The Red comfortably won the NL Central by 5 games last season, but the race for the division title this upcoming season should be closer. Here's a look at all six teams in the division...
The Astros only won 76 games last season and 2011 should be just as tough. They only managed a .247 team batting average last season, and did not make many changes that will improve the ball club for this season. The rotation will only be solid at best and doesn't have much potential for improvement. Highly touted prospect Brett Wallace could have a breakout year in his first full season in the bigs, which could be one of the few bright spots for Houston.
Last season, the Brew Crew finished third in the division, but only won 77 games. They knew that they needed new parts in order to win this season (in order to convince Prince Fielder to sign an extension or to win before he leaves after this season). The Brewers succeeded in trading for both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, in order to upgrade a subpar rotation. In 2011, Greinke, Marcum and last season's ace Yovani Gallardo should help form one of the best rotations in the National League. The offense was already formidable, with sluggers Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart in the middle of the order. Milwaukee fans should be very excited for the 2011 season.
Just how much of a distraction will Albert Pujols' contract be? The Cardinals and Pujols did not reach a contract agreement by the February 16th deadline, so Pujols has stopped negotiations until the season ends. Hopefully, distractions won't take away from what should be a good season for the Cardinals. The rotation will be good, as it always is, with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and one of last season's standout rookies, Jaime Garcia, at the top. If Kyle Lohse can pitch for a full season, unlike last year when he only threw 92 innings, the rotation could be better than expected. The lineup will be fine, with Sir Albert and Matt Holliday in the middle smashing home runs. The big question: can Lance Berkman bounce back from a terrible 2010? As usual, the Cardinals will be in contention at the end of the season.
Ah, the Cubs. Questions, questions, and more questions. Can overpaid players like Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome be consistent throughout an entire season? Will newly acquire first baseman Carlos Pena hit over the Mendoza Line (.200)? Will Matt Garza be as good as expected or will he give up too many homers to succeed at Wrigley? Will Carlos Marmol be the guy who struck out 138 batters in 77.2 innings, or the guy who walked 52 batters in those innings? Was Mike Quade the right managerial choice? You get the point. This year could either be a disaster, or it could turn out better than expected.
When people talk about your team as a glorified AAA team, you know you have problems. No chance to win anything. period. In the last five years, from 2006 to 2010, the Pirates have won 67, 68, 67, 62, and 57 games, respectively. The team's last winning season: 1992. That is beyond horrendous. If you can name anyone in the Pirates lineup besides Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, I will be extremely impressed. At least they have a great ballpark, right?
They are the defending NL Central champs, having won 91 games last season. They have basically the same lineup as they did last season, when they led the National League in batting. The middle of the lineup should be potent, with defending NL MVP Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. The rotation should be solid again this year and the Reds should prove that last season was not a fluke, as they contend with the Brewers and the Cardinals for first place in 2011.