Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. This week, we’re taking a look at the NL Central. Monday: St. Louis Cardinals; Tuesday: Cincinnati Reds; Wednesday: Milwaukee Brewers
The Must-Win Team: Milwaukee Brewers
Off-Season Moves: The Brewers greatly improved their rotation when they pulled off one of this off-season’s most shocking and successful moves, acquiring Zack Greinke in a trade as well as Shaun Marcum. They also added the seemingly ageless Takashi Saito to set-up for closer John Axford.
Strengths: The story of the Prince Fielder/Ryan Braun Brewers has always been hitting. Those two, along with Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Casey McGehee will keep opposing pitchers up at night. Weeks finally stayed healthy and had a season worthy of his potential and will need to build on that success. Hart had a nice bounce-back season, hitting 31 home runs. Prince Fielder has been an every-other-year kind of guy his whole career, and will be going into his walk year, so expect monster numbers from him on par with his 2007 and 2009 season.
Like the Cardinals, the Brewers feature a strong rotation 1-4, and have the division’s best 1-3 in Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Marcum. Gallardo is this team’s best breakout candidate, featuring plus stuff with improving command. Greinke is only one year removed from being in the discussion for best pitcher in baseball and should rebound well this season, playing in the National League and for a contender for the first time. Marcum could also experience a boost in his numbers as well, pitching outside of the American League East. Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson and Manny Parra are underrated in their own ways and fill out the back of the rotation well.
Weaknesses: As strong as this rotation is, their defense is totally unworthy to back them. There is nothing to like about the way this team catches and throws a baseball, with the lone exception being the rangy center fielder Carlos Gomez, which makes for the perfect transition to my next point. As good a power hitting team as this is, there are three total black holes in this lineup which will do everything within their (anti-)power to give back this team’s power. Gomez, Yuniesky Betancourt (the human tail of the Zack Greinke trade) and whoever their catcher is going to be are as unworthy to swing a bat as their peers are to put on gloves and take the field.
Summary: This team is going to hit home runs and their starting pitchers will keep them in games, but the defensive shortcomings and offensively challenged players could hinder this team to a pedestrian season bellow expectations. I predict 83 wins and a third place finish within the division.Google+