The Baseball Notebook

March 30, 2010 11:00 AM

NL Central Picks

The NL Central breaks into three tiers of teams as we look ahead into 2010. The Cubs & Cardinals remain the heavyweights of the division. Chicago has the financial muscle, a team on a par with heavyweights like the Red Sox, Mets, Angels and Dodgers when it comes to ability to spend. The fact they haven't always spent the money, or done it wisely doesn't the change the resource edge this organization has. And St. Louis, because of the passion of its fans, can spend more than most teams in a market its size would be able too. Combined with a generally shrewder front office than their traditional rivals on the North Side, they have not only evened the playing field, but made themselves into the Central's pre-eminent power. Any conversation about who's going to win the division must start here, with everyone else requiring a heavy burden of proof.

I give the Cubbies the edge this time around. St. Louis has more star power with Pujols/Holliday in the lineup and Wainwright/Carpenter in the rotation, but I think Chicago is deeper all-around. In a short series, the Cards would have the edge, but over 162 games, Chicago's depth will put them over the top. One thing that is noteworthy about both clubs, is that the bullpen could be a serious problem with both, opening the door for someone in the division's middle class to step up.

The Brewers made noise in 2007 and the playoffs in 2008. And they were surprisingly respectable last year given the loss of C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets. They have enough to challenge this year, but I don't think there is enough to surpass the top two. The same goes for Houston, which has a way of first digging themselves a huge hole, them making a midsummer run. The best hope for a surprise out of the middle comes from Cincinnati. The Reds have been quietly assembling some nice young players, from Joey Votto in the lineup to Johnny Cueto in the rotation and I see it coming together for them to finish third at the worst.

Pittsburgh remains hopeless. If they are not there yet, the front office will make the kind of midseason deal that will get them there. Their greatest interest lies in seeing what quality players will get basically given away to contenders for next to nothing by July 31. Look, I lived in this town for eight years and it's the most beautiful ballpark in baseball, but the beauty of the park can't get in the way of hard-nosed reality.

So it's the Cubs to win the division, the Cards to finish second and the Reds a close third. Sunday's final preseason post will discuss Chicago's place in the hiearchy and whether St. Loo gets a wild-card. Tomorrow the NL West is up. And over at the College Basketball Notebook, the previews of each Final Four team are up and running as of this afternoon.

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