- Mediocrity rules the day in the NL Central:
It's hard to cram 364 pages into a concise summary, but it's not harder than writing the 364 pages to being with----in 3 weeks! You do it and see whether it's any good and if you're not a raving lunatic by the time you're on page 45.
It's Day 2 of a concise, Sparknotes style overview from my book brings us to the National League Central.
National League Central
- St. Louis Cardinals----Wins-93; Losses; 69; GB --
- Chicago Cubs----Wins-84; Losses-78; GB 9
- Milwaukee Brewers----Wins-81; Losses-81; GB 12
- Houston Astros----Wins-73; Losses-89; GB 20
- Cincinnati Reds----Wins-72; Losses-90; GB 21
- Pittsburgh Pirates----Wins-67; Losses-95; GB 26
St. Louis Cardinals:
While teams like the Mets are criticized for being top-heavy, the Cardinals are one of the most top-heavy teams in baseball.
Relying on the best manager of his the generation----maybe the best in history, Tony La Russa----his superlative pitching coach Dave Duncan; two of the best starters in baseball (Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright); the best hitter in baseball (Albert Pujols); and one of the best sluggers (Matt Holliday), the Cardinals plug in filler around their stars and roll.
As long as the core group is healthy, the Cardinals will be in contention.
But that's the trick.
The main issue for the Cardinals health wise is Carpenter.
One of the best pitchers in baseball when he's right, Carpenter has had numerous injuries (many catastrophic) to just about every part of his body. He missed the first month of last season with an oblique problem after missing most of 2007 and 2008 with arm issues and stunningly returned to form to pitch masterfully and almost win the Cy Young Award last season. Carpenter is the key and no one can know whether he's going to stay healthy.
With Pujols and Holliday, the Cardinals lineup is going to score; they've got usable cogs in players like Brendan Ryan; Felipe Lopez; and Yadier Molina who's also ready to blossom into superstar status.
But they need Carpenter.
The biggest salvation for the Cardinals, aside from La Russa, is that the NL Central is notoriously weak. They should roll through easily for another division title.
The Cubs excised a malignant growth from their clubhouse when they got rid of Milton Bradley, but the window for this group is likely closed.
It's going to go one of three ways for the Cubs:
1) They're going to have great comeback years from all their hitters; Carlos Zambrano will finally fulfill his Cy Young Award potential; Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez will stay healthy; the bullpen will perform; and they'll return to what they were when they looked unstoppable in 2008.
2) They'll be better than last year; get some return to normalcy from their veterans; be competitive, but not genuine contenders (unless the Wild Card drops to 85 wins); and be respectable, but not legit.
3) The whole foundation will come apart, GM Jim Hendry will be fired; they'll clean house of veterans; Lou Piniella will leave after the season; and the Cubs will have to start all over again lamenting the mistakes that sabotaged them in 2008.
I'm not hedging when I say I'd bet on the second option.
I think the Cubs have enough gas left in the tank to be okay, but no more than that. The contracts they lavished on the likes of Soriano will haunt them for years. The best possible thing for them might be to have everything come apart because this current group is never going to be able to make it back to the precipice of a championship. They have movable pieces like Ryan Dempster and Derrek Lee.
Having not improved much at all (their big moves were dumping Bradley and signing Marlon Byrd), the Cubs are hanging onto the hope that a return to normal performance by their mid-30s vets will turn things around.
They won't be terrible, but that doesn't mean they'll contend either.
Trapped in the middle from being a contender and not, the Brewers spent a lot of money on Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins. Regarding Hawkins, you'd think they'd have learned their lesson after the disaster that has been David Riske. The Brewers have a lot of power, but questions at shortstop and center field (Alcides Escobar and Carlos Gomez); declining mediocrity behind the plate (Gregg Zaun); and pitching issues.
Facing the free agency of Prince Fielder after 2011 and that the beefy first baseman is represented by Scott Boras, they're going to have to make a similar decision as they did with acquiring C.C. Sabathia in 2008----go for it now, or look toward the future.
It's going to depend where they are in the standings, but don't be surprised to see Fielder dangled at mid-season and be even less surprised if he ends up in Boston.
Another problem is manager Ken Macha. He's operating on the final guaranteed year of his deal; the players don't like him; and he was almost fired after last year. There's a manager-in-waiting in bench coach Willie Randolph, who I think is a better long term option anyway.
The Brewers are going to have a mediocre year; Macha's getting fired fast if they get off to a bad start and a re-tooling is going to begin.
Initially when I started looking at the Astros, I had them in last place even behind the hapless Pirates; but after a deeper examination, they're not good, but they're not that bad. Roy Oswalt is having injury problems again, but if he's back and combines with Wandy Rodriguez, the Astros have two very good pitchers in their rotation.
The bullpen is okay enough with Matt Lindstrom and the shaky Brandon Lyon; along with usable pieces Wesley Wright; Jeff Fulchino; and Tim Byrdak. Their lineup can be productive with a player I've always liked, Carlos Lee, plus Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence.
They have a new manager with a sterling resume in Brad Mills. Mills is a longtime minor league manager and has been a part of a winning club with the Red Sox for years. That doesn't always translate into success, but he looks good so far.
The Astros won't be as bad as everyone seems to think.
The Reds are a trendy pick to jump into possible contention.
I don't see it.
They do have a lot of pitching, especially in the starting rotation; but that's contingent on Aaron Harang rebounding after two atrocious years; Jonny Cueto taking the next step; and Homer Bailey maturing. Bronson Arroyo is someone you never have to worry about; the gutty and unflappable righty will win his 15 games and provide his 220 innings.
I'm enamored of Aroldis Chapman. I think he's going to be a superstar, but he's still raw.
The bullpen is serviceable; but their lineup is pockmarked with holes. The outfield is quite possibly the worst in baseball unless Jay Bruce rebounds----a question mark. Expecting Scott Rolen to stay healthy is a iffy at best.
I don't think they're going to score enough.
The guillotine is hanging over the head of manager Dusty Baker. His contract is up at the end of the year and if the club gets off to a bad start, he's getting fired.
The Reds would have to have everything go right to contend and I doubt it's going to happen.
While they have some talent----I love Andrew McCutchen----they're essentially rudderless. The front office is more interested in payroll slots and floating the idea that there's a plan in place where none is in evidence. They signed relievers they didn't need----Octavio Dotel and Brendan Donnelly----and a second baseman, Akinori Iwamura, who would have use for a good team, but not for the Pirates.
This organization is a total and complete train wreck. They'll ensconce themselves in their familiar position of last place before long and clear out some veterans at mid-season, building for a future that's never going to come until they get someone competent in there to run the place.
Yeah. I'd do it.
And it would get ugly when I start swinging the axe.
- Mike and The Horn Dog:
A couple of interesting notes from the world of sports broadcasting occurred in recent days. First, "Joe Buck Live" on HBO has been shelved permanently; and Mike Francesa will have former Mets GM and dispatched ESPN analyst Steve Phillips as a weekly guest on his show.
It's easy and cheap to turn the failure that was "Joe Buck Live" into some version of coarseness.
I'll leave that to others.
I saw the the now classic debut with Artie Lange saving it rather than destroying it; and portions of another show with Brett Fav-ruh and Jerry Jones.
It was a hideous idea; Buck is a horrible, smarmy, obnoxious and unfunny character who isn't even welcome in the broadcast booth for baseball and football; so whoever thought he was a solid choice for some semblance of a variety show should be fired. Pulling the plug was an obvious and smart decision.
As for Phillips joining Francesa for a weekly spot, I'm pretty sure I was the first one to come up with the "Mike and The Horn Dog" suggestion for a title to the show. I'm sure I'll be robbed incessantly, but you can check on Twitter for when I said it.
Quite clever it was.
Phillips's sex farm issues aside, I like him as a broadcaster; I thought he added a lot to ESPN and delivered it in a thoughtful and coherent manner, so his addition to Francesa's show will be a positive if Francesa lets him speak and doesn't preach to him with pomposity to show how much he "knows".
Phillips better not screw this up.Amazon and I-Universe. Check it out. 364 pages of frightening calm and explosive POWER!!!!! If you dare.