Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NL Central

Short delay in getting to the Inferior League, I know how all three of you that read my insane ravings here were looking so forward to it. We work our way south to north, starting with the Space Cadets.

The Space Cadets had a disappointing season, but have a solid nucleus and some imports may help them more competitive this season, and have new manager Cecil Cooper to boot. Roy Oswalt leads the staff, which also includes inconsistent Wandy Rodriguez and Brandon Baacke. Shawn Chacon and youngster Chris Sampson are expected to round out the rotation, with Woody Williams waiting in the wings. Mercurical former Snake Jose Valverde takes over the closer spot. The Cadets swing some mean lumber and the park is a bandbox to boot. Switch hitting Lance Berkman, LF Carlos Lee and newcomer SS Miguel Tejada can boom with the best. Rookie J.R. Towles takes over at C for Brad Ausmus, who sticks around to mentor him. Kaz Matsui arrives from the Stones to take over at 2B assuming he returns from injury, with super sub Mark Loretta filling in to start the season.

The Redbirds disappointed last season as well, with a number of key injuries knocking them from contention, and the list this spring looks like a MASH unit. SP Mark Mulder, Chris Caprenter, Matt Clement and potential SP Joel Piniero start the season on the DL or recovering, leaving Adam Wainwright the only dependable arm. Oft travelled Braden Looper and Kyle Lohse fill some innings in the meantime, and Anthony Reyes gets yet another chance with the club as well. Dependable Jason Isringhausen closes, with Russ Springer and Ryan Franklin setting up. There was a considerable roster turnover, with 3B Troy Glaus arrving from Canada for Scott Rolen, SS Cesar Izturis replacing David Eckstein, and CF Rick Ankiel replacing Jim Edmonds and moving up in the order to bat cleanup after superstar 1B Alber Pujols. Young RF Skip Schumacher gets a chance to start for the first time as well.

The Cincinnati Communists also have a new manager, former Little Bear and Midget skipper Dusty Baker. The rotation appears set for the first time in years, led by Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, with youngsters Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez and journeyman Josh Fogg rounding out the starting five. Phenom Homer Bailey will start in AAA and may be a mid-season addition if someone falters. The pen should be improved with the signing of free agent closer Francisco Cordero. The Marxists swing good lumber, led by monster LF Adam Dunn, RF Ken Griffey Jr., 2B Brandon Phillips and 3B Edwin Encarnacion and they should score runs by the bushel basket if new leadoff man CF Corey Patterson can find his way on base and new 1B Joey Votto shows his numbers from last September weren't a fluke.

Up the Ohio River, the Steel City Corsairs have some new hope with the development of some talented young arms, featuring three southpaws, that should take a step forward this season. Ian Snell will be start Opening Day, with lefties Tom Grozelanny, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm (all four under 26 years old) filling out the rotation with rapidly aging Matt Morris. Young Matt Capps closes ahead of lefty setup men Damaso Marte, Johns Graybow and submariner Byung-Hyun Kim. The lineup mostly returns, with LF Jason Bay, 1B Adam LaRouche and RF Xavier Nady providing the punch and CF Nate McLouth providing some thievery, but stellar former batting titlist 2B Freddie Sanchez starts the season on the DL after post season shoulder surgery.

The long suffering Little Bear fans should look forward to a pretty successful 2008 season, as the team won the Central last year under new skip Lou Pinella and made some nice off season acquisitions, inlcuding new Japanese import RF Kosuke Fukudome and SP Jason Marquis. The rotation is set with lights out Carlos Zambrano, lefty strikeout artists Ted Lilly and Rich Hill, and former closer Ryan Dempster filling the starting five and control artist Jon Lieber waiting in wings to provide both starting depth and long relief. Former phenom Kerry Wood moves to the pen and starts a new career as a closer ahead of setup men Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol. The lineup still includes dangerous 1B Derek Lee, 3B Aramis Ramirez, LF Alfonzo Soriano, and speedsters SS Ryan Theriot and CF Felix Pie. CF Reed Johson was signed to provide D and a right handed option in center.

The Barley Pops had a very successful 2007 campaign, but there are a number of unsettled questions coming into 2008. There is a ton of young talent but health and some position moves led the team to struggle this spring. The top of the rotation is set with ace Ben Sheets and veteran Jeff Suppan leading things off. Southpaw Manny Parra, Dave Bush and Carlos Villanueva fill out the staff, at least until the return of Yovani Gallardo. Lefty Chris Capunao is shelved for the season with elbow surgery.
The pen could be questionable with new closer Eric Gagne looking nothing like his old automatic self, and although setup men Dick Turnbow and Salomon Torres both have such experience, but both struggled in the spring. The lineup is very good if they can stay healthy, led by 1B Prince Fielder, 2B Rickie Weeks, 3B Bill Hall, LF Ryan Braun, and SS JJ Hardy. New CF Mike Cameron will sit 25 games after being suspended for using a banned supplement, so Tony Gwynn Jr. will fill in. Weeks and Hardy have struggled with illness and injury this spring. Braun and Hall also move positions, which the club hopes improves the defense, but the jury is still out.

The Central should be very competitive between the Windy City and der Beirmeisters, with the Marxists and Corsairs possibly making a move. The Cadets and Redbirds lack the arms to remain competitive but could spoil someone's fall. What I'd like to see is the Corsairs steal it but since they haven't had a winning season in 15 years, I don't see it happening but maybe 2009. I'm thinking the Little Bears win the division due to the strong rotation and the addition of one of Japan's best bats certainly shouldn't hurt.

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