What would a baseball blog be without a couple of preseason predictions? I’ve already gone position by position in the division and given my picks for who I’d want on my roster in 2012, but those didn’t include pitchers and still don’t give a whole representation of how a team is going to do. Below I’ve outlined my predictions for the division this season. Feel free to give your counter-predictions. Let’s get to Opening Day! And now, in reverse order, Baseblog’s 2012 NL Central Standings predictions.
6th Place Prediction: Houston Astros
2011 was tough for the Astros, but 2012 is a step in the right direction. The team lost 106 games (the most in franchise history) and was the cellar of the Central and the sport itself. The team cleared out their front office and the new men in charge or working towards a rebuild. Carlos Lee may be on the move this season, following suit with Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn last year and Lance Berkman before. Jed Lowrie is now at short and a few other new names are on the roster, but the impact right now is minimal. It will be another year in the cellar for the Astros as they continue to improve in the American League.
5th Place Prediction: Chicago Cubs
Low risk, potentially high reward type acquisitions and short term asset into long term asset trades were the name of the game for the Cubs’ new front office this offseason. A lot of things have to go right for this not to be a long summer, though. Starlin Castro should continue his young success, Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano may see the door by July (much more likely for the former, however), and who knows? Even more young blood in Brett Jackson or Anthony Rizzo will pick up a big league bat in 2012. This season will be more enjoyed learning the new players than winning tons of ballgames in year one of the Theo Epstein project, always mindful of a surprise or two.
4th Place Prediction: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates were contenders for the division last season until a late night extra innings game finishing call didn’t go their way. From a fan perspective, the momentum was zapped and soon the Pirates were out of first. The biggest deal of their offseason comes from a player within the organization – a multi-year extension for Andrew McCutchen. Clint Barmes is an upgrade from Ronny Cedeno at short, and Rod Barajas hopes to stop the merry-go-round experienced behind the dish for the Bucs in 2011. A.J. Burnett is an upgrade but not earth shattering, and it will be interesting to see how Casey McGehee and Jake Fox do. I think the Pirates will be better then they were in 2011, but not to the caliber as the rest of the ceiling just yet.
3rd Place Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards’ biggest offseason acquisition was released before he was even able to start a single game. Forgetting that they signed Yadier Molina to an extension, the Cardinals eventually parted ways with new free agent signee Koyie Hill. Just kidding. The Cardinals added Carlos Beltran after losing Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa, sliding Lance Berkman onto first base nicely. Someone was thinking ahead with that signing. Adam Wainwright will play this season, which is more than can be said for last. Oh, and no more Ryan Theriot. The Cardinals will give their opponents a good run for their money, but I don’t see them as top dog again once the dust settles.
2nd Place Prediction: Milwaukee Brewers
It’s going to be very close, but I predict the Brewers will be ever-so-slightly edged in their 2012 campaign. A rock-solid rotation and good bullpen is still intact. Ryan Braun will be available for all 162 but has struggled this spring (however meaningful or meaningless that is). Like the Pirates, the Brewers upgraded at shortstop and made up for the loss of Prince Fielder a bit by signing NL Central lifer Aramis Ramirez. We’ll see if Ramirez can keep the effort up and stay healthy. I like Norichika Aoki as a solid backup outfield option. In the interest of not re-writing the 2011 standings for my predictions, I’m betting on the Reds in 2012. Brewers, prove me wrong.
1st Place Prediction: Cincinnati Reds
Party like it’s 2010! An offense that was beat only by the Cardinals in the National League last year is very similar to the one heading into 2012. Joey Votto just got paid, what better way to repay his owners than with another monster campaign? The existing offense has been coupled with a pitching upgrade in Mat Latos, Sean Marshall, and Ryan Madson. Although the Reds fielded a losing record last year, they scored more runs than they gave up. Bad luck? Perhaps, but now that the pitching has improved, it’s time to see what the Reds can do again. They are your Baseblog predicted 2012 NL Central champions.