2009 NL CENTRAL DIVISION PRESEASON PREDICTION:
1. Chicago Cubs
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Houston Astros
4. St. Louis Cardinals
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Cincinnati Reds
It is somewhat of a tossup this year for how the NL Central will round out in 2009. Chicago by far has all the tools to win the division yet again. I don't consider them the strongest team in the NL, probably the third best, but barring an injury (obviously any injury to any team can scramble up the division) they should make it back to the playoffs in 2009 and possibly even win a game or series.
Milwaukee has arguably the best hitting in the Central if they could only hit with runners on base and start getting some walks instead of striking out consistently. Brewers GM Doug Melvin is one of the best in the game but won't be going after any pitching. Milwaukee lost two pivotal players in free agency- CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets- and have a mediocre -at best- rotation. Yovani Gallardo if healthy, will be a potential CY Young winner down the road and certainly has the stuff to be an ace right now at the age of 21. The Brewers will go into the season with a young rotation but I believe that Melvin will trigger a deal before the deadline and get a big name pitcher to help the Brewers get back to the playoffs. As long as the Brewers are in contention for a title, Melvin and Attanasio will find a deal to bring in a pitcher to help them make another run. The relief pitching is decent but with the addition of Trevor Hoffman it makes the Brewers a contender in the Central.
Luckily for the Brewers, the rest of the NL besides the Cubs have a lackluster rotation and are very much offensively inclined than defensively. For that reason I will give Milwaukee the number two position in the Central and the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros will battle it out for the three spot.
St. Louis has a much better edge with their rotation than Houston who's rotation is pitiful. Besides Roy Oswalt the rest of the Astros rotation just doesn't stack up. Wandy Rodriguez had his best year last year but can be very shaky at times and can be pegged in any given game. He is a number three type of pitcher but the Astros have him a spot behind their ace. I think Oswalt will regain form this year and be the Oswalt of old that dominated every game. Oswalt and Rodriguez both finished with a 3.54 ERA last season. Their number three, Brandon Backe, finished with a 6.05 ERA and it goes down hill from there.
As for the bottom of the barrel... Drumroll please! I'll take the up and coming Pittsburgh Pirates to finish fifth and Cincinnati to be the worst in the division. Pittsburgh doesn't have all the pieces to be a good team all year but they will be very competitive and win games that they shouldn't. Cincinnati has solid starting pitching and I look for Aaron Harang to make a comeback. Edinson Volquez is there young ace who has a great arm. For the Pirates Tom Gorzelanny was their staff ace who was under the radar but had a few great seasons before he completely fell apart last year. Zach Duke showed a lot of promise but has never posted very good stats. Duke had a 4.82 ERA and was 5-14 last season while Gorzelanny failed to show up last season and went 6-9 with a 6.66 ERA. Gorzelanny was the Pirates ace while Duke has been either the second or third pitcher in the rotation. Gorzelanny and Duke are number four and five pitchers on the staff according to the Pirates depth chart on their official website. Look for Gorzelanny to get back on track and have a decent season and Duke to post numbers that number four or five pitchers usually do (high four-point era and seven or eight wins). Both teams have mediocre offenses that can score runs but neither are legitimate threats and Cincinnati was hurt when they lost Adam Dunn. Neither will make a cinderella run to win the division.