About a month and a half before the 2007 season started, I asked a number of NL Central bloggers to weigh in with their thoughts on who would win the division. In Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #14, you heard from the good guys. In PPR #15, you got the enemy’s take.
The Brewers and Cubs proved to be the overwhelming favorites—the former for their productive, youthful core; the latter for an expensive off-season that brought Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis to Wrigley. Most rankers, though, expected the division to be packed tightly together. The teams just weren’t very good.
At season’s end, the pundits’ projections proved to be on target: Chicago finished at 85-77; Milwaukee, 83-79; St. Louis, 78-84; Houston, 73-89; Cincinnati, 72-90; and Pittsburgh, 68-94. Over the course of the year, three squads lost their managers—hasta la vista, Phil Garner, Jerry Narron and Jim Tracy—and a fourth—the Cardinals—might soon drop the guillotine on Tony La Russa. Three general managers were sent packing, too—sayonara, Walt Jocketty, Tim Purpura and Dave Littlefield.
Long story short: 2007 wasn’t particularly kind to the Comedy Central. Over the course of the next few months, we’ll find out if we have any hope for change in 2008.
The Milwaukee Brewers will be a year older and a year wiser. Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun will only get better with another year of experience under their belts. Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo should form a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, but the staff could still used a sturdy No. 3. Maybe the Crew should sink $10-12m into a veteran starter like Tom Glavine or Curt Schilling?
The Cubs will be a year older and a year wiser—but also a year slower. It’s hard to ignore the presence of Rich Hill, Carlos Marmol, Geovany Soto and Felix Pie. The Cubs’ window hasn’t closed, and they’ll in the thick of things in 2008. But Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee aren’t getting any younger. Jim Hendry needs to replace Jacque Jones in his lineup with a legitimate bat.
Cincinnati should win more than 72 games if Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey stay healthy. If I were Wayne Krivsky, I’d be looking to redistribute the talents of Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey, building my offense around Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto—but in a perennially soft division, it might be hard to justify trading two legitimate power hitters.
The Cardinals’ cursed season began when they lost Chris Carpenter on opening night. Albert Pujols proved to be human—hitting only .327-32-103—and St. Louis should have realized by now that it would be in their best interests to surround him with a little more talent. Whether or not a new GM can come in and do that over the winter remains to be seen.
Houston never recovered from the shock of being swept by the Pirates in their first three games. The rotation featured Roy Oswalt, smoke and mirrors; the lineup relied on Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and a pleasant mid-season surprise, Hunter Pence. With a nonexistent farm system and a budget squeezed by a $100 million commitment to Lee, the Astros might be headed for a rebuilding phase.
The Pirates? Well, you read all about the Pirates. The team’s four best hitters never found a groove at the same time. Three young starting pitchers took steps forward, but the back of the rotation proved troublesome. A lineup believed to be mediocre at best at times turned downright putrid. Frank Coonelly has displayed an interest in avoiding a 16th consecutive losing season, but to do that, the Pirates must improve by 13 wins. I don’t see it happening.
And there you have it: An early guess at the 2008 final standings.