Baseball: NL Central Preview

By and

Everybody knows what’s going to happen here, right? Heads, the Milwaukee Brewers win the division, tails, its the Chicago Cubs. And the winner is…the Brew Crew.

The top of the “if” division is the “if” team. If Ben Sheets can start in, say, 30 games, as opposed to his normal 20-25 range, he’ll anchor a pitching staff that stands to be good. Their young talent core of Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart might make the National League actually worth watching this year. Add in Eric Gagne’s flare for the dramatic and the Brewers will be interesting all the way to September. Side bets on if Gagne makes lives that long can double your pleasure.

The Cubs have the most entertaining starting pitcher to watch pitch in Carlos Zambrano, and have a serviceable No. 2 through 5 to keep things atop the division tight. If Ryan Theriot proves to be a decent leadoff hitter — which gives Alfonso Soriano the chance to drive in more than half his runs from hits other than solo home runs — the Cubs will be the best offensive team in the division. Kosuke Fukudome looks to be a great addition so far, and Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are due for another scary year at the heart of the Cubs’ lineup.

The “if” factor here is if Carlos Marmol can continue to be a strikeout machine, and if Kerry Wood can properly anchor a shaky bullpen.

The rest of the division will hardly press either team for the division, although Houston and Cincinnatti will be able to compete with most anyone on any given night.

For St. Louis and Pittsburgh, little was done in the offseason to make these teams exciting — or relevant. The one notable materialization will be how un-Golden State St. Louis’ fan base is, no matter how far below expectations the Cardinals fall.