Wednesday, March 29, 2006
2006 NL Central Preview (featuring Pink Floyd)
1. St. Louis Cardinals (Us and Them)
Billy Beane gets all the hype, possibly because he throws chairs into walls and attributes playoff success to “fucking luck”, but Cards GM Walt Jocketty is probably more deserving of the accolades. Since 2000, the Redbirds have missed the playoffs exactly once, and they went to the World Series in 2004 before being stomped by a Red Sox team of destiny. He’s done some goofy things, like signing Sidney Ponson, and some not-so-goofy things that look terrible now, like the Mark Mulder deal, but he’s assembled a collection of hitting and pitching talent that seems destined to stay at the top of the Central for a few more years.
However, there are warning signs ablaze. So Taguchi and Juan Encarnacion manning the outfield corners is no one’s idea of quality, and they’ve got a gaggle of ne’er-do-wells ready to stink it up at 2B. Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan could easily fall apart, and Mulder is ready for a quick collapse. Barring a big trade, they won’t win 100 games in 2006, but with the Brewers still a year away, the Astros fading, and the Cubs doing who knows what, it’s not going to take as many games to win this division.
(Okay, see how this whole Floyd song thing goes? “Us and Them”, Roger Waters’s indictment of war, with the “us” meaning the Cards and the “them” meaning the rest of the division and…ah never mind.)
2. Milwaukee Brewers (Signs Of Life)
Brewers...second place...whaaa??? Yeah, it’s been a long time since we could utter those words, but the Brew Crew have climbed their way back into the upper echelon of the NL Central and they're here to stay. Not since the days of Harvey's Wallbangers has there been this much to get excited about in Brewer territory.
Check it out. Prince Fielder, Richie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart. That's a lot of young hitting talent to be putting in front of solid sluggers like Geoff Jenkins and Carlos Lee, and they have another star on the way in Ryan Braun. They've got a good rotation and a good bullpen put together the way you're supposed to, cheaply and effectively, and they could get scary real fast. Make no mistake, they're a good team, and if everything breaks right they could leapfrog the Cards and make the playoffs for the first time since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was gracing audiences with its brilliance.
3. Chicago Cubs (Brain Damage)
I always get fooled into thinking the Cubs are more talented than they really are. It's mostly because of their pitching, and let's be candid, if Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior, and Kerry Wood are all healthy this team will contend, but that hasn't happened since 2003 and pretty much everybody's given up on Wood ever being healthy again. Also, overpaying for two old relievers and a crappy swingman isn't the way to break the billy goat curse.
You know how it goes with Dusty Baker. He glad hands the pro-Ronny Cedeno/Matt Murton crowd, saying with a smile that he'll stick with them through thick and thin. Then after one 0 for 4 the young guys are gone and before you know it Neifi Perez is getting 500 at bats, playing a key part in helping the Cardinals win the division and depriving Derrek Lee of another MVP award. Lee and Aramis Ramirez are guys to build around, but instead Jim Hendry brought in overrated players like Jacque Jones and Juan Pierre. Can the Cubs overcome all this adversity and the injuries to put together a winning formula? I don't know, but Neifi is a pretty bad player.
4. Houston Astros (On the Turning Away)
2005 was their last shot at winning a title for a long time, and they fell a little bit short. Thank you, Ezequiel Astacio. If Roger Clemens comes back, they're probably better than the Cubs, just on the strength of their starting pitching, but as of now it looks like it'll be a struggle to break 80 wins.
That offense is just full of bad hitters. Willy Taveras, Adam Everett, Brad Ausmus, and a quickly declining Craig Biggio. That's a lot of mediocrity for a team that's supposedly going to contend. Big offseason acquisition Preston Wilson is no prize himself, either. Then take a look at the bench...just ghastly. I'm talking Karl Rove in a thong-caliber ghastly. One of Brandon Backe, Wandy Rodriguez or Series goat Astacio will need to step into Clemens' shoes and be reasonably competent (not bloody likely) for this team to come close to the Cards or Brewers. Otherwise, they'll sink like a rock.
5. Cincinnati Reds (Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun)
Trading away Sean Casey (or, for that matter, Sean Casey's salary) is exactly what I would have done if I were running the Reds. It's the kind of smart move not seen by this franchise since the Lou Pinella days of yore. Get rid of a mediocre player with an albatross salary, move one immobile outfielder to first base, and give your formerly blocked young slugger an everyday job to see what he can do. Unfortunately, along comes Wayne Krivda, who immediately trades Wily Mo Pena, the blocked outfielder, for a so-so pitcher. Inheriting the first base spot: Scott Hatteberg. And the city of Cincinnati collectively drops the hair blower in the bath tub.
This kind of purpose-defeating idiocy is why the Reds have sucked since 1999. Given a wise move that could pave the way for a road to contention, Krivda comes in and bludgeons it with a board and nail. I understand the concern for pitching; the Reds staff is just horrible, and Wily Mo might well turn into Ruben Rivera. However, you can't panic and trade a possible asset for a guy who probably won't help much. Ken Griffey is coming off his first (relatively) healthy season in years, so he might have had some trade value, and the White Sox were said to be willing to take on much of his onerous salary at the trade deadline last year, so anything's possible. Instead the Reds will keep him and probably watch his knees burst from their sockets. Par for the course for this sad sack franchise. Maybe they need to channel the old days and bring in Joe Morgan as GM and reinstate Pete Rose to manage. Boy, that would be a match made in hell.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (Bridge Over Troubled Water)
Well, it looks like another long year for the Pirates. An offseason of...wait, what the hell? Simon and Garfunkel? How did that get in here? Ugh, and to top it off, a song sung by Art Garfunkel. Oh man, I do not know how that happened. Let's try that again...
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (The Show Must Go On)
I'm sick of writing about the freaking Pirates. Why continue to discuss a baseball team that doesn't even try? Last year I devised a song for the Pirates, and that's way too much effort than they deserve. They have an interesting pitching staff, and I'm hoping Oliver Perez puts it back together, because he's dynamite to watch when he's on. Jason Bay is also a superstud, but that doesn't mask the fact that the Pirates are the same ol' Pirates.
They pretend to be rebuilding, but they go out and get Sean Casey, Jeromy Burnitz, and Joe Randa. I mean, what's the point? Are these guys going to help the team win? No. Will they be around when the Pirates are good again? No. Will they help sell tickets? NO! Will they provide "veteran presence"? Yes, they'll tell the young guys all about how to lose major league games, because by and large these three have been on losers thir entire careers. They'll crawl around in the NL Central cellar for another year, but hey, I can't say too many bad things. They did give us Jason Schmidt for Ryan Vogelsong, after all.
"The amount of runs they score in innings he hits is ridiculous," said Dodger starter Brett Tomko, who spent the past two years with the Giants. "But to say they are going to win the division if he's healthy - I wouldn't bank on it."
Shouldn't that read more like, "The amount of runs the other team scores when I pitch is ridiculous?"