Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Monday, January 22, 2007

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: NL Central

This is the third in a series of posts on very early predictions for the 2007 season. This post will take a look at the NL Central. If you're looking for more analysis, you can take a look at my posts on the NL East and the NL West.

National League Central

Houston Astros

Projected Rotation

1.) Roy Oswalt
2.) Jason Jennings
3.) Woody Williams
4.) Wandy Rodriguez
5.) Matt Albers

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Brad Lidge
2.) Chad Qualls
3.) Dan Wheeler
4.) Trever Miller
5.) Fernando Nieve

Position Players
C - Brad Ausmus
1B - Lance Berkman
2B - Craig Biggio
3B - Morgan Ensberg
SS - Adam Everett
LF - Carlos Lee
CF - Chris Burke
RF - Luke Scott

The rotation is the significant concern for the Astros this season, with the departure of Andy Pettite, and the likely departure of Roger Clemens. That means that Roy Oswalt is now the undisputed ace of this team, and he's worthy of the role. The addition of Jason Jennings is significant, as it gives the team a solid number two. Woody Williams is a legitimate number three, having gone 12-5 with a 3.65 ERA last season - he may be 41, but he's still got some life left in his arm. After that, things get a little shady - Wandy Rodriguez may develop into a legitimate Major League starter, but he'll have to improve on last season's 5.64 ERA. Albers is, at best, a question mark for '07.

The bullpen is quite good, or could be. Brad Lidge spent most of 2006 in danger of losing his job as the team's closer, and trade rumors swirled around him for most of the summer. His 5.28 ERA was much, much too high - but Lidge has the capacity to be a legitimate closer, and the Astros need him to return to form. Qualls, Wheeler, and Miller are all legitimate, and will serve as an effective bridge from the starters to Lidge. Really, it's all up to whether Lidge returns to his pre-Pujols-bomb form.

The lineup should be improved from last season, with the addition of Carlos Lee. Luke Scott looks like a keeper, but the sample size is limited and there are no sure things - still, with regular playing time this season, he should blossom. The club will have to hope Chris Burke can handle the everyday duty in Center. Meanwhile, Craig Biggio (remember when he was a fantasy god back in the late '90's?) will reach 3000 hits with 70 this season.

Milwaukee Brewers
Projected Starters

1.) Chris Capuano
2.) Ben Sheets
3.) Jeff Suppan
4.) Dave Bush
5.) Claudio Vargas

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Francisco Cordero
2.) Matt Wise
3.) Derrick Turnbow
4.) Jose Capellan
5.) Brian Shouse

Position Players
C - Johnny Estrada
1B - Prince Fielder
2B - Rickie Weeks
3B - Corey Koskie
SS - J.J. Hardy
LF - Bill Hall
CF - Brady Clark
RF - Geoff Jenkins

This is an interesting team. The top 3 in the rotation could be very, very solid - especially Sheets, if he can stay healthy. Sheets has had the potential to burst out and become a superstar for the last few years, but never quite makes it - if this is his year, the Brewers could be pretty good. They'll need Bush and Vargas to perform at least reasonably at the back of the rotation if they're going to serious contenders for the NL Central crown, however.

The bullpen is interesting. Cordero seemed to resurrect his closing prospects last year after being traded to the Brewers, and that displaced Derrick Turnbow (All-Star Derrick Turnbow . . .), who is now one of the primary set-up men who will be used by the Brewers. The rest of the bullpen is solid if unremarkable.

Prince Fielder, Richie Weeks, and J.J. Hardy are all intriguing young players. Craig Counsell was signed on as a backup middle infielder, and former Twin Corey Koskie will get another shot to have a healthy season in 2007 (as Twins fans should know, the odds of that are not particularly good). Johnny Estrada was acquired in a trade to take over the catching duties, and should provide a more serious offensive threat than now-backup Damian Miller. Meanwhile, one of my favorite players - Geoff Jenkins - will get another chance to have a breakout season. His .271 average and 17 homeruns are perfectly serviceable - but he's unfortunately never lived up to his full potential. Still, if he stays healthy, he'll be decent. Bill Hall gets yet another new position (I think the man can play anywhere) as the starting left fielder.

St. Louis Cardinals
Projected Rotation

1.) Chris Carpenter
2.) Kip Wells
3.) Anthony Reyes
4.) Brad Thompson?
5.) Mark Mulder (eventually)

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Adam Wainwright
2.) Braden Looper
3.) Ricardo Rincon
4.) Randy Flores
5.) Josh Hancock

Position Players
C - Yadier Molina
1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Adam Kennedy
3B - Scott Rolen
SS - David Eckstein
LF - Chris Duncan
CF - Jim Edmonds
RF - Juan Encarnacion

I really don't mean to disrespect the Cardinals. But a look through their 40-man roster shows a surprising dearth of starting pitchers - I would assume that they'll be adding someone - anyone - to fill out the last two spots. Thompson had one start last season - and that's pretty much the high end outside the other four starters listed. Mark Mulder will be back at some point, but they will also need to find a fifth starter at the beginning of the season. The rotation is a significant problem for the Cardinals, Chris Carpenter being the exception.

The bullpen should be ok if unspectacular - Wainwright had just 3 saves last season, but is being listed as the clubs closer for the moment. The job is probably up for grabs in the spring. Looper has the potential to post a 3.30-3.50 ERA, and Ricardo Rincon should have a chance to bounce back from last year, when he made just 5 appearances. Jason Isringhausen is still on the roster, but who knows what role he will play this year.

The hitters should hit. Albert Pujols is always very good, and Scott Rolen is no slouch. But can small-ballers like Adam Kennedy and David Eckstein continue to produce? Is Jim Edmonds too old to be a viable center fielder? And can Chris Duncan continue to hit for power the way he did last year (22 HR's in 280 AB's). The offense is going to have to be very, very good to make up for the starting rotation, and the Cubs and Brewers have improved enough to make the Cardinals less than a shoe-in to make the playoffs, let alone reclaim the World Series trophy.

Chicago Cubs
Projected Rotation

1.) Carlos Zambrano
2.) Ted Lilly
3.) Jason Marquis
4.) Rich Hill
5.) Mark Prior

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Ryan Dempster
2.) Kerry Wood
3.) Neil Cotts
4.) Bobby Howry
5.) Scott Eyre

Position Players
C - Michael Barrett
1B - Derek Lee
2B - Mark DeRosa
3B - Aramis Ramirez
SS - Cesar Izturis
LF - Matt Murton
CF - Alfonso Soriano
RF - Jacques Jones

The Cubs spent a lot of money to bring in Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, and they will line up well behind Carlos Zambrano. Rich Hill showed signs of becoming a solid starter, and now that he'll get a chance to be in the rotation from the start of the season, expect him to take another step forward. Mark Prior is so good when he's healthy that it's odd to see him in the 5 spot, but the Cubs seem to have come to the conclusion that anything they get out of Prior is a plus, considering his injury history.

Ryan Dempster's 4.80 ERA last season was higher than you want out of a closer, and he'll need to get that down this season if he wants to stay in the closer role. Kerry Wood moves into the bullpen, with the Cubs hoping that there will be less strain on his arm in that role. If he does well, and Dempster struggles, it is not out of the question that he could end up as the teams closer. Cotts, Howry, and Eyre will all be solid, and the team has a lot of depth to round out the rest of the rotation.

The big splash for the Cubs this off-season was Alfonso Soriano, who is expected to be used in Center. He should be fine there, because he's a phenomenal athlete. Whether he's worth the kind of money they spent on him is debatable, but either way he'll benefit the Cubs. Retaining Aramis Ramirez was key, and Matt Murton should be productive in Left. A healthy Derrek Lee in 2007 will make this lineup even more formidable.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Projected Rotation

1.) Zach Duke
2.) Ian Snell
3.) Shawn Chacon
4.) Paul Maholm
5.) Sean Burnett

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Damaso Marte?
2.) Salomon Torres
3.) John Grabow
4.) Matt Capps
5.) Shane Youman

Position Players
C - Ronny Paulino
1B - Adam LaRoche
2B - Jose Castillo
3B - Freddy Sanchez
SS - Jack Wilson
LF - Jason Bay
CF - Chris Duffy
RF - Jose Bautista

The Pirates have a very talented corps of young starters, but as always the question is whether any of them will effectively emerge. My bet is on the right-handed Snell, but honestly Duke, Snell, Maholm, and Burnett are all interesting, and any or all of them could put it together this year. If they don't, Tom Gorzelanny, Bryan Bullington, and John Van Benschoten will be ready to step in and claim a spot.

The bullpen just lost its anchor in Closer Mike Gonzalez, who was traded to the Braves. The question is who will step in to take over that spot, and I'm slotting Damaso Marte into that spot, although I really have no idea who the most likely candidate is. Some of these guys were heavily used last year (Torres was in 94 games last year! 94 freakin' games!) - and we'll see if that affects their performance this year. Honestly, this crew will probably get a lot of work - young starters often don't make it far into games.

The addition of Adam LaRoche into this lineup makes the Pirates a much better team, because he gives them some left-handed power to slot in the middle of the batting order (and left-handed power in PNC Park could be scary). Jason Bay is a perennial All-Star, and Freddy Sanchez may (or may not) be a budding star as well. The club needs to find more production in Center and Right, and their Catchers have left something to be desired since the departure of Jason Kendall. They should put up some runs, but whether it will be enough to cover up the young pitching is questionable.

Cincinnati Reds
Projected Rotation

1.) Aaron Harang
2.) Bronson Arroyo
3.) Eric Milton
4.) Kyle Lohse
5.) Elizardo Ramirez

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - David Weathers
2.) Todd Coffey
3.) Bill Bray
4.) Gary Majewski
5.) Rheal Cormier

Position Players
C - David Ross
1B - Scott Hatteberg
2B - Brandon Phillips
3B - Edwin Encarnacion
SS - Alex Gonzalez
LF - Adam Dunn
CF - Ken Griffey, Jr.
RF - Ryan Freel

Call me a skeptic, but I'm not convinced that Eric Milton and Kyle Lohse belong in Major League rotations. Milton has a career ERA over 5.00 (5.01 to be exact) - and Lohse - well - is Kyle Lohse. Relying on them as 2/5 of a starting rotation seems awfully risky to me. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo should both be solid again this year, and there will probably be a competition for, at the very least, the fifth spot in the rotation.

The bullpen is actually solid and deep, although David Weathers as a closer would worry me a little bit. Elsewhere, guys like Coffey, Majewski, and Cormier should continue to be their workmanlike selves, and overall the Reds shouldn't be too worried to turn the game over to the 'pen (which, based on who is in the rotation, they will probably have to do early and often).

The lineup is not that strong - other than Adam Dunn, there aren't a lot of high-ceiling guys in here, and even Dunn hit just .234 last season. Griffey Junior isn't getting any younger (and might be getting ready to move to Right), and Scott Hatteberg and Alex Gonzalez can't produce forever, can they? Brandon Phillips is a talented player who has never blossomed, and the Reds are taking a chance on him. I like Wayne Krivsky, so I'm rooting for the Reds - I just don't think they'll score many runs (except when Dunn or Griffey knocks one out of the park).

1.) Chicago Cubs - 88-74
2.) Houston Astros - 86-76
3.) Milwaukee Brewers - 85-77
4.) St. Louis Cardinals - 77-85
5.) Pittsburgh Pirates - 76-86
6.) Cincinnati Reds - 73-89

I'm being woefully pessimistic about the Reds chances in 2007, but looking at the team, I just don't think they're that good. The Pirates could win anywhere from about 65-85 games, depending on whether the pitching comes together. If you're a Cardinals fan, I think it's going to be a long year, thanks to a lack of starting pitching that will doom the team to a sub-.500 season. At the top, I think it'll be a close race between the Cubs, Astros, and Brewers - a race that hopefully will come down to the last game of the season. I think the Cubs will be just good enough to win, and they could be a formidable team in the post-season.



  • At Tue Jan 23, 04:22:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    don't know where, LF or RF, but corey hart will be part of the brewers outfield in 07...the cards expect jason isringhausen to be ready for the beginning of the season, so add adam wainright to the rotation and the looks of it change considerably.

  • At Tue Jan 23, 04:40:00 PM , Blogger JST said...

    Thanks for the post -

    I actually originally put Wainwright in the rotation, because looking through the 40-man roster, there was seemingly NO ONE else with starting experience. Then I took a gander at the depth chart they listed, and saw Wainright listed as the Closer, so I went with that. I realize that MLB.com depth charts are not accurate, however (just look at the Twins depth chart on the Twins website), so appreciate the comment about Izzy being ready for the start of the season and Wainright's probably inclusion in the rotation.

  • At Wed Jan 24, 11:02:00 AM , Blogger Marty said...

    Kerry Wood...


    How far has he fallen? He was the next Nolan Ryan.


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