2005 MLB Predictions: NL Central

Joe Beatty

Last year at this time, everyone was throwing the Cardinals in the rebuilding bin. Now every time you even say their name, Peter Gammons gets a Woody Williams. It will be tough to maintain the dominance they had last season, but with the weapons they have, it’s not my place to argue against them. The deciding factor will be whether the Renteria for Mulder “swap” pans out.

If Nomar can stay healthy, the Cubs will be fine. He and Aramis Ramirez can overcome Prior and Wood spending time on the DL, but come September they will need all of their pitching in order to get the wild card spot.

The Brewers may not have a lot of household names, but have some very good building blocks. Ben Sheets is ready to win a Cy Young and the Lyle Overbay/Geoff Jenkins combination will be impressive. Now they just need to find some more pitching.

It may all be a charade, but the Pirates look like they have some talent. I guess they finally realized that Derek Bell isn’t a good cornerstone to a franchise. Last year’s Rookie of the Year Jason Bay is a stud and opening day excluded, Oliver Perez is developing nicely into the staff ace.

The Reds have a fantastic outfield and not much more. If Griffey can wait until July to have his yearly leg trauma, the Redlegs might be able to hang around. Adam Dunn will make a serious push to be the first player to hit 50 home runs, while finishing under the Mendoza line.

It’s time for the Astros to come crashing down to Earth. They are over the hill in the field and have few dependable arms past Roy Oswalt. (Roger Clemens doesn’t count).

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1. St Louis Cardinals2. Chicago Cubs3. Milwaukee Brewers4. Pittsburgh Pirates5. Cincinnati Reds6. Houston Astros

Tye Smith

What happened to the Cardinals in last year’s World Series is still a mystery, but they should be back with a vengeance. Albert Pujols is the best player in the game, and the addition of ace Mark Mulder in the offseason makes an ordinary pitching staff look pretty good. The bats of St. Louis are just plain ridiculous-Larry Walker, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Pujols are the backbone of the deepest lineup in the NL.

The Cubs have a strong pitching staff, but they probably lack the bats to make much of a push. The loss of Slammin’ Sammy will hurt, but a revived and healthy Nomar Garciaparra could carry this team to a winning record.

A Carlos Beltran-less Astros team lacks the hitting strength of last year’s team that caught magic in a bottle during the postseason. Don’t expect another postseason for Roger the Rocket and a bunch of no-name minor leaguers.

Just like every year, a healthy Ken Griffey Jr. could put the Reds in contention for the postseason. Unfortunately, we know the chances of this happening-and they aren’t very good. The Reds are finally spending some money-they have a $60 million payroll this season-and if things go just right, they could be a pleasant surprise.

The Brewers aren’t very good, and unless you’ve heard of Lyle Overbay or Bill E. Hall, you won’t have much fun watching them. Expect nothing from this ragged group of no-names.

The Pirates appear to have grown comfortable in their role as perennial bottom-dwellers, and there’s no reason to think anything will change this year.

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1. St Louis Cardinals2. Chicago Cubs3. Houston Astros4. Cincinnati Reds5. Milwaukee Brewers6. Pittsburgh Pirates

Asad Kudiya

The starting pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals was absolutely pathetic last year. That’s why they got smoked in the World Series, but this year will be different. Adding Mark Mulder to the rotation gives them a very good pitcher that can actually stop opposing hitters in the playoffs. Oh, and the lineup is amazing. The Cardinals have it in the bag.

Many critics have the Cubs in second place, but I think the Astros will finish right behind the Cardinals. Lance Berkman will be out for a month, but when he comes back, the Astros will have a very potent lineup. Clemens is always good, and Roy Oswalt is a stud.

The two-star pitchers for the Cubs, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, have already sustained injuries and it will be a tough year for the Cubs. They have enough talent to finish ahead of the rest of the pack, however.

Last year the Reds looked like a Cinderella team, but trailed off at the end. It’s going to happen again. With the addition of Eric Milton, the team will get a boost, but not enough to make a serious run at the end of the year.

The Brewers have a young team that should be pretty good-next year.

Ben Sheets is a very good pitcher, but I don’t like the rest of the rotation.

I could preview the Pirates, but they suck, so I refuse. Last place it is.

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1. St. Louis Cardinals2. Houston Astros3. Chicago Cubs4. Cincinnati Reds5. Milwaukee Brewers6. Pittsburgh Pirates

Matthew Piper

The NL Central is more top-heavy than Antonio Alfonseca.

The Cubs were the consensus pick to win the World Series last preseason. This year they’re too “injury prone” to contend. This reactive logic is nonsense, as the Cubs should happily prove in 2005 with a little luck and good health. They still have three Cy Young candidates and a dangerous, balanced lineup. GM Jim Hendry loves making moves in the midseason, and will probably fill their glaring closer hole by the All-Star break.

The Cardinals added Mark Mulder, who becomes the fifth and final piece to a rotation that combined to win 78 games last year. Alas, every member of that rotation can look like batting practice at times. The lineup slammed their way to 105 wins last year, and will easily compensate enough to secure another postseason appearance. Edgar Renteria’s departure will be sorely felt, but the trio of Scott Rolen/Jim Edmonds/Albert Pujols may be the most intimidating 3-4-5 in recent history.

The Astros acquired John Franco and lost Carlos Beltran. Yeah, that’s not so good. The much-heralded rotation won’t be so impressive if the 43-year old Clemens falters any and Andy Petitte doesn’t discover miracle juice (he’s my pick as the most overrated player in baseball).

The Brewers’ Ben Sheets has the tools to be a perennial Cy Young candidate. With a 0.98 WHIP in 2005, the enigmatic talent finally put it together, and he gives the Brew Crew a sure win every five games. Unfortunately, they’re going to have a lot of trouble between the Sheets.

The Reds have the potential to put 15 on the score sheet every game, be it runs or strikeouts. Paul Wilson is their ace, which is like saying “Victor Conte is his trainer”-a pretty good indication that something’s wrong.

The Pirates hope that Matt Lawton and Craig Wilson will lead them to glory. Uh-huh. Right.

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1. Chicago Cubs2. St. Louis Cardinals3. Houston Astros4. Milwaukee Brewers 5. Cincinnati Reds 6. Pittsburgh Pirates