One thing has become abundantly clear to me after doing most of these division prognostications: This ain’t easy.
Maybe I’m just not good at this stuff anymore. My quick demise in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket pool could be Exhibit A when looking for evidence of that.
Some divisions are easier than others. I feel pretty comfortable with the NL East and the AL East. The NL Central … that’s another matter.
I see as many as four teams in this division that I don’t have a hard time thinking could win it. Just to keep this post from getting too long, we’ll focus on those four teams. Sorry, Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros. Hope you prove me wrong.
Here are the contenders:
- Cincinnati Reds: Let’s start with the reigning division champs. Not much has changed from a year ago with this bunch, so that’s one thing working in their favor. They have young, emerging sluggers in NL MVP Joey Votto and outfielders Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs. The rotation has intriguing young arms in Edinson Volquez, Travis Wood, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto. The bullpen has a dynamic 1-2 punch with fireballer Aroldis Chapman and Francisco Cordero.
- St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals, at least until last year, have owned this division. Yet there’s plenty of pessimism surrounding St. Louis. Adam Wainwright is gone for the season. Another ace starter in Chris Carpenter has battled some hamstring issues, but that’s been overblown. And Nick Punto will start on the disabled list … oh my! But they still got Tony La Russa at the helm. And they still got Albert Pujols swinging that gargantuan bat, at least for one more season.
- Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers have the buzz factor. They acquired Zack Greinke in the offseason from Kansas City to anchor their rotation. They also added Shawn Marcum to the pitching staff, though there are – again – injury concerns with him going into Opening Day. The lineup is stacked, with Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Casey McGehee, etc. John Axford is a solid closer, though like a lot of teams, they could use a little more in the bullpen. Exciting team for sure.
- Chicago Cubs: Surprised, aren’t you? They probably don’t have the ace that St. Louis and Milwaukee have. But there are aspects of this team I like, excluding of course Carlos Pena at first base, who hit all of like a buck-ninety last year. Solid rotation with Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Carlos Zambrano at the top. Dynamic closer in Carlos Marmol. Good offensive weapons like a now-healthy Aramis Ramirez and slugging catcher Geovany Soto. Cubbies seem to be flying under the radar, but I don’t think they should be. Because they lack any buzz, this feels like the kind of year they end up surprising some people.
OK, enough stalling. Here we go:
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Houston Astros