MLB Division Preview: NL Central
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2012 00:03
After winning the World Series last season with the St. Louis Cardinals, three time world champion manager Tony La Russa decided to call it quits. La Russa managed 5,097 games, to go along with four manager of the year awards.
If losing your coach wasn’t enough, the St. Louis Cardinals also watched their best player, first baseman Albert Pujols, leave for Los Angeles due to free agency, but St. Louis did not fret.
Even after watching Pujols pack his bags and depart, last year’s World Series Champs did not scrum through free agency looking for someone to fill King Albert’s shoes. The Cardinals still hold one of the premiere lineups in the league, and will look to defend their title this season with Matt Holliday in left field, Jon Jay in center field, Carlos Beltran in right field, David Freese at third base, Rafael Furcal at shortstop, Skip Shumaker at second base, Lance Berkman at first base and Yadier Molina catching. On top of that lineup, the Cardinals boast a pitching staff with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright (coming back after missing most of last season due to injury), Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse.
Milwaukee’s eventful offseason included watching Ryan Braun get handed a 50-game suspension for failing a drug test for performance enhancing drugs (which he appealed and won) and losing star first baseman Prince Fielder through free agency. As for free agency, the Brewers made some under the radar moves in signing third baseman Aramis Ramirez away from the division rival Chicago Cubs, and aging journeyman shortstop Alex Gonzalez. With Ryan Braun winning his hearing over use of performance enhancing drugs (HGH) and not having to serve a 50-game suspension, he will be in left field, along with Nyjer Morgan in center field, Corey Hart in right field, Aramis Ramirez at third base, Alex Gonzalez at shortstop, Rickie Weeks at second base, Mat Gamel at first base and Johnathan Lucroy catching for the Brewers.
Yovani Gallardo leads the way for the pitching staff, followed by Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf and Chris Narverson.
The Cincinnati Reds will look to avenge last year’s 79-83 mark. This 2012 offseason, Cincinnati signed outfielder and former St. Louis Cardinal Ryan Ludwick to a one year contract. Ludwick will fulfill the left field duties aside Drew Stubbs in center field, Jay Bruce in right field, Scott Rolen at third base, Zack Cozart/Wilson Valdez at shortstop, Brandon Phillips at second base, Joey Votto at first base and Ryan Hanigan catching. The Reds also signed former San Diego Padre starting pitcher Matt Latos to fill in the starting rotation along with Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey.
Following 103 years of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs decided it was time to clean house and revamp management. This offseason, the Cubs stole Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox and named him President of Baseball Operations. Epstein is attempting to create “The Cubs Way,” as he had created “The Boston Way” during his term with the Red Sox. The Cubs way, albeit completely different than that of the Boston way, will contain intense player scouting and player development due to the Cubs not withholding a roster of star studded players. Epstein brought in general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dave Sveum in hope of an ambitious turnaround in Chicago. The Cubs starting lineup for 2012 begins with Alfonso Soriano in left field, Marlon Byrd in center field, David DeJesus in right field, former Colorado Rockie Ian Stewart at third base, Starlin Castro at shortstop, Darwin Barney at second base, Bryan LaHair/Anthony Rizzo at first base and Geovany Soto catching. The starting rotation for the Cubs consists of Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Randy Wells, Paul Maholm and Chris Volstad.
Aside from locking up star outfielder Andrew McCutchen for six years and thankfully taking the burden that is A.J. Burnett away from the Yankees, the Pittsburgh Pirates were quiet this 2012 offseason. The Pirates, who were in the thick of the race for the NL Central title for most of the season with manger Clint Hurdle, fell apart down the stretch as the St. Louis Cardinals climbed their way past them to clinching a playoff berth. The Pirates will sport Alex Presley in left field, Andrew McCutchen in center field, Jose Tabata in right field, Pedro Alvarez at third base, Clint Barmes at shortstop, Neil Walker at second base, Garret Jones/Casey McGehee at first base and Rod Barajas catching. Former Yankee starting pitchers Jeff Karstens and A.J. Burnett will take part in the starting rotation for the Pirates along with Erik Bedard, James McDonald and Kevin Correia/Charlie Morton.
The worst team in Major League Baseball last season with a record of 56-106, the Houston Astros, who have been in the center of talks of moving to the AL West in the future, will look towards having a better season in 2012. This offseason wasn’t too nice to the Astros either, as they did not make strides to land big name players and have been undergoing new ownership after being bought by Jim Crane. The Astros also traded away base stealing right fielder Jason Borgeouis and catcher Humberto Quintero to the Kansas City Royals for relief pitcher Kevin Chapman and a player to be named. When the 2012 season rolls around the Houston Astros will have J.D. Martinez/Jack Cust in left field, Jordan Schafer in center field, Brian Bogusevic in right field, Jimmy Paredes at third base, Jed Lowrie at shortstop, Jose Altuve at second base, Carlos Lee at first base and Jason Castro catching. The starting rotation for the Astros is led by Wandy Rodriguez.