MLB Picks 2009 National League Previews
LAST YEAR: 97-64
The Cubs continue their post-season blues. They have captured the last two NL Central Titles, only to implode in the playoffs, failing to win a game and getting swept each year in round 1. The top of the staff, with Lilly, Dempster, and Zambrano is rock solid, as the trio combined for 48 wins last year. They acquired Rich Harden late last year from Oakland who proceeded to go 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA, so the Cubs can matchup with anyone. The closer role will be turned over to Carlos Marmol, who has given the Cubs a 2.13 ERA in 141 relief appearances the last two years. The Cubs added a powerful bat with the addition of Milton Bradley, so a good lineup should be even better. The Cubs should play themselves into an opportunity to be in the playoffs again and erase the memory of the 36-12 deficit they have given up in their two-year 0-6 playoff run.
ON THE RISE: JAKE FOX UTIL – The Cubs may have infield injury insurance in Fox who hit .307 in the minors last year.
LAST YEAR: 74-88
The Reds shifted gears last season when they let go of Ken Griffey Jr., and Adam Dunn before the trade deadline. They have an impressive core of young players, and if they can get some pitching, they may be an improved team. The Reds have Owings, Cueto, and Volquez at the top of the rotation, and if they all have good years the win column will grow. They have had eight straight losing seasons, and should have enough this season to at least flirt with .500.
ON THE RISE: JUAN FRANSISCO 3B – He is the Reds future at 3B base, with 48 HR’s last two years in minors.
LAST YEAR: 86-75
The Astros are lacking something that is often associated with winning teams, and that is being strong up the middle, which they are not. Outisde of Roy Oswalt, the starting rotation has more question marks than answers. The rest of the division is growing stronger, while the Astros seem to be growing stale. They took a chance on Mike Hampton, but he hasn’t show much after injuries set his career back. Jose Valverde led the NL in saves last year with 44, can he do it again? Miguel Tejada is 35, and may need more time off, but they let go of Mark Loretta, so he may not get it. Michael Bourne is a great centerfielder, but will he hit? His .288 on base percentage last year wasn’t acceptable. The Astros are laden with question marks, and that won’t be good.
ON THE RISE: Chris Johnson 3B – Aaron Boone is gone, and only Blum in front. Johnson is a power hitter and could be called up before the year is out.
LAST YEAR: 90-72
Seems like C.C. Sabathia pitched just about every meaningful game for the Brewers down the stretch last year. So he is gone, and so is Ben Sheets, so where do the Brewers turn? The cast is plentiful with some promise, as Gallardo and Bush are poised to have good years, and then choose from Suppan, Parra, McClung, and Villaneuva for someone to emerge and have an unexpected big year, because that is what it will take for the Brewers to win 90+ and be there again.
ON THE RISE: ANGEL SALOME c – Led the Brewers’ farm system with a .360 avg and could find his way to Milwaukee before season’s end.
LAST YEAR: 67-95
The Pirates have now had 16 straight losing seasons, which ties a record for all professional sports franchises for most consecutive losing seasons. They will likely break it and own the record of futility all unto themselves after this season. The Pirates have few prospects of their own in the farm system, so they unloaded some top players to replenish, meaning they will struggle once again. The rotation had a 5.36 ERA – worst in the NL in ’08, and not much progress is expected. The Pirates fell to 7-21 after they unloaded Nady, Bay, and Marte last year. If that is any indication of what is to come, we could see 110+ losses here.
ON THE RISE: ANDREW MCCUTCHEN CF – He is a good candidate to make the team out of spring training, he was a 2005 top draft pick.
LAST YEAR: 86-78
The Cards have enough talent to tease, but the big area of concern the last two years, and the likely reason they have not made the playoffs is a bad bullpen. Last year, the pen lost 31 games and blew 31 saves. The Cards went on to lose 25 games they were tied or leading after seven innings. The Cards have revamped their pen, but there is nothing there that suggests a complete turnaround is in order, and it will again be their destiny. If they make the playoffs it will be because of their pen, if they don’t it will be because of their pen.
ON THE RISE: BRETT WALLACE 3B – 2008 top pick moving quickly, could see some roster time before the season closes.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
2. ST. LOUIS