Tuesday, March 27, 2012

MLB Preview: NL Central

Here at The Whole 42 Minutes HQ (also known as group g-chat), we love discussing baseball over-unders and making mostly unsubstantiated predictions about them. We've decided to share those with you, division by division. Consider this our long-winded gift to you. At the end of each post, we'll tell you our predictions for division winner. 

Up first, the NL Central:

Chicago Cubs 74.5 (71 wins in 2011)
Sean: Under. I trust in Epstein turning around the Cubs eventually, but they have no motivation to get a good record, I expect they’ll trade Marlon Byrd and Fukudome and even Garza if they get the right deal, costing them wins this year, but giving them dream prospects of the same ilk as Craig Hansen.

Steve: Under

Jon: Under. New GM Theo Epstein’s not gonna make any moves with the current iteration of this team, which won just 71 games last year, especially as he waits for horrendous deals like Alfonso Soriano’s to come off the books. No starting pitching beyond Garza, and a few young promising hitters, but not enough pop, even in a middle class-less NL Central.

Houston Astros  64 (56 wins)
Sean: Over. In the crappy NL Central they will be able to beat the Pirates and Cubs enough to eek out 66 wins. Then again I can’t name 5 Astros so who knows.

Steve: Under

Jon: Under. They won 56 last year, and they could very well be worse this year. They’ve jettisoned all their established players, but don’t really have a youth movement going yet. Also, I think Carlos Lee is still on the team. Enough said (and I love El Caballo).

Milwaukee Brewers  83.5 (96 wins)
Steve: Over. Way too low now that Braun’s suspension has been lifted. This is probably the best team in the NL Central even without Prince.

Sean: Over. This is probably outdated with Braun coming back, but I would have said over either way. The Brewers pitching is solid enough to get them to 85 or so wins, with or without Braun.

Jon: Over. I was taking the over even before Braun’s suspension got lifted. Above average starting pitching (and Greinke has serious upside over last year), a solid bullpen, and they’ve vastly upgraded the left side of the infield, enough that if Mat Gamel hits even a little bit at 1b Fielder’s production won’t be missed too much. They still can’t field, and a few players will regress (I’m looking at you Nyjer Morgan and Corey Hart), but this is a team that won 96 games last year. They can easily win 90 again.

St. Louis Cardinals  83 (90 wins)
Steve: Over. Freese-anity.

Sean: Under. They start out fine but fade when Berkman and Beltran get injured. In an unrelated note, fuck you Cardinals for giving Yadier Molina $75 million. He plays an unimportant defensive position and doesn’t have power. Brian McCann’s wife is already checking out places in New York and Boston for 2014.

Jon: Over. They’re adding an ace in Wainwright, and this is a solid team. I expect the Reds, Brewers and Cards all to be between 86-92 wins.

Pittsburgh Pirates  73 (72 wins)
Steve: Over

Sean: Under.

Jon: Under, but who cares?

Cincinnati Reds  86.5 (79 wins)
Steve: Over. A guy on their team can throw a baseball 105 mph. They underperformed last year and should have been in the mix for way longer than they were. They are also the only legitimate team in this division that didn’t get worse this offseason.

Sean: Over but barely. This division is going to come down to the wire, first to 90 wins gets it between the Brewers and Cards.

Jon: Over. This is a perfect line, though. 87 sounds just about right. They have a bunch of pitchers who’ve never quite put it together for a full season, led by the mercurial Johnny Cueto, 2 mashers in the middle of the line-up in Votto and Bruce, and a bunch of other solid players. Maybe Aroldis Chapman is the difference this year.

Division Prediction:
Sean: This is mercifully the last year that there are 6 teams in the NL Central, and as usual, it is going to be painful to watch. Let’s not forget that the Pirates, who ended up with 72 wins, led this division last July. The three contenders are the Reds, Brewers, and Cardinals, three flawed teams with the potential to win 95 games or finish under .500. The Reds are the only team with a difficult interleague schedule with series against the Yankees and Detroit. The Brewers on the other hand play the Royals, Twins (twice), White Sox, and Blue Jays. The Cardinals will also feast on the AL Central with only three games against the Tigers. I predict the Brewers to win the division with 92 victories behind their weak schedule. The Cardinals will fade because they are either too old (Carpenter, Beltran, and Berkman) or brittle (Wainwright, Holliday, and Carpenter again) to make it healthy through the whole season. The rest of the division will continue their pathetic rebuilding attempts and no one will really care.

Jon: I agree with Sean that the NL Central needs to get rid of 1 team, and thankfully that’ll happen next year, when Houston switches to the AL. Why we learned about this change months ago and the new wild card system only in the past few weeks is beyond me, but both are good changes for a sport that drags its feet over everything. The NL Central is a strange division in that it has three above average teams, two bad teams, and one woeful team. I’m picking the Brewers because I’m a Brewers fan but I actually believe they’re the best team. They upgraded at the two worst spots in their lineup, and while they lost Fielder, will have a good amount of hitters. The Cardinals should have the 2 best starters in the division, but both Carpenter and Wainwright are health risks, and Berkman and Beltran are bound to regress. And I think the Reds are a lot better than their record last year, but not quite good enough. All three of the good teams should have slightly inflated records because they’ll get to beat up on the Pirates, Cubs, and Astros, but this is a solid division. Brewers win 91 and take it over the Cards at 89.

Steve: There will again be 3 good teams and 3 bad teams in this division. This division will also feature the worst team in baseball (the Astros). Two really important players left this division and its two best teams this year (Pujols and Prince), and I think the winner of this division will come down to which of those two teams made up for that loss better. At this point, the Brewers appear to be the better-equipped team, majorly upgrading the left side of the infield (anybody but Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee would be a major upgrade) and luckily not losing their best player to a steroid suspension. The team to watch is the Reds: they underachieved last year and should have been in the division race longer than they were. Teams not to watch: Astros and Cubs. I’m hoping the Pirates can take a leap this year and be relevant for the first time in my lifetime, but I don’t really see that happening.

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