Has anyone else noticed how wide open the NL Central is this year? IMO, this division is significantly weaker than in year's past.
The Cardinals have Spivey at second now, and Bigbie, Taguchi (among others) vying for starting outfield spots. Those guys are replacing Larry Walker, Reggie Sanders, and Mark Grudzialanek (spelling?). They've also lost Matt Morris, and have Sidney Ponson starting in the rotation (ouch). Granted, they still have Mulder, Carpenter, Pujols, and if Rolen is healthy, then Rolen, but they're a weaker team than past years.
The Astros are depending on Preston Wilson's knees to last a whole season to help boost their anemic offense, the Bagwell controversy has been some of the biggest news at their camp, and Clemens will be of no help to them until at least May, if at all.
What can I say about the Cubs? Prior and Wood are battling health issues again (surprising), Greg Maddux is nearing his 80th birthday, and besides Lee and Ramirez, the lineup is rife with question marks. Also, can Dempster have a full successful season as a closer?
The Brewers actually look very good for the future, but what about this year? Sheets is starting the year on the DL yet again, they have some young positional studs, but all are very young, and they're also relying on a very young closer. All of which can be good, but also bad, things. I like what I see in this team, but with a team as young as they are, anything can happen.
The Pirates are better, but still not very good. In the WBC, Oliver Perez was throwing 88 mph heaters, not exactly a good sign for them. Kip Wells had surgery to correct a clot and will miss significant time, and their lineup lacks any pop at all. As much as I love Casey and Randa, they're not going to supply much power, and other than Jason Bay, I just don't see where any power will come from on a consistent basis. They're a team with long term potential, but for the short term, I don't see much.
Everyone here is aware of the Reds situation, so I'm not going to waste anyone's time by going over it. But there is not one team in this division that I look at and say they're the absolute favorites. The Cardinals, with Carpenter and Mulder at the front of their rotation, look like they'll probably win it again. They at least have some offense to back those guys up, whereas Pettitte and Oswalt could be in trouble with the Astros. I've just been looking at this division all winter and saying "If enough things go right, why can't we finish in the top half?" I don't think we're as bad a team as the national "experts" make us out to be, and with the division being weaker at the top, maybe we'll be able to pull a few extra divisional victories out of our hat. Granted, this post doesn't go that far in depth, but it at least shows on the surface that the division is weaker than in years past. Does anyone else agree with this? Disagree with this? Let me know how you feel. I didn't go very far with this, so feel free to expand on any points you'd like to make.