Major League Baseball

Inside The Wheelhouse: 2010 NL Central Preview

Albert PujolsIt’s that time of year again where we look at the upcoming 2010 Major League Baseball season. Throughout the next couple of days I will preview every division in Major League Baseball then ending my blog series previewing the 2010 MLB Season by looking at the teams I see entering the playoffs this year and who will win the World Series when it’s all said & done. In this edition of my blog I will preview the NL Central division.

NL Central:

1. St. Louis Cardinals

Not much of a surprise here that the St. Louis Cardinals would be at the top of my list as the top team in the NL Central and should be the division winners come towards the end of the season. This Cardinals team that is entering the season has Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols in the same lineup for the entire season. That alone is scary as they are two of the top hitters in Baseball today.

Matt Holliday being part of the Cardinals lineup helps give Pujols the much needed protection he needed in St. Louis this entire time. People may want to argue that he had players like Ryan Ludwick and the long departed Scott Rolen in the lineup; but those players do not compare to the caliber of Matt Holliday. Matt Holliday was one of the many reasons why the Colorado Rockies made the “rocktober” run they had in 2007 taking them all the way to the World Series.

Holliday provides Pujols the depth he needs in the lineup and allows younger players like Colby Rasmus ad Ryan Ludwick to hone their craft as hitters rather then protection for “the machine” that is Albert Pujols. On the other side of the coin the Cardinals are anchored by an amazing 1-2 punch in their rotation with Chris Carptender & Adam Wainwright. You know your team is good when your two top pitchers are in the running for the NL Cy Young award and having one of them actually win it. Its a scary rotation just at the 1-2 part of the rotation alone.

There really aren’t any flaws in this team because I consider them one of the best teams in all of the National League, if not Major League Baseball. Pujols got his taste at a Championship once before and wants to do it again as the best player in of all baseball. Minor things like injuries and slow production may be the only thing that slows this team down at some point. I see the Cardinals making a run at another solid bat and/or solid #3 starting pitcher for the rotation at some point during the season up to the trade deadline.

2. Milwaukee Brewers

This is one of the best young teams to play the game of Baseball right now and they are really enjoyable to watch. After winning the 2008 NL Wild Card and having their first swing at the playoffs, they failed to rekindle that magic in 2009. Look for this team to have a bounce back year as they continue to let their rotation grow over time while having one of the most talented lineups in Baseball.

Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are already considered by some as pre-season favorites for the NL MVP award come time for it to be announced in November 2010. These two players have already seen their breakout season happen & wanting to take their development as players to the next level and become leaders. These two players will be the force that determines whether or not the Milwaukee Brewers can recapture the NL Wild Card title this season.

When you look at question marks for this time you need to question the durability of their starting rotation. They came into last season without any real ace on their staff and some people may consider that to be the case again. They are a small market ballclub that rests itself on prospects rather then big money contracts.

Milwaukee should be a strong contender for the NL Wild Card this season while I really don’t seeing them make a strong run against the Cardinals for the central crown. If this team makes the playoffs I will not be surprised as they are 1-2 more years away from possibly turning this team into a NL Central juggernaut. Time, talent, development and patience will be crucial into how this team takes the next step towards a NL Championship contender.

3. Cincinnati Reds

If I had to pick a National League franchise to root for the Reds would be that team. They are deep with tradition and have storied history that doesn’t match many Baseball franchises except for a select few. With that being said, while I will hope to see this young Reds team continue to develop I just don’t see it happening this year.

This team reminds me of the 2007 Milwaukee Brewers. They are a team that was on the brink of being a contending team but needed to go through a learning phase to try and reach that next level as playoff contender. Talent is by far NOT a question mark when it comes to this team.

The Reds are filled with possibly future All-Stars in their lineup and in their rotation as well. They were everyone’s favorite dark horse last season (similar to this seasons Atlanta Braves) to make the playoffs as (at best) the NL Wild Card team. That didn’t pan out that well and the Reds struggle for a portion of the season, dealing with different injuries to their lineup as well as rotation.

The learning curve will continue to form for the Reds this season and they will be a strong contender to make a run at the NL Wild Card but I see them fizzling out towards September. Patience and development is what Cincy fans need to remember right now when talking about the Reds. They will be exciting team to watch as they should be a couple of games over .500 and in deep contention for the NL Wild Card. This will be a tough team to contend with come 2011 and 2012.

4. Chicago Cubs

Everyone’s favorite team to win the World Championship in 2009 did not pan out that way at all last season. The Cubs, like the Mets, could be considered one of the most disappointing teams in all of Baseball last season. They were coming off of a 2008 campaign where they were the top team in the National League only to be sent home in the Divisional Round. Many experts figured this team would bounce back and quite possibly end the World Series drought at Wrigley Field. That (as Chicago Cubs fans would say) of course would not be the case.

This team dealt with many injuries last season, lack of leadership and team that kind of just gave up in the summer months of last season. Those ingredients don’t pan out well as something to build off of for 2010, nor are they ingredients that may keep manager Lou Pinella’s job in tact by the end of the season. As for question marks this team is filled with them.

Many people are expecting Derek Lee to have a monster of a year this season for the Cubs and he should as he may be the only leader in that lineup right now. Lots of Cubs fans don’t know what to expect from Alfonso Soriano this season as his skills continue to diminish over time and battles with injuries. Chicago Cubs fans at least should be thrilled that Milton Bradley was sent out of Chicago.

This is a team that can either be exactly .500, be a couple games over .500 or be a couple games under .500. They might be one of the biggest question marks of a team out of the entire Major League Baseball. If they stink, I wont be surprised and if they do great, quite frankly I wont be surprised either. This team is that hot and that cold at times. While Id like to see the Cubs contend again I just don’t see it happening for a team that is getting older while everyone else is getting younger/more talented or improving their ball clubs through free agency.

5. Houston Astros

The Houston Astros at one time were the team to beat the NL Central. To not see the Astros winning the NL Central would be a shocker to many fans around Baseball. It was only five years ago (2005) that the Houston Astros had won the National League crown and were the NL representative in the World Series. Now they have become a franchise that is clearly rebuilding.

The Astros are in the same stage that many different teams in the division (i.e. Brewers and Reds) were once at when it came to developing their talent over time. They aren’t at the place yet where they will contend for the NL Central or NL Wild Card crowd but they are improving themselves to hopefully be back there in 2011 or 2012. It is still a very young team that is constantly learning in the climate of the National League.

The bright spots for the Astros when it comes to their future rest in the outfield with Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn. Pence is finally becoming the player that many experts thought he would one day become while Bourn is a stolen base machine but still needs his batting average to drastically improve. Throw in veteran Carlos Lee in left and you have a superb outfield in Houston.

What the Astros are dealing with is the breakdown of longtime players Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. Both seem to be injury prone for the most part and are letting age diminish the once amazing numbers they would put up season after season. As I write this, Lance Berkman will be starting the season on the DL, something this young team does not want to see at all. I like the Astros in a couple of years once they continue to grow but not right now.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates

What is there really to say about the top farm system team for the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox? The Pirates have gone from a once amazing, historic franchise to the laughing stock of Major League Baseball for a near twenty years now. For the Pirates fans that have stuck in their all this time I applaud you for being true die-hard Baseball fans.

If this team wins 65+ games this season its a major improvement for them as they will be battling the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays for the #1 pick in the upcoming draft as the worst team in the league. The Pirates are filled with players that not many people that follow Baseball can even name.

Just off the top of my head I can name Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Akinori Iwamura and any of the players the Yankees traded to the Pirates over the years (i.e. Jeff Karstens), after that I’m lost. The Pirates are just a team filled with prospects that may not actually make the Major League level on many different ball clubs. So for those who are at the big dance enjoy it while you can and put up some major numbers so you can be traded to possible playoff contender at the trading deadline.

If you’re a Pirates fan don’t hold your breath that they will be in contention this season. The only time the Pirates can consider themselves as possible playoff contenders is on opening day and maybe the 2nd week of April, after that your about 10 games back immediately. This team needs something to make their fans want to come to the ballpark any day of the week and I don’t see this franchise getting any better in the next five years. Good luck Pittsburgh.

Jeff Peck is the producer for the “Wheelhouse Radio” program that airs every Sunday – Thursday @ 8pm ET/5pm PT at www.blogtalkradio.com/thewheelhouse and at www.errorfm.com @ 2am ET/11pm PT

Jeff also co-hosts “The Still Real to us show” with Eric Gargiulo which can be available at www.wheelhouseradio.com and can be downloaded in the “Real Guy Radio” section of the site. There you can also download many different shows including “The Wheelhouse”, “24 on 24” and “Lost: Smoke Monsters and You.”

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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