havent changed much at all. Marmol appeared last year to be un-hittable and will continue his dominance, but other than that I dont expect much from their bullpen, including Kerry Wood, who they need to ditch.
As for starters, almost everyone hands the Cubs the honor of the best pitching staff in the Central, but jost hold your horses. The Brewers may be able to beat out the Cubs. The Brewers have a lot of options as for starters, Sheets, an all star, Gallardo, the next Johan Santana, Suppan, steady eddy, Villanueva, emerged as one of the good ones, Bush, way ovverdue for a food year, Vargas, he makes me sweat, Capuano, how many games did he blow? and Parra, the constantly injured but now healthy. Sheets, Yovani, Suppan, and Villanueva make up one of the best starting 4 pitchers you can find, but who gets that last spot? My guess is Cappy, he is a lefty and was once a all star, so I would give it to him.
The Cubs bring a mediocre staff to the table. Zambrano is overrated and overpayed, other than a good streak in the middle of the season, he was one of the worst pitchers. Ted Lilly proved to be a dominant force and Rich Hill was OK. I just dont see much talent in there, they are average and their stats are inflated by having a good team around them.
The Brewers, they should have one last year but fell short. I dont think that will happen this year, they move the error prone Braun to Left field where he is better suited, they gained Mike Cameron, a guy who hit 21 HR's in the worst hitting park (he will tee up in Miller Park), and they return all of their starters except for the plague in their old catcher (I wont mention his name as he is evil). Overall this is probably this best hitting team in the Central and with Cameron they have some good speed now. So I think the pitching and hitting will add up to be a very successful year.
My Bust Pick:
Kosuke Fukudome, he is not what they paid him to be. Just because he is asian doesnt mean he is Ichiro. The Cubs made a huge mistake in signing him.