Co-written by John Russo and Chris Bengel
Expectations: No Pujols, no problem…. wait, you mean we have to rely on Matt Holliday now? Oh crap!
Key Addition: OF Carlos Beltran (signed from San Francisco)
Key Loss: 1B Albert Pujols (signed with LA Angels)
Projected Record: 90-72
Summary: St. Louis knows they lost a huge bat in Albert Pujols to the Angels. They also know they are expecting a lot out of Lance Berkman to have a repeat performance of last season as well as Matt Holliday to be the leader of the offense.
That is why St. Louis brought in Carlos Beltran to take some of the strain off Holliday and Berkman this season, hoping the 34-year-old can stay healthy and revive his career in St. Louis.
But the big return for St. Louis will be Adam Wainwright, who missed all of last season when he went down in the preseason. Chris Carpenter is another year older and St. Louis is hoping he can repeat his late-season performance. Jaime Garcia is a great number three pitcher for St. Louis.
It’s going to be an open division to the top three teams. Cincy and Milwaukee are going to be tough this season but the Cardinals will need their pitching edge to put them over the top. Expecting another miracle is a lot for the reigning World Champions.
Expectations: Aroldis Chapman’s arm goes flying after a 115 MPH fastball.
Key Addition: Mat Latos (acquired from San Diego)
Key Loss: Ryan Madson (Tommy John surgery)
Projected Record: 85-77
Summary: The Reds made a big move in an attempt to solidify the top of their rotation by trading for Padres right-hander Mat Latos. Latos struggled in 2011 as he was a miserable 9-14 for a bad team. He still managed a 3.47 ERA and should re-emerge as a top-15 starter in Cincinnati. Latos along with Johnny Cueto should prove to be a very nice one-two punch.
They also made a big splash in free agency as they signed closer Ryan Madson. Unfortunately for the Reds, Madson discovered that he will need Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire 2012 season. Now Cincinnati will turn to former Cub Sean Marshall to handle the closing duties. It also affects Aroldis Chapman who the team was hoping to move to the rotation this season. Chapman will likely be back in the bullpen.
The lineup is back with pretty much the same cast of characters. Joey Votto is arguably one of the best hitters in baseball and could take the MVP in 2012. Jay Bruce also could hit 30 bombs for the Reds. Brandon Phillips and Scott Rolen anchor the infield and will be intregal parts of this team’s success. They do have a bit of youth as Devin Mesoraco will be the new backstop and Zack Cozart will be at shortstop.
Expectations: Brewers fans will have more fun drinking crappy Miller Lite than watching a team without Prince Fielder.
Key Addition: Aramis Ramirez (signed from Milwaukee)
Key Loss: Prince Fielder (signed with Detroit)
Projected Record: 81-81
Summary: As many people saw coming, Prince Fielder moved to the American League. The Brewers lost a lot of run production but did scoop up Aramis Ramirez from interdivision rival Chicago. Ryan Braun avoided a 50-game suspension which is a major factor for the success that the Brewers have this year. Rickie Weeks and the hated Nyjer Morgan provide speed at the top of the lineup. The key to watch is how Mat Gamel does as the heir to Fielder.
The pitching is definitely the strength of the team. Zack Greinke was good in stretches last year but there is room for improvement. Yovani Gallardo led the staff in wins (17) and Shaun Marcum was a very servicable No. 3 starter. Their bullpen is also very strong with John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez anchoring the eighth and ninth innings. If the pitching holds up and the offense can score 3-4 runs a game. they could compete in a weak NL Central division.
Expectations: Have no fear, A.J. Burnett is he… Ah never mind.
Key Addition: A.J. Burnett (traded from New York Yankees)
Key Loss: Ryan Ludwick (signed with Cincinnati)
Projected Record: 77-85
Summary: The Pirates improved their pitching staff with a few veterans in A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard. The two could work out well in Pittsburgh as the Pirates do have talented young pitchers in James McDonald and Charlie Morton. They do still lack that ace that makes the rotation go. They haven’t had one in quite some time. Joel Hanrahan is back at closer. He had a great 2011 as he recorded 40 saves and had a very good 1.83 ERA.
The lineup is what will hold this team back. Andrew McCutchen signed a big extension and will be the leader once again. He has the potential to be even better this year which is a scary thought. But outside of that, who is there? Pedro Alvarez had a miserable 2011 as he hit .191. Neil Walker is probably the second-best hitter in this lineup and has some nice pop for a second baseman.
Clint Barmes comes over from Colorado and could help stabilize the infield. Garrett Jones is the wild card. Two years ago, he was tearing the cover off the ball but only hit .243 last season. If he can be a 20-25 home run guy, that would give the Pirates three long-ball threats. If they stay competitive long enough, Pittsburgh could make a play for a bat at the trade deadline.
Expectations: It will a lot easier to perform since they no longer have to wear armor in the clubhouse now that Carlos Zambrano is gone.
Key Addition: SP Paul Maholm (signed from Pittsburgh)
Key Loss: 3B Aramis Ramirez (signed with Milwaukee)
Projected Record: 74-88
Summary: Chicago is in a rebuild mode. It’s going to start in the front office as they lured GM Theo Epstein away from Boston to give them a GM who knows how to assemble great teams.
Chicago has the pieces to assemble a great team with and it starts with Starlin Castro. Considered one of the best short stops in the NL (the best by some), Castro has an active bat and either a highlight-reel glove or a bone-headed mind on defense. Either way Chicago’s future success is going to be built around Castro.
Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza are the front their rotation, which is filled with back-end arms after those two. Paul Maholm was their best pick-up of the off season. Jeff Samardzija is ready to make the move from the bull pen to the rotation. Chicago is hoping the former Notre Dame start wide receiver will be a future star pitcher in the Majors.
Chicago just doesn’t have the talent to hang with the top three teams in this division. It may be an open division but Chicago isn’t ready to compete. Chalk up another title-less year in the Windy City.
Expectations: AL West teams can not wait to feast on the Astros next season.
Key Addition: SP Livan Hernandez (signed from Washington)
Key Loss: SS Clint Barmes (signed with Pittsburgh)
Projected Record: 68-94
Summary: Houston is still the worst team in baseball and it’s unfortunate that they have become everybody else’s farm system, especially Philadelphia’s (Brad Lidge, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence).
The most drastic move they made this off season was move starter Brett Myers into the bull pen to be their closer. Wandy Rodriguez is going to be the staff ace, but he’s no more than a two at best in most rotations. Houston is still waiting for J.A. Happ to be the pitcher they traded for when they shipped Oswalt to Philadelphia in 2010.
Carlos Lee is the only slugger in a line up that lacks pop, and his power numbers have been going down hill since 2007. Outside of Lee, they don’t have a player who drove in more than 36 runs last season in their every day line up.