The NL Central in 2012 is going to be competitive. There’s some good depth up and down the division team wise. Then there’s the Astros. Here’s how I think the 2012 NL Central will break down in order of divisional finish with record in parenthesis.
The Cincinnati Reds (92-70) are my pick to win the division. Even with closer Ryan Madson going down for the year with Tommy John surgery. This team is loaded. Joey Votto should be near the top of MVP voting at the end of the season and is the best first baseman in the league with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder going to the AL now. His supporting cast around him offensively is outstanding. Brandon Phillips is a top second baseman. Jay Bruce should continue his improvement. The starting pitching staff is deep with the acquisition of Mat Latos and NL ERA leader from 2011 Johnny Cueto. The bullpen will still be good without Madson. Sean Marshall is a underrated pitcher and there are some other good pieces there.
The St. Louis Cardinals (89-73) will again finish second in the division and will play in the first ever wild card play-in game. Even with losing Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter being questionable with a nerve issue in his shoulder, this is a very good and deep team. This team won the World Series without Adam Wainwright who returns this year from Tommy John surgery. A healthy David Freese will make a difference this year and the acquisition of Carlos Beltran will help as well. The bullpen will be a lot better to start the year with Jason Motte as closer instead of Ryan Franklin.
The Milwaukee Brewers (85-77) will not repeat as division champs. The left side of the infield will be better as Aramis Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez replace Casey McGhee and Yuniesky Betancourt. Prince Fielder is gone though and Ramirez and new first baseman Mat Gamel won’t be comparable. Ryan Braun‘s production will probably drop since Fielder won’t be behind him and a little issue with FedEx in the off season. The pitching will be the strength of this club. They have a very deep rotation headed by Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke and they’re strong at the back end of the bullpen with John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez.
The Pittsburgh Pirates (79-83) will again finish under .500 but have reason to be hopeful for the future due to their high draft picks like last year’s number one pick Gerrit Cole. Andrew McCutchen is a great building block for this franchise and they need their younger players like Pedro Alvarez to continue to develop. Bringing in veterans A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard were great moves to bridge the gap until the younger pitchers come up. Pirates fans have a lot to look forward to.
The Chicago Cubs (70-92) and their fans will go another season without a world championship. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will get the team rebuilt and re-tooled for the future. If Epstein can break the curse in Chicago to go along with breaking the one in Boston he’ll have two statues. If he can move Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol he may have a statue in Chicago this year. Starlin Castro will be their leader going forward. The process will take a few years, but they have the right leadership in place.
It’s going to be a long year for the Houston Astros (55-107) in their last year in the National League. This may be a historically bad team, but you gotta bottom out to build back up. I don’t see Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez being with the team past August 31 and probably closer turned starter turned closer again Brett Myers either. The new regime will be able to build the team up but the process will take a very long time due to poor drafting over the past few years. Acquiring most of the good prospects in the Phillies system over the past couple of years will help the process, but they need more basically everywhere.
MVP of division: Joey Votto – Reds
Cy Young of Division – Adam Wainwright – Cardinals
Breakout Player – Chris Heisey - Reds
Player likely to regress – Lance Berkman – Cardinals
Sleeper – Chris Volstad - Cubs