Today, I’ve decided to focus on probably the hardest division to predict. In case you missed my division previews, you can read my AL East Preview, AL Central Preview, AL West and NL East preview by clicking on the links provided.
I’ve used the Major League Baseball Yearbook magazine to provide the statistical projects.
Here’s how I think the Central will end up:
1st place: Cincinnati Reds (My prediction 90-72)
This pick may surprise a lot of people as many national publications list the Reds as the third best team in their division. The Reds were great in 2010, but stumbled in 2011.
Devin Mesoraco is a strong candidate for NL Rookie of the Year. He’s been a major offensive threat in the minor leagues, hitting .302 with 26 homers in 2010, and .289 with 15 homers and 36 doubles last year.
Joey Votto is one of the best players in the game and is a candidate to be extended by the Reds, although it would likely take a $100 million+ commitment. He led the league in walks and Is a career .313 hitter. Votto has never hit less than 24 homers in a full season. He led the NL in doubles last season. He’s a beast. He’s ‘Votto-matic.’
Brandon Phillips is one of the best second basemen in the league. He is a gold glove fielder and a major offensive threat with power and speed. Phillips is a complete player.
Scott Rolen is a veteran third baseman that has been unpredictable the last few seasons. He had poor seasons in 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2011 – but had good seasons in 2006 with 22 homers and 2010 with 20 homers. Which Rolen will show up in 2012? It will be rather important to the Reds season. Rolen also plays a solid third base, winning eight gold gloves in his career.
At shortstop, the Reds will give youngster Zack Cozart the chance to establish himself as a starter.
The outfield is anchored by Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Chris Heisey. All three have moderate-good power although their averages are suspect.
Jay Bruce is the big bat of the group, and will be a middle of the order force.
Drew Stubbs is a speedster, but struck out over 200 times last year.
The Reds offense is slightly better that the Cardinals, but their rotation is slightly worse than the Red Birds. The Reds have Johnny Cueto at the top of the rotation. He was great last year, posting a 2.31 ERA.
Walt Jocketty traded for Mat Latos to be another front line starter in the rotation. It will be interesting to see how well Latos does away from cavernous Petco Park. Great American Park is a bit of a bandbox, where the ball has been known to carry well.
Mike Leake and Hoemr Bailey are slightly above average, and Bronson Arroyo is average.
I like the backend of the Reds bullpen. Ryan Madson proved himself as a closer in Philadelphia and will shut the door for the Reds this year.
The Reds also have Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall and Logan Ondrusek to set up Madson. Not too shabby at all.
Most people are picking the Cardinals or Brewers as the division champs, but I’m telling you, its going to be the Reds. They are going to the playoffs, and hopefully to the World Series. If that happens, I’ll be at my first ever World Series game as a season ticket holder.
2012 Statistical Projections:
C Devin Mesoraco .244-16-50
1B Joey Votto .310-31-103
2B Brandon Phillips .294-18-76
3B Scott Rolen .265-14-76
SS Zack Cozart .274-12-50
LF Chris Heisey .256-20-55
CF Drew Stubbs .246-16-60
RF Jay Bruce .258-28-86
SP Johnny Cueto 10-6, 3.08 ERA, 167 IP, 119 K
SP Mat Latos 15-10, 3.71 ERA, 196 IP, 191 K
SP Bronson Arroyo 12-11, 4.43 ERA, 205 IP, 112 K
SP Homer Bailey 17-12, 4.02 ERA, 210 IP, 190 K
SP Mike Leake 15-9, 3.67 ERA, 208 IP, 152 K
RP Ryan Madson 2.56 ERA, 27 SV, 59 IP, 64 K
RP Logan Ondrusek 3.44 ERA, 16 SV, 65 IP, 43 K
RP Sean Marshall 2.62 ERA, 3 SV, 76 IP, 81 K
2nd place: St Louis Cardinals (My prediction 88-74)
The Cardinals won the World Series last year after sneaking into the playoffs by winning the wild card after the Braves collapsed in September. They lost Albert Pujols to free agency, and are getting back Adam Wainwright from injury. I think that the Cardinals probably have the best pitching staff in the division, but I’m not completely sold on their offense.
Yadier Molina just signed a $75 million contract. He’s probably the best overall catcher in the division, and hit .300 last year with some power.
Ok, Lance Berkman had the best season that’s he’s had in awhile in 2011. He’s 36 though this year. I think Berkman will have a good year, but not nearly what he did in 2011. Prove me wrong Lance.
Up the middle, the Cardinals have Daniel Descalso, who hasn’t exactly proven himself as a major leaguer, and Rafael Furcal, who is an aging veteran.
David Freese looks to be a superstar in the making at third base. He reminds me of a young David Wright. His heroics in the postseason will be talked about for years. However, the Cardinals infield just isn’t as good as the Reds.
The Cardinals outfield is better than the Reds, but not by much. Allen Craig will get more playing time in 2012 than last year,
Carlos Beltran will try to prove that he’s not an aging veteran, although he is. Personally, I hate Beltran for snubbing the Indians free agent offer this offseason, as well as nixing a trade to Pittsburgh last year.
Matt Holliday had a bit of a down year last year, only hitting 22 homers, but he still made the All Star team.
The Cardinals rotation is the best in the National League Central. Chris Carpenter is the ace of the staff. However, he threw 276 innings between the regular season and post season in 2011 and could be headed towards an injury riddled season, or at least a sub par season by his standards.
Adam Wainwright was a Cy Young caliber pitcher before he had surgery prior to the 2011 season. I think he’ll still be effective – but as effective as he was in 2010 when he was 20-11? Probably not.
Jamie Garcia is a quality #3 starter and proved himself in 2011, winning 13 games while posting a 3.56 ERA.
However, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook are just average.
At the back end of the bullpen, the Cardinals have Jason Motte, possibly the biggest a**hole I’ve ever witnessed in batting practice.
2012 Statistical Projections:
C Yadier Molina .300-12-64
1B Lance Berkman .290-26-87
2B Daniel Descalso .267-6-46
3B David Freese .292-20-100
SS Rafael Furcal .241-8-41
LF Allen Craig .292-17-55
CF Carlos Beltran .299-17-65
RF Matt Holliday .298-26-94
SP Chris Carpenter 15-8, 3.22 ERA, 229 IP, 182 K
SP Adam Wainwright 16-8, 3.15 ERA, 214 IP, 182 K
SP Jaime Garcia 13-8, 3.34 ERA, 181 IP, 144 K
SP Kyle Lohse 12-10, 3.99 ERA, 183 IP, 111 K
SP Jake Westbrook 11-9, 4.35 ERA, 172 IP, 110 K
RP Jason Motte 2.23 ERA, 30 SV, 69 IP, 58 K
RP Fernando Salas 4.73 ERA, 4 SV, 72 IP, 72 K
3rd place: Milwaukee Brewers (My prediction 85-77)
The Brewers lost the heart of their order when they lost Prince Fielder to free agency. Fielder provided protection in the lineup for Ryan Braun, who saw a lot more pitches with Fielder looming behind him. His loss will be large. The Brewers picked up an aging veteran in Aramis Ramirez, who could conceivably still have a good season or two left in him, but he’s no Prince Fielder. The Brewers also acquired Jose Veras from the Pirates. It won’t be long until Brewers fans are taking anxiety meds every time Veras takes the mound. Trust me – you’ll see what I mean.
Jonathan Lucroy is an above average catcher, belting 12 homers last year. Personally, I like him, having caught one of his foul balls on the fly in 2010.
The big hole in the Brewers line up will be at first base. Losing Prince Fielder hurts. Mat Gamel should finally get a chance to show what he can do. He could be acceptable, but he’ll be no Prince Fielder.
Rickie Weeks is awesome. We could argue all night about if Weeks is better than the Reds’ Brandon Phillips – it’s a pretty good argument. The Brewers though have a star at second. Weeks clubbed 20 homers last year.
Third base this year features Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez was brought in to help make up for some of the offense that the Brewers lost when Fielder departed. Ramirez is in his mid 30’s now, and hasn’t hit over 30 homers since 2006. He’s good, but I hope Brewers fans are expected 40 homers out of him.
At shortstop, Alex Gonzalez will be average.
All eyes will be on Ryan Braun throughout 2012. Most people will watch to see how Braun follows up his MVP season. Braun tested positive for performance enhancers at the end of the 2011 season, but won his appeal on a technicality and won’t face a suspension. I think his numbers will drop off this season. He won’t have Fielder hitting behind him. He’ll be booed and taunted mercilessly at all road games. He’ll have immense pressure on him from the media. It will affect his play on the field.
Nyjer Morgan, an ex-Pirate, will continue to rub the opposing team the wrong way. He plays will a lot of intensity though, which is why Brewers fans love him. I’m predicting at least one bench clearing brawl incited by Morgan in 2012.
Corey Hart will play right. He’ll miss a few weeks in spring training to have his knee cleaned up, but otherwise he’ll be ok to go for 2012. He’s got some pop, clubbing 26 homers in 2011.
The Brewers rotation put up decent numbers in 2011, with Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Randy Wolf all posting sub 4.00 ERAs. I like Gallardo and Greinke’s chances on repeated success in 2012, but I’m not sure about Marcum or Wolf. I think they’ll be slightly above average this year. Marcum had some trouble in the playoffs and seemed very hittable.
The Brewers will compete for the division title. It’s going to be a logjam at the top of the division between the Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers.
2012 Statistical Projections:
C Jonathan Lucroy .260-11-54
1B Mat Gamel .262-15-78
2B Rickie Weeks .267-25-96
3B Aramis Ramirez .295-29-102
SS Alex Gonzalez .245-16-62
LF Ryan Braun .322-22-75
CF Nyjer Morgan .289-3-40
RF Corey Hart .284-29-77
SP Yovani Gallardo 15-9, 3.61 ERA, 194 IP, 204 K
SP Zack Greinke 18-9, 3.62 ERA, 197 IP, 224 K
SP Shaun Marcum 12-7, 3.59 ERA, 191 IP, 152 K
SP Randy Wolf 13-10, 3.80 ERA, 211 IP, 123 K
SP Chris Narveson 11-8, 4.60 ERA, 157 IP, 123 K
RP John Axford 2.00 ERA, 38 SV, 68 IP, 81 K
RP Francisco Rodriguez 2.35 ERA, 8 SV, 65 IP, 73 K
4th place: Pittsburgh Pirates (My prediction 81-81)
You can read my Pittsburgh Pirates preview here. I did it separately because it ended up being such a long preview.
5th place: Chicago Cubs (My prediction 68-92)
I think the Cubs are going to be pretty bad. They have a new manager in Dale Sveum, and added Theo Epstein to the front office, but they don’t play the games. It all comes down to the talent on the field.
Geovany Soto is above average. He’s got some good power, although he struggled at the plate often last year, hitting just .228.
Bryan LaHair replaces Carlos Pena at first base. He’s a young prospect and will get a chance for the rebuilding Cubs.
Darwin Barney is a prototypical second baseman, he’s a decent fielder, but has almost no power.
His double play partner, Starlin Castro, is the Cubs best offensive threat. He was charged with assaulting a girl though during the offseason, which could cause him to lose focus this season.
The Cubs have to plug another hole at third base, having lost Aramis Ramirez to free agency. They’ll likely do it with Ian Stewart or Jeff Baker, who aren’t nearly the players that Ramirez is.
In the outfield, it looks like the Cubs will run out Alfonso Soriano, who had 26 bombs last year, but only hit .244,
and Marlon Byrd – a solid player offensively,
and David DeJesus, who had a bit of a down year last year, hitting just .240 with 10 homers.
The Cubs offense is below average to say the least. Without Pena and Ramirez, its lost much of its punch.
Carlos Marmol of course is the closer. He’s got one of the most devasting sliders in the game, and will strike out a ton of guys.
The Central is a tale of two classes. We have the Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers, who should be lumped up at the top of the division, and the Pirates, Cubs, and Astros that will battle it out for 4th. I don’t really see any justification to put the Cubs ahead of the Pirates though. Hell, they could lose 100 games. Although, not having Carlos Zambrano around will be a huge plus. I’d vote for him as the worst teammate in baseball. He’s the Marlins problem now.
2012 Statistical Projections:
C Geovany Soto .238-20-64
1B Bryan LaHair .260-15-50
2B Darwin Barney .269-1-25
3B Ian Steward .233-8-32
SS Starlin Castro .316-12-60
LF Alfonso Soriano .243-27-91
CF Marlon Byrd .277-11-47
RF David DeJesus .262-11-53
SP Ryan Dempster 12-13, 4.32 ERA, 204 IP, 193 K
SP Matt Garza 15-10, 3.48 ERA, 202 IP, 180 K
SP Chris Volstad 13-10, 4.51 ERA, 194 IP, 129 K
SP Randy Wells 10-9, 4.35 ERA, 163 IP, 107 K
SP Travis Wood 10-9, 4.16 ERA, 175 IP, 134 K
RP Carlos Marmol 3.63 ERA, 33 SV, 74 IP, 100 K
RP Jeff Samardzija 4.76 ERA, 0 SV, 74 IP, 67 K
6th Place: Houston Astros (My prediction: 57-105)
The Astros are in the middle of a massive rebuilding process. They lost 106 games last year, and likely will struggle through the season again.
I don’t even feel comfortable offering comments on any of these guys. Most of them would still be in AA or AAA if not for the Astros needing bodies to fill out a 25 man roster at the major league level.
Veterans Carlos Lee
and Wandy Rodriguez could serve as trade bait at the trading deadline if they perform well.
It’ll also be interesting to see how JA Happ, the center piece of the Roy Oswalt deal, does. I always expected him to become a pretty decent starter, but he was horrible last year.
Do you think the Astros will lose more games in 2012 than last year? I mean, at least last year they had Hunter Pence for half the season.
2012 Statistical Projections:
C Jason Castro .252-7-54
1B Carlos Lee .272-20-93
2B Jose Altuve .287-4-49
3B Jimmy Paredes .266-5-43
SS Jed Lowrie .251-11-52
LF JD Martinez .287-15-88
CF Jordan Schafer .244-3-22
RF Brian Bogusevic .267-10-40
SP Wandy Rodriguez 11-11, 3.46 ERA, 192 IP, 173
SP Brett Myers 10-11, 3.91 ERA, 214 IP, 165 K (however, projects as a closer)
SP Bud Norris 7-11, 4.03 ERA, 176 IP, 170 K
SP JA Happ 10-12, 4.48 ERA, 167 IP, 137 K
SP Jordan Lyles 10-10, 4.58 ERA, 173 IP, 128 K
RP Juan Abreu 3.03 ERA, 26 SV, 59 IP, 75 K
RP Wilton Lopez 3.02 ERA, 0 SV, 63 IP, 47 K
So, to wrap it up, I have the
Agree or disagree?
How do you think they’ll finish?
There’s just 26 days until Opening Day, and tomorrow (Sunday) you can win this Ryan Zimmerman shirt.