Tuesday, January 29, 2008

NL North Season 1 Preview

by Marsrover21 (Originally published in HBD forum 10/13/07)

Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs may have the best middle in field combo in the game with veterans Mark Moore and Rafael Nieves. Both show great plate discipline with the ability to drive the ball to both sides of the field. Neither will be a liability on double plays.Speaking of double plays, Chicago's 6-4-3 combo could be the league's most productive, offensively speaking. Al Phillips, while not winning any gold gloves at first base, will provide some nice power from either the four or five spot. But at a combined age of 95, these guys better help the team this year. Luckily, right fielder Gary Decker is only 27 and will be able to provide the Cubs with a cheap, solid bat for the foreseeable future. At the top of the lineup, 22 y/o CF'er Brian Ferguson is a star in the making with all five tools. And just like a National League team, the 6, 7 and 8 hitters in this lineup will kill a few rallies. Hopefully the big guns will give Chicago the big league early.

As it is currently situated, Chicago's rotation will see some fatigue problems. But one thing is for sure, you better get a hit, cause you ain't walking in against this rotation (unless Gerald Dunn is pitching)! Torey James need to pitch like the horse he is to give this team a chance. If he can go 260 innings this year, CHI should make a playoff push. The rest of the staff requires a strong bullpen, though. But they are talented, and young. This may not be Chicago's year. But look out for them if they get two more solid starting pitchers!

If the 1-5 batters perform like they should, Chicago will be tough to beat at home. But if those guys faulter, teams should be able to get to this team's bullpen. I like Chicago, but not this year. Mark them for second place unless they upgrade the bottom of that lineup.

If it weren't for Jake Clapp, Chicago would have the best SS in this division. The 12 million dollar wonder better produce, or Milwauke's chances are nil. Leadoff man Robert Jefferson should prove he is worth $8.8 million with his combination of speed, defense (I smell gold glove), patience, and ability to make contact with the ball. Batting third, Andy Rowe will absolutely CRUSH the ball. But Rowe's been doing it 11 years, so no one should be suprised when he hits .350 w/ 50 dingers and 160 RBIs this year. If he stays healthy (which is a good bet), Rowe will win the batting title and make a run at .406. Stargell will be solid in LF, and Gray will hit 0 HRs, but walk a TON in right. The Brew-Crew probably has the most complete lineup up and down with a combination of patience, power, and speed. But with the amount of money this team has invested in the lineup, expect to see a complete makeover if they don't make the playoffs.

This rotation should be solid. Staff ace Kareem Hamilton will get his first taste of the big leagues. And this kid is FOR REAL! Expect him to win 25 games this year. Haywood Charles may be the best number two in the division with ball command, stamina, and a devastating sinker. His change-up is improving, and he has developed a good slider. These two pitchers should be able to put the Brewers in a position to win at least fifty of their games this year. Which is important, because the rest of the rotation is a mess. Of the guys who can find the strike zone, they'll be lucky to go three innings. The good news here, though, is if the team finds solid 3,4,5 pitchers, the bullpen should be able to keep them in the game.

I really liked the Brewers chances before I saw that rotation. If they can't upgrade the back end, they'll be spending all that money on offense for nothing. At this point, put them in a position to finish third in the division.

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are the best fielding team in the division. These guys will absolutely gobble up any ball hit towards them. More than that, they can hit. Chris Mullens will CRUSH the ball this year at the catcher position. If he stays healthy, look for 70 homeruns (and don't try to steal on his arm!). Look for Max Ortiz to provide great support from the 3-hole. This left fielder is durable and dangerous. He should hit .300/.400/50 (and w/ a $9mill price-tag, he better!). The team has no true leadoff hitter, but this reporter's money is on SS Anthony Hunter and his BLAZING fast speed. Of course, the best part about Tony will be his glovework at short. The only flaw in this lineup will occur when it's the CF'ers turn to hit. But with the way this team plays defense, they will not need to score alot of runs (but will when Mullens is in the lineup).

And who is this lucky pitching staff that will be going in front of these great defenders? We don't know. Number one guy Scot Pickford is only 23. The two and three guys are 26 and 28 respectively. Hopefully the crafty veteran Enrique Almanzar will teach these guys how to pitch. Not that they need any help! Cincinnati's rotation should be solid. And they'll need to be. Because beyond closer Alex Nunez, there's not much protecting them in the bullpen.

But these guys should be fine with that lineup and the defense behind them. Look for the Reds to take the division.

Montreal Expos.
"This is our year," says team president marsrover21. I asked him what kind of a name marsrover is, but then he hung up.

This team could use some work. The leadoff guy can't run. The SS can't field. The thirdbaseman is a $7mill quagmire that the team just picked up off of waivers (add to the confusion that the team's 3B of the future is ready to play today). Top outfield prospect Trenidad Woodward should provide great defense in CF and will hit the ball, but will be lucky to play in 120 games this year. The team has two catchers on its ML roster, and neither one can call a game or throw out a baserunner to save his life (but they sure can hit). If the season goes the way it looks, fans will be screaming for top prospect Kevin Marte to take over first by years end. The manager told me he intends to win 80 games this year. I'd be surprised if they win 50.

The top of the rotation is dangerous, but the rest is in shambles. Either the guys can't find the plate, or they can't go six innings. Nor is the bullpen going to bail them out of many games. The one thing this team has going for it is it's deep farm system. But a lot of people in the organization are asking why the team is not getting younger.

Asked for his comment, bench coach P.T. Mesa said, "What the heck should I know. I can't even figure out why they gave me a $3mil contract to basically be a figure head at the ML level. How am I going to figure out what the higher-ups are thinking?"If this season goes anything like it looks, expect the Expos to be in contention early. For the first pick.

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