The year of the Cub in NLC

I love baseball. Forget about the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry this season-the National League Central Division will be the most exciting one to watch. The Cubs and Astros both made serious off season moves and all the makings of a good old-fashioned rivalry are there.

The Cubs added hitting to their lineup, and, oh yeah, a Cy Young Award winner named Greg Maddux. The Astros also added some Cy Young pitching with Roger Clemens as well as Andy Pettite.

But the National League is a whole different world when it comes to pitching, and Clemens and Pettite have been less than spectacular when playing National League teams.

To be honest, I am just excited to see Clemens go upstairs on Sammy Sosa and then realize he is in the National League and has to get into the box against Kerry Wood or Mark Prior. Man, I love baseball.

1. Chicago Cubs

Pitching is returning to its prominence as the most important aspect of the game, and there isn’t a better rotation out there then the starting five for the Cubs. Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Greg Maddux, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement are all good enough to be opening-day starters on a majority of teams in the league. The Cubs also added LaTroy Hawkins as a setup man/closer. Last year’s closer, Joe Borowski, had more than 30 saves last year. This is a damn good pitching staff.

The Cubbies have also added some fire power to their lineup with Gold Glove winner Derrick Lee and Todd Walker. Corey Patterson is looking as good as ever and is poised to have an All Star season. The meat of the Cub lineup is nothing short of vicious, with Sosa, Moises Alou, Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

The only problem is the curse. But even the curse of the goat can’t stop Dusty Baker and the Cubs this year. Knock on wood.

2. Houston Astros

The Astros also made some key additions during the offseason. The Astros acquired Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite from the Yankees, and this is on top of an already strong rotation led by Roy Oswalt.

The Astros also bring a strong lineup of hitters, with Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Jeff Kent. The Astros did lose their closer, Billy Wagner, to the Phillies, and it will be interesting to see how they handle close games with a mediocre bullpen.

3. St. Louis Cardinals

The predictions thus far come with a strong word of caution, and that word is Cardinals.

Don’t be surprised if Albert Pujols runs away with the hitting title and the National League MVP. Pujols is the best young hitter in baseball and the Cardinals are always gritty and tough. It seems as though they don’t have the pitching to go the distance, but if they happen to steal the wild card spot, they will be a tough team for anyone to face.

4. Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have a strong baseball tradition, but that is about all. They do have a decent pitching rotation, but they are not good enough to be any real threat.

For all the Ken Griffey Jr. fans, it is going to be a long and painful season. Griffey’s move to Cincinnati has never lived up to the utopian dreams of the faithful Red fans. The reality is the Reds will be mediocre and Griffey very well may be done playing baseball.

5. Milwaukee Brewers

This could be perhaps the most bold prediction yet. Yup, the Brewers will edge out the Pirates for the fifth spot. Don’t get me wrong, the Brewers are bad, just not as bad as the Pirates.

And oh yeah, remember that trade that sent Richie Sexson to Arizona for a bunch of players? Well, those bunch of players aren’t half bad. You can count on more wins this year.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates

If you are still reading this, congratulations.

The Pirates very well may be the worst team in the league this year.

They followed up their poor season performance with an even poorer offseason. It seems as though the Pirates’ strategy in the offseason was to make the team worse so they could lose more games.

I feel sorry for the Pirate fans out there, but I will be happy to buy both of you a beer at season’s end.

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