NL Central Predictions and Preview

chc.gif1. Chicago Cubs (90-72)

2007 Season: 1st Place (85-77) – Lost in NLDS

Best Off-Season Move: Signing Kosuke Fukudome

Why They’ll Be Better: Their pitching staff , andchored by workhorse Carlos Zambrano, will carry them this season. Their offense is not quite there yet, but if Fukudome pans out like they hope (and like they paid for) they should have a pretty solid lineup with Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano shouldering the load.

mil.gif2. Milwaukee Brewers (82-80)

2007 Season: 2nd Place (83-79)

Best Off-Season Move: None.

Why they’ll be worse: Although not much worse, they will certainly not be much better with the pitching staff they currently have. If Ben Sheets can stay on the mound, he will finally be the ace that he is, but his supporting staff is nothing to write home about. I like what I see from 24 year old Carlos Villanueva, but he has got to break out for this staff to conted. Their offense is very good, and just knowing that young guns Ryan Braun (“The Hebrew Hammer“) and Prince Fielder are only getting started is pretty scary. Swapping Fransico Cordero for Eric Gagne doesn’t make sense, and Mike Cameron? Why not give Tony Gwynn Jr. a shot?

hou.gif3. Houston Astros (76-86)

2007 Season: 4th Place (73-89)

Best Off-Season Move: Signing Miguel Tejada

Why They’ll Be Better: Their lineup got much better by adding Tejada, who is out to prove he still has some fuel left in the tank and after being named in The Mitchell Report. J.R. Towles looks like a promising young player steping into the starting spot at catcher, and Hunter Pence looks to continue his torrid start in the MLB. They had a pretty productive off-season – I liked the Kaz Matsui signing and the Valverde signing, however they did not do anything about their starting rotation – their biggest weakness. Oswalt can’t win 50 games unfortunately.

cin.gif4. Cincinnati Reds (75-87)

2007 Season: 5th Place (72-90)

Best Off-Season Move: Signing Francisco Cordero

Why They’ll Be Better: The Reds have a new manager, Dusty Baker, and look to turn the page after an awful season. Their pitching staff is anchored by Aaron Harang, who is turning into an ace, and will feature 21 year old first round pick Homer Bailey. Their lineup is pretty solid, but the catcher and first base positions pose an offensive problem. They now have a good bullpen by adding Cordero and shifting David Weathers to set-up man, so their season relies on how their starting staff performs in the ban-box that is the Great American Ball Park: good luck.

stl.gif5. St. Louis Cardinals (74-88)

2007 Season: 3rd Place (78-84)

Best Off-Season Move: Traded for Troy Glaus

Why They’ll Be Worse: The Cardinals did not do anything to improve their offense this off-season with the exception of swapping Scott Rolen for Glaus – and that only works if Glaus can stay on the field. Glaus’ glove is a major downgrade, but his bat is worth it with their depleted lineup. Their outfield is very very weak offensively, and their pitching staff will suffer without Chris Carpenter until the All-Star Break.

pit.gif6. Pittsburgh Pirates (59-103)

2007 Season: 6th Place (68-94)

Best Off-Season Move: Change in management

Why They’ll Be Worse: This season will not be pretty for the Pirates. I really like what they are doing – they cleaned house and rebuilding the right way. Looking at their lineup, the average fan will not recognize half of their starting lineup and pitching staff. If they play their kids and let them play together for a couple of seasons hopefully they will contend some time down the line. If I were them I would trade Jason Bay at some point this season to a contender for some young pitching (if he isn’t traded to the Padres before the season begins).

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