View From the Center: N.L. Central Contenders
Welcome to "View From the Center", where our resident pseudo-expert slash Cincinnati Reds fan Jeff Gentil takes a regular rundown of the topics of interest within baseball's divisional landscape. Last week, team aces. This week, contenders/pretenders.
St. Louis Cardinals: In spite of the Reds' surprising play, the Cardinals may still make it a race, especially when Brad Penny returns from the disabled list. While the lineup hasn't been as good as expected - Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker have struggled mightily - they're getting good production from rookie David Freese, Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and some guy named Pujols. Contenders
Chicago Cubs: Apparently ownership believes the Cubs are pretenders, if they are already dangling carrots like Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. They'd be smart to get rid of Alfonso Soriano too, but no one would take on that salary again. The Cubs have the league's third-highest payroll at $146 million and are driving Lou Piniella toward his retirement quicker than he would like. Don't look for the owners to add any big names to a team already spending so much and getting so little in return. Pretenders
Cincinnati Reds: Perhaps the biggest surprise is the Reds and their ability to keep the Central an actual race since the rest of the division has apparently decided to bag the rest of the season. With Scott Rolen's resurgence and Joey Votto's MVP-caliber season, along with rookie Mike Leake's amazing leap past the minors, the Reds look like they could in fact make a serious run at knocking the Cardinals from their perch atop the Central. Contenders
Houston Astros: Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman haven't had typical seasons and the Astros' offense has struggled. As a team their 188 runs are second fewest in the N.L. and their .237 batting average is last. In the first two months, there has been trade talk involving Roy Oswalt and Berkman. Trading off one or both would lighten the payroll ($92 million) but would hamper the team's chances of staying competitive. Pretenders
Milwaukee Brewers: If the Brewers could figure out a way to win games at Miller Park beyond an 8-16 pace, they wouldn't be stuck scratching their heads while trying to stay out of last place. Their team 5.29 ERA (last in the N.L.) is a big indication of what's wrong. More specifically the bullpen's 6.09 ERA and Trevor Hoffman's continuing decline are key factors. Hoffman, baseball's all-time leader in saves, has been relegated to mop up guy with his enormous 11.00 ERA. Pretenders
Pittsburgh Pirates: Brad Lincoln will start this week and will allow Pirates fans to dream about better days to come. And give the team credit; they are usually left for dead about this time of season, but are battling every game and have climbed the division ladder to fourth. Another positive for the fans is the team doesn't have any high-priced salaries to dump this year so perhaps this core of players can grow together. Pretenders