Here’s my outlook on the NL Central for 2013 and how I think it could lineup.
1. Cincinnati Reds – I think this team is the team that could possibly end up winning the NL Central in 2013. They have great pitching in both the starting rotation and the bullpen. They have a strong rotation with Matt Latos, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Mike Leake. Their Bullpen has some great arms including Aroldis Chapman, who is also rumored to be part of the starting rotation. To me Chapman is better off in the bullpen as their closer because of the velocity on some of his pitches. I think the rotation would be a bad thing to put him because it could wear him down a lot because some of his pitches reach over 100 MPH. They also have a great setup guy in Jonathon Broxton, who closed games for Dodgers for a while. The back end of the Reds bullpen reminds me of the 2011 Brewers team. They had Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford. This team has an almost as dangerous duo in Broxton and Chapman. They also have other decent pitchers including Nick Massett, Jose Arredondo, and former Cubs pitcher Sean Marshall. In addition to having the great pitching that they do, they have a great hitting team. They have the 2010 NL MVP in Joey Votto. They have the gold glover in Brandon Phillips. They have all star outfielder Jay Bruce. Who knows if Scott Rolen comes back? But if he does he’ll be a dangerous hitter and a great defender at third base for the Reds. They added Shin-Soo Choo in offseason in a trade that sent Drew Stubbs to the Indians. They have two young hitters in Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier (who probably will be taken over for Rolen if he doesn’t come back). They also have the former Cardinals outfielder Ryan Ludwick, who also is a dangerous hitter. This team in my mind wins the division because they are dangerous on the mound and at the plate, and they are the team that has the least holes in their team.
2. St. Louis Cardinals – This team as we have found out in 2011 when they won the World Series, is kind of scary. Everytime this team needs a clutch a bat or their offense needs to come up most. It happens. It happened in 2011 in their championship run and it happened last year in the NLDS against the Washington Nationals. You can’t count out this Cardinals team. Simply Put it. This team has a decent rotation. They have the two CY Young arms in Adam Wainright and Chris Carpenter. Carpenter is coming off an injury plagued season, where he didn’t pitched for the Cardinals until late September. They don’t have Kyle Lohse has their number three pitcher anymore. He is most likely gone, but the pitcher replacing him as the three is almost as good. His name is Jaime Garcia and he has shown some pretty good pitching in the past. He almost no hit the Brewers in 2011. That’s how good he is. The other two arms are Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn. Westbrook in my opinion is kind of the weak link in this rotation because he doesn’t have velocity of Wainright, Carpenter, or Garcia but he is still a decent pitcher but is a great 4 or 5 in this rotation. Lance Lynn had a hot start to his 2012 campaign starting 9-0 but cooled off at the end of the season. Lynn is also a decent pitcher I think he is the number 4 in this rotation and Westbrook is the 5. This team has a great bullpen just like the Reds do. They have arms like Fernando Salas, Mark Rzepcynski, Trevor Rosenthal, Eduardo Sanchez, Joe Kelly, Victor Marte, Shelby Miller, Edward Muijica, and Mitchell Boggs. All great pitchers to have in your bullpen. Their closer is Jason Motte, who is one of the best closers of the last 2 years. The offense the Cardinals is still there with Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, David Freese, Yadier Molina, and Rafael Furcal. My question is who replaces the production that Lance Berkman had in this lineup. Instead of Berkman playing first base, it’s Matt Carpenter. They lose some production with the loss of Berkman. They also lost Skip Schmaker but I think they can replace his numbers with Pete Kozma. But yet again this team comes up in the clutch and yet it would surprise me that this team could upend the Cincinnati Reds for the NL Central title in 2013.
3. Milwaukee Brewers – The 2012 season for the Milwaukee Brewers started in disaster. They lost Chris Narveson, Mat Gamel, and Alex Gonzalez to season ending injuries. To me last year’s Brewers season had three themes: The injury plagued beginning, The Bullpen collapse in the middle, and the somehow beautiful run at the end where things all of sudden came together to finish the season above five hundred. In 2012, in those first two themes, Brewers fans were left thinking how is this team gonna end with a five hundred record. The thing is those two themes led to the trade of Zack Greinke. We’ll despite the injuries and bullpen collapse, and the trade of Greinke, a late August to September run did it. My question is can the Brewers carry the success they had at the end of the season to the begin of the 2013 regular season? If they do carry it on, the Brewers will higher than the third place ranking I have them at right now. The offense will carry this team not the pitching as that was what carried them in their 2011 run. The offense led league in home runs, runs scored and RBIs last year with Ryan Braun leading the team. Aramis Ramirez proved last year that his numbers could replace Prince Fielders. Rickie Weeks should carry over his end of the season to the beginning. He is someone to watch though because he had rough go of it at the beginning last year. They have two great hitting catchers in Jonathon Lucroy and Martin Maldonado. The Brewers are lucky to have that some teams are lucky to have one good hitting catcher. Norichika Aoki should be the starting right fielder for them, and showed last year that he is a great leadoff hitter. But the first 6 weeks the Brewers won’t have Corey Hart in their lineup. He will out the first six weeks, which will give Mat Gamel a second chance to play some more first base along with an upcoming prospect in Hunter Morris. When Corey Hart comes back, I expect Mat Gamel to go back to what his role is gonna be for the remainder of the season: a role player. Missing Corey Hart in this lineup could be a huge blow but the Brewers have enough guys to replace his impact in the lineup. I think Carlos Gomez is gonna back up his 19 homer season and prove to the Brewers that he is the long term guy in the centerfield. If Carlos Gomez has the season he had last year or even better than last year, he will get one hefty contract from the Brewers either during the season or after. The breakout player to watch for the Brewers ballclub is Jean Segura. What will we see out of the young and now full time starting shortstop of the Brewers. What will his numbers look like in first full season in the big leagues? Now on to the pitching. In the offseason, General Manager Doug Melvin said he would do two things fix the bullpen and get a veteran arm for the rotation. One of those things he did and one of those things he didn’t. Let’s start with what he did. Doug Melvin brought in some arms to help solidify the bullpen. He traded Raul Mondesi Jr. to the Rays for Burke Badenhop who can do two things pitch in the bullpen and start. He also signed Tom Gorzelanny to a two year deal and same goes for Gorzelanny that goes Badenhop. Both can start if needed, but their roles most likely will be in the bullpen. He also went signed another lefty reliever in Mike Gonzalez. They also signed in what could be reclamation project in Kelvim Escobar, who I think can help bullpen but if needed can help the rotation out. These moves do help the bullpen, but I still think it could have been solidified a bit more. Right now Jim Henderson is the 8th inning guy. He does have experience doing that, but there were other guys in free agency I think Melvin could have brought in that could have solidified this job more like a Francisco Cordero, Jason Isringhausen, Jon Rauch, along with former Brewers Todd Coffey and LaTroy Hawkins. The thing that Doug Melvin didn’t do was sign a veteran starting pitcher, and there were plenty of chances to get one. They could have gotten Ryan Dempster or even Kyle Lohse, but they kept thinking is one of these guys (Dempster or Lohse) gonna end up like Jeff Suppan or Randy Wolf. In my mind, I was thinking give them a shot they are better pitchers than either of those two guys. They had a shot to sign Ryan Dempster but blew it. He wanted one more year than Brewers wanted to offer him and he wanted to pitch in Milwaukee. If would have gotten him, it would have helped this rotation out a lot, But they didn’t. So instead the Brewers rotation are going to be throwing out a really young rotation, which can have it’s upsides as well as it’s downsides. Right now Yovani Gallardo has the only guaranteed spot in this rotation because he is the ace of Brewers. The other four spots will be filled by guys who are young but did really good jobs at the end of the season last year. like Michael Fiers (Who I expect to have a huge year), Marco Estrada, Chris Narveson (who is coming off his injury that sidelined him the whole year last year), Mark Rogers, Wily Peralta, and Tyler Thornburg. I don’t know how this rotation will lineup at the end of Spring Training, but I do know that the remaining guys are gonna pitch out of the bullpen. As I said before, if these guys pitch really well and the offense does what they should (you know put their team on their backs). If everything lines up the Brewers could very well pass the both the Cardinals and Reds, and end up the Post Season and it could result in another MVP trophy for Ryan Braun.
4. Chicago Cubs – This team is on the rise in my opinion. Theo Epstein did a lot in the offseason to improve his club. I don’t see this team winning the division anytime soon, but the moves he made show some promise for this club. Epstein went out and improved the pitching. He went out and got what will be the number 2 guy in the Cubs rotation in former Cardinals Pitcher Edwin Jackson. They brought in former Brewers pitcher Carlos Villanueva as well as Scott Feldman and Scott Baker. Epstein almost made a huge move by almost trading away his closer in Carlos Marmol for Dan Haren. If that move would have fallen through who knows what could of happened. They could have been a lot higher on this list, but with that they would have lost a huge arm in Marmol who is still a decent closer. This team has some pieces offensively. They still have young great hitters like Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo. They still got David DeJesus and they also signed former Giants outfielder Nate Schierholtz. The thing I’m looking forward to seeing with this Cubs team is how good will Anthony Rizzo be in his first full big league season with the Cubs. Everyone in the Majors is praising him now he has to go out and prove that he can produce those 30 homer, 100 RBI seasons.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates – This team has a lot potential, but they need to show it for a full season if they are going to compete in this division. The last two seasons the Pirates had the potential of making the playoffs and ending the 20 year drought of not having a winning record, but a collapse in both seasons continued it. The Pirates have some great pieces on their team including last year’s MVP Candidate Andrew McCutcheon and the hometown guy in Neil Walker. They added Russell Martin which should help this offense quite a bit.This team has a decent rotation with AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez (who they will have for a full season), James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, and Francisco Liriano (who I think will at some point in 2013 join the Pirates starting rotation). They brought back reliever Jason Grilli, but the thing that I think will haunt the Pirates in 2013 is the fact that they traded closer Joel Hanrahan. This leaves me asking one question: Who will be the closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013? If they still had Hanrahan they would be higher up on my predictions.