Saturday, April 01, 2006

Welcome to the NL Central
By Imtiaz Mussa

St. Louis Cardinals

What’s Good: They have one the best players in the game in Albert Pujols. Jim Edmonds provides good protection. Chris Carpenter won the Cy Young last year. Jason Isringhausen is one of the better closers in the National League. The depth of the rotation is pretty good.

What’s Bad: Scott Rolen’s shoulder no longer makes him the threat he once was at the plate anymore. Second base and left field are spots that have yet to be filled. Mark Mulder is decling at a rapid pace. Julian Tavarez, Ray King and Al Reyes are gone and have been replaced by Braden Looper and Ricardo Rincon. And we have a Sidney Ponson sighting! Make sure he doesn’t try to run down a judge on a jet ski!

Prediction: They will win the NL Central again.

Houston Astros

What’s Good: Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte are a solid one, two punch at the top of the rotation. The lineup is pretty good with Berkman and Ensberg in the middle. Preston Wilson could have a revival if he stays healthy. Brad Lidge, Dan Wheeler, and Chad Qualls make up one of the best bullpens in the league.

What’s Bad: They need Roger Clemens back. Brandon Backe had a rough spring and Wandy Rodriguez and Taylor Buchholz are in the rotation. That is really bad news. Biggio and Ausmus are one year older…

Prediction: Second place in the NL Central and they win the wildcard as Clemens returns.

Milwaukee Brewers

What’s Good: They have an exciting young lineup with Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, and Prince Fielder. The consistent Carlos Lee provides the leadership and drives in runs. Doug Davis and Chris Capuano had breakout years last season.

What’s Bad: Ace Ben Sheets starts the season on the disabled list. Without him, the Brewers pitching staff will not be good enough. Aside from Turnbow, is their bullpen good enough?

Prediction: Third place in the division as they finish 81-81 again.

Chicago Cubs

What’s Good: Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are in the middle of this lineup. Bringing in Juan Pierre could only mean more rbi opportunities. Matt Murton looks primed to have a breakout season. Their bullpen is deep with Dempster, Eyre, Howry, and Williamson.

What’s Bad: The health of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood has always been a question mark. With those two out, it puts the pressure on Carlos Zambrano to produce like an ace. Dusty Baker will likely have him pitch 250 innings this season.

Prediction: Prior and Wood make 25 starts combined and Dusty Baker leaves in the middle of the season when he tries to have Zambrano pitch back to back to back.

Pittsburgh Pirates

What’s Good: Jason Bay is one of the best players in the game. Zach Duke impressed many after he was called up last season. The additions of Sean Casey, Joe Randa and Jeromy Burnitz should help the Pirates lineup. Mike Gonzalez appears to be ready to close.

What’s Bad: Aside from Duke, the rest of the rotation is questionable. I don’t know what happened to Oliver Perez but he has yet to get his fastball to the mid 90s. The rest of the rotation is extremely young.

Prediction: New manager Jim Tracy can’t believe what he has gotten himself into as this team has another disappointing result.

Cincinnati Reds

What’s Good: As long as Junior Griffey is healthy, this lineup will hit. Adam Dunn is a lock for 40 home runs. Felipe Lopez broke out last year and Edwin Encarnacion had a great spring to solidify his place at third.

What’s Bad: Everything about their pitching. The rotation is awful and the bullpen is even worse. Bronson Arroyo will miss Boston even more. Stormy Weathers is the closer!

Prediction: Griffey demands a trade and the Reds finish in last.

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