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The Reds-Cardinals Rivalry Will Only Heat Up [FanIQ NL Central Preview]

3/14/13 in MLB   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Pittsburgh PiratesBlog Photo - FanIQ NL Central Preview
Projected Lineup
LF Starling Marte
2B Neil Walker
CF Andrew McCutchen
1B Garrett Jones
3B Pedro Alvarez
C Russell Martin
RF Travis Snider
SS Clint Barmes
Projected Rotation
RHP A.J. Burnett
LHP Wandy Rodriguez
RHP James McDonald
RHP Jeff Karstens
RHP Kyle McPherson
Closer: RHP Jason Grilli
Key Losses: SP Kevin Correia, RP Joel Hanrahan, C Rod Barajas
The losing streak was so close to being snapped, and yet ended up so far away, as a September swoon resulted in the Pirates’ 20th consecutive losing season. There was some speculation that GM Neil Huntington would pay for it with his job, but he stayed and continued to tweak the roster that is waiting for reinforcements, especially on the pitching side, from the farm before they can vault into true contention.
This is necessary because while McCutchen is the MVP caliber stud, the rest of his generation of young talent hasn’t panned out the way Pittsburgh hoped, with the exception of Neil Walker. They were hoping Pedro Alvarez, would be a star, but he is way too much of a Three True Outcomes (homers, walks, and strike outs) guy to be more than a complimentary piece. Jose Tabata, meanwhile, isn’t even guaranteed a starting job after a disastrous 2012. The Pirates did make a big upgrade at catcher in Russell Martin. Unlike Rod Barajas last year, Martin can hit a little and take walks, even if losing the Yankee Stadium bump means he won’t hit 20 homers again. Martin is also much better than Barajas at throwing out runners and he’s one of the best at framing pitches. Overall, this was a slightly below average offense last year that does have some room to get slightly above.
For most of the year, the rotation was the strength of the Pirates, particularly Burnett and McDonald. However, both struggled in the second half, especially McDonald, contributing to the downfall. A happy medium this year for both would be huge for Pittsburgh. Those two plus Wandy Rodriguez give the Pirates three very solid mid-rotation starters. That’s not good enough to contend now, but the real prizes are on their way. Former #1 pick Gerritt Cole could see the bigs this year, and former #2 pick Jameson Taillon has an outside chance of it as well. If they hit their potential, we will be hearing from the Pirates very soon.
For this year though, it’s all about breaking the longest losing streak in sports. I was skeptical in previous seasons they could do it, but this year? In McCutchen We Trust, if only just barely.
Projected: 82-80
Down on the Farm: Cole and Taillon are the top prospects, but another pitcher, SP Luis Heredia, is also starting to get noticed and is still just 18. On the hitting side, SS Alen Hanson and CF Gregory Polanco both broke out in A-ball and project to at least above average regulars. The organization was loaded last year in A-ball West Virginia. Now that group will move to either High A Bradenton or AA Altoona for 2013.
Milwaukee BrewersBlog Photo - FanIQ NL Central Preview
Projected Lineup
RF Norichika Aoki
2B Rickie Weeks
LF Ryan Braun
3B Aramis Ramirez
C Jonathan Lucroy
CF Carlos Gomez
1B Alex Gonzalez
SS Jean Segura
Projected Rotation
RHP Yovani Gallardo
RHP Marco Estrada
RHP Michael Fiers
LHP Chris Narveson
RHP Wily Peralta
Closer: RHP John Axford
Key Losses: SP Shawn Marcum, OF Nyjer Morgan, LHP Manny Parra, RP Francisco Rodriguez, C Yorvit Torrealba
Bullpens are notoriously hard to predict. A great bullpen can take a team to new heights, like the 2012 Orioles, or it could destroy a team, like the 2012 Brewers. Milwaukee had one of the worst bullpens in the game last year, and as a result, they fell quickly out of contention and traded Zach Greinke. From there, they went 29-13 to get back above .500. Not surprisingly, the Brewers made a lot of changes in the bullpen, adding Mike Gonzalez, Burke Badenhop, and Tom Gorzelanny to the mix.
The Brewers were the #1 offensive team in the NL last year, but signs point to that not being repeated. Sure, Braun is likely to remain at superstar level, Ramirez will probably be as consistent as ever, and there’s no reason Aoki will drop from a solid rookie season. However, Lucroy is unlikely to repeat his .881 OPS (although he’ll still be one of the better offensive catchers), and the first base situation is even worse. Corey Hart is out at least six weeks and Mat Gamel is out for the year. Thus, Milwaukee turns to Alex Gonzalez for the time being. That’s the 36 year old shortstop Alex Gonzalez with a career batting line of .247/.292/.399, not exactly first base material.
With Greinke and Shawn Marcum gone, Gallardo remains of the team’s former Big Three. He’ll be flanked by Estrada and Fiers, two pleasant surprises last year. Both pitchers are similar: right handed, don’t issue many walks, are surprisingly adept at striking guys out, and are fairly extreme fly ball pitchers. That last one is the problem at Miller Park and limits their ceiling. Naverson is coming off a shoulder injury and doesn’t have much upside regardless, while Peralta is an intriguing prospect but one who has to prove he can avoid free passes. The bullpen, meanwhile, probably can’t get any worse, and it was a plus than John Axford rebounded down the stretch after struggling most of the year.
Milwaukee is as middle of the road as it gets. Their ceiling feels like a bit above .500 like 2012; their floor a few games below. Thus, I’ll punk out and put them right in the middle.
Projected Record: 81-81
Down on the Farm: Their attempts to go for it (which did result in an NLCS appearance at least) have left the Brewers with an almost barren and still developing farm system. Peralta is their top prospect and the only one even sniffing the top 100 lists.

It'll be Wait Til Next Year for the Cubs again, but how close are they to contention? Read on to find out.
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4/1/13   |   kramer   |   11004 respect

(Edited by kramer)

The starting rotation is a complete mess and a comedy of errors to start the season for the Bucs.  They really only have 3 starters.  Offseason acquisition Francisco Liriano isn't ready to start the season, and the Pirates are being very stubborn with Gerritt Cole, refusing to bring him up until at least June like they did with Andrew McCutchen a few years ago.  With as disastrous as the rotation looks, they're only hurting themselves by not putting Cole in the rotation to start the year.

I'm also extremely nervous about Mark Melancon's ability to keep a lead in the 8th inning to even set things up for Jason Grilli to close out a game.

3/20/13   |   punditty

Pete Kozma is going to be interesting to watch this year. Go Redbirds!

3/14/13   |   Scott   |   54651 respect

Eric_ wrote:
Yeah, that's why I don't have them winning the division. They have a lot of young arms, and at least 1 or 2 should develop, but for this year, I think they're a bit behind the Reds. I may have misjudged Lynn though, because for some reason I thought he was around 30, not 25. Oops. blush

Lynn still has to prove that last year was no fluke. With Carpenter out for the season, Lohse unsigned and Garcia injury prone, the Cardinals will need him to step up and be another Waino type work horse.

3/14/13   |   Sharp Square   |   11959 respect

I don't see the Cards really taking much more of a step up for this season and maybe even a tick down if they have any kind of injury problems in the starting rotation. Reds are clearly the class of this division for me , cards are always scrappy and may make it somewhat of a decent race, maybe. 

I actually get as much or more enjoyment watching the cubbies and pirates out of this division cheeky

3/14/13   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Scott wrote:
If the Cardinals are going to compete with the Reds for the division title, they'll need their young arms to take another giant step forward.

Yeah, that's why I don't have them winning the division. They have a lot of young arms, and at least 1 or 2 should develop, but for this year, I think they're a bit behind the Reds. I may have misjudged Lynn though, because for some reason I thought he was around 30, not 25. Oops. blush

3/14/13   |   jvardaman   |   3 respect

Offense is definitely going to be the key to this year's Reds. With that rotation (if Chapman is thrown in at the 5) they will be in just about every game this summer. If the offense can stay slightly better than mediocre, this team will win a lot of games. As far as the Cards go, I only disagree with you saying Lynn has reached his potential. He has only been a major league starter for one year, so he can only improve on a season where he still won 18 games. If both of these teams can stay healthy-- and that's a big if-- this will be one of the best races in the Bigs.

3/14/13   |   huskerdoug2009   |   2796 respect

I agree with Scott on the Cards.  Was sad to see Carpenter injured again.  The man is a poor man's Orel Hershiser in terms of toughness.  I still think the Reds could use more offense to make a serious playoff run though.

3/14/13   |   Scott   |   54651 respect

If the Cardinals are going to compete with the Reds for the division title, they'll need their young arms to take another giant step forward.