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NL Central Preview

1st – Cincinnati Reds (2010 – 91-71)

AP Photo

Key Additions: Edgar Renteria, Fred Lewis, Jeremy Hermida

Key Subtractions: Orlando Cabrera, Laynce Nix, Arthur Rhodes, Aaron Harang, Mike Lincoln

The Cincinnati Reds pretty much stood pat this offseason, not losing anyone that good, but not picking up anyone that is much too special either. They signed Renteria, the World Series MVP, but chances are, other than the Reds handing out extensions to their players, this is probably the only move you’ve heard of.

Last year the Reds generated the most runs in the NL. Now, MVP Votto, Bruce and co. are a year more experienced, and ready to come back and put up some more big numbers, and you can count on that.

Losing All-Star Arthur Rhodes is probably their biggest loss, but considering he’s 41 and Aroldis Chapman is waiting in the helm, perhaps the best move was to let him go rake in the dough elsewhere.

It was a very boring season for a Reds fan, and I don’t see anything that changes them from winning the division again.

2nd – Brewers (2010 – 77-85)

AP Photo/Morry Gash

Key Additions: Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Takashi Saito, Yuniesky Betancourt, Sean Green

Key Subtractions: Alcides Escobar, David Bush, Carlos Villanueva, Trevor Hoffman, Chris Capuano, Doug Davis, Todd Coffey

The Brewers had anything but a quiet offseason. They spent their time acquiring Greinke, Marcum and Betancourt. Talk about using your time wisely. The team was 2nd to last in ERA in the NL last season, and with these guys, it should boost them to at least the middle of the pack. Betancourt will help steady the shortstop position there too.

They produced the 4th most runs in the NL last year, and after not losing anyone important and adding Betancourt, I say, why not do it again?

The pitching was pitiful last year, but oh well. They’ve got Greinke and Marcum now, two front end starters.

Before the Wainwright injury, they’re 3rd, but now they’re on the up and up, and will contend for a wild card spot.

3rd – Cardinals (2010 – 86-76)

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Key Additions: Lance Berkman, Ryan Theriot, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto, Jim Edmonds, Brian Tallet, Miguel Batista

Key Subtractions: Brad Penny, Brendan Ryan, Blake Hawksworth, Jason LaRue, Aaron Miles, Randy Winn, Jeff Suppan

The Cardinals made some key moves this offseason to try and generate some runs and improve defense. Bringing Punto in will surely shore up the defense, Berkman could bounce back and give them production in the outfield and Ryan Theriot should provide some pop at shortstop when Punto’s not playing. They didn’t do a whole lot to shore up much, but made a couple low risk moves that could pay off down the stretch. But hey, what can you do while you’re trying to sign Albert Pujols to a fat, new contract?

The Cardinals took their first big hit when Adam Wainwright was sentenced to have Tommy John surgery. Last year, Adam Wainwright led the 5th ranked pitching staff with a 2.42 ERA, 20-11 record, 213 k’s and an incredible 1.05 WHIP. This is a big blow and their pitching will definitely digress, but pitching coach Dave Duncan can make a star out of anyone, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this if I were a Cards fan. Kyle McClellan looks like the probable replacement for Wainwright.

Last year, the Cards’ offense was down, only finishing in the middle pack of the league. This is where the second potentially big blow comes into play. They failed to sign Albert Pujols to a contract extension by his self-imposed deadline, leading everyone to believe he will be in another uniform next year.

After the Wainwright injury, and the lack of signing a real hitting threat during the offseason and being a team that missed the playoffs last year, I just don’t see enough upside for them to get back to the playoffs this year. The saddest part though, is this may be their last trip for a few years if Pujols doesn’t return in 2012.

4th – Cubs (2010 – 75-87)

AP Photo

Biggest Additions: Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Kerry Wood, Reed Johnson, Fernando Perez, Max Ramirez

Biggest Subtractions: Tom Gorzelanny, Xavier Nady, Sam Fuld

The Cubs went out and proved they are trying to field a winning team, just as they have in the past. They acquired Matt Garza (3.91 ERA) and Carlos Pena, who is a career .240 hitter, good for about 30 dingers and 100 RBI’s. Last year, he hit .196 with 28 HR and 84 RBI’s, so the Cubs are taking a small gamble that he returns to form and provides some pop at first.

Last year they generated the 18th most runs and need a spark. Carlos Pena might be just that. If he can somewhat return to form, he could be good for 100 RBI’s. There are a lot of questions. Outside of Starlin Castro and Marlon Byrd, we don’t know who will produce. Alfonso Soriano hit just .258 last year and is on the downside of his career. Aramis Ramirez needs to bounce back or he is out.

The pitching was also weak last year. However, they’ve added Matt Garza and are hoping that Zambrano continues where he left off last season. Oh, and pray Kerry Wood can stay healthy. That alone should be enough to improve the ERA enough to be a contender.

In the end, I just don’t see enough going right for the Cubs to make the playoffs. I believe they are going to be a competitive team, but just not yet ready for the playoffs. Hey Chicago, can you say Albert Pujols?

5th – Astros (2010 – 76-86)

AP Photo

Key Additions: Clint Barmes, Bill Hall, Ryan Rowland-Smith

Key Subtractions: Matt Lindstrom, Felipe Paulino, Brian Moehler, Geoff Blum

The Astros actually played pretty well, winning over half of their last 100 games. However, they did absolutely nothing to improve on their previous record. When 3 of my top 4 teams are destined on building on last year’s record, plus the Cardinals, who are still going to have a decent record, there’s no way I can put the Astros in a good spot here.

Not one person batted exceptionally well on the roster last year. That probably led to the atrocious 28th most runs scored last year. They did nothing to change that during the past offseason.

Starting pitching was actually a strong point last year, to the surprise of many, even after they traded away Oswalt. They turned in as many quality starts as the Giants last year. Without a quality ‘pen and a true ace though, I don’t see them doing much damage this year.

The Astros are more focused right now on selling the team and moving toward the future, and I see them battling the Pirates for the 5th spot this year.

6th – Pirates (2010 – 57-105)

AP Photo

Key Additions: Lyle Overbay, Matt Diaz, Kevin Correia, Scott Olsen, Garrett Atkins, Joe Beimel

Key Subtractions: Zach Duke, Lastings Milledge, Chan Ho Park

I’m sorry, this is the Pirates. Overbay and Diaz should provide a glimmer of production. That’s it.

Pittsburgh was 29th in runs scored last year. Nothing they did will change that very much.

When you’re best pitcher is probably Russ Ohlendorf, there is no hope.

Maybe another year…

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