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2011 MLB Preview: NL Central

Opening day of the 2011 baseball season is exactly 16 days away. As an enthusiastic Hedo Turkoglu might say, ball. Last week we previewed the NL West and the AL West. Today, it’s the NL Central, former home of Tommy Herr’s perm, a clean-shaven John Franco, Marge Schott’s cigarette breath, and endearingly plump canine, Schottzie. Right about now would be a splendid time to throw on your best pair of kicking cleats.

1. Cincinnati Reds (2010 record: 91-71, 1st place) — It doesn’t matter what you think of Cincinnati’s chances of repeating as division champs, all that really matters is how hard (105 mph!) Aroldis Chapman throws the ball. It will lead SportsCenter after each of his appearances this summer until his arm falls off. For Chapman’s sake, let’s hope his wang stays on. The man is a straight up booty connoisseur, but onto the important stuff. With the injury to Adam Wainwright and the hoop desires of the surprisingly stupid Zack Greinke, it’s hard to pick against the Reds. Bronson Arroyo will give them 200-plus innings, Johnny Cueto (185.1 IP in ’10) may very well stomp his way there too, and I like Homer Bailey. Edinson Volquez, who claims to be back to 100%, will be the opening day starter because Arroyo wants to be able to enjoy the opening day festivities. Outfielder Jay Bruce is fresh off signing a 6-year $51 million contract in the offseason, which seems like a lot of money for a guy who drove in 70 runs and struck out 136 times. To be fair, the dude is still just 23 years of age, there’s a decent chance this is the season where he erupts like Tera Patrick’s vagina on a Saturday night. Lovable villain Joey Votto will certainly deliver. Gotta go with the Reds. Prediction: 92 wins

Mr. Vote-O, Mr Vote-O! (you may remember this shithead from last season):

2. Milwaukee Brewers (2010 record: 77-85, 3rd place) — Last year as a team the Brewers were seventh overall in OPS, and third in the NL. In 2009, they were ninth overall. The bats haven’t been the problem. Aside from the tease of a surge they got from CC Sabathia in ’08, their starting pitching hasn’t been great. To put it bluntly, the bats have been the big tits, while the pitching has been the flat ass. Enter Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, who I always liked in Toronto, to go along with Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf (guy is a horse!) and suddenly the Brewers are legit contenders in the Central. Sadly, they were awful defensively last year and holding a hellacious glove at shortstop this season will be Yuniesky Betancourt. That’s the only thing preventing me from putting them in first place, especially when you consider Scott Boras client and soon to be free agent, Prince Fielder. After a down year and the fact that a delicious, tofu-laced contract awaits him from someone other than the Brewers, I expect him to go off and put up monster numbers. Prediction: 89 wins

3. Chicago Cubs (2010 record: 75-87, 5th place) — Strictly for amazing photographs like this one, I’m really going to miss Lou Piniella. But his replacement, scary looking individual Mike Quade, is equally magnetic with the camera. I’m positive this man could scare the nipples right off your chest if he wanted to. After taking over for Lou in late August, the team went 24-13, no doubt putting Cubs fans at ease as they kick up their feet and prepare for another wonderful season. Among the new faces this year are “proven winners” and “guys who have been there before” in Matt Garza and Carlos Pena. The only problem there is that Carlos Pena is terrible. Check out his 2010 numbers. It’s an abomination. Guess who else is back? Kerry Wood! I honestly give this guy credit for having the balls to return to Chicago. He was fantastic for the Yankees last year as a late inning reliever, but he’s basically taunting karma at this point. I’ll be shocked if he’s not laying on the mound like a wounded seal by August. In terms of their starting rotation, the 1-2-3 of Ryan Dempster, Garza, and Carlos Zambrano is better than anything St. Louis will throw out there, which is why I have them in third place. All I ask from the Cubs this year is for a clubhouse attendant to provide us with video of fiery nutcases, Zambrano and Garza, playing cards together. If that somehow happens, I will personally write a thank you card penned in tears of joy. Prediction: 84 wins

4. St. Louis Cardinals (2010 record: 86-76, 2nd place) — Yes, fourth place. The bright side? Adam Wainwright’s surgery went “very well.” The not so bright side? The Cardinals signed Ian Snell. Worse? They signed Lance Berkman’s tits. Worse than that? They let Randy Winn flee to Baltimore. Even worse than that? Albert Pujols becomes a free agent following this season. Their saving grace is the fact that Dave Duncan, the arm whisperer, will still be sitting in the dugout as the Cardinals pitching coach. The task at hand is lofty, even for Duncan. With the absence of Wainwright, Chris Carpenter’s hamstring, and the existence of the team’s new marketing campaign, “We Are Cardinal Nation,” it’ll be an uphill battle all season long. Have I mentioned that Carpenter is 37 years old? It’s just a bit too messy on and off the field. A healthy step backward is their destiny. Prediction: 78 wins

5. Houston Astros (2010 record: 76-86, 4th place) — Well this is rather horrifying. The Astros won 76 games last year and finished 28th in runs scored, so what did they go out and do to improve the club? They naturally traded for shortstop Clint Barmes and signed free agent Bill Hall. Riveting acquisitions, if I don’t say so myself. A look at their projected lineup is must-see stuff: Michael Bourn, Barmes, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee, Chris Johnson, Hall, Brett Wallace, and Jason Castro J.R. Towles! There’s more promise in “Limitless” than there is in this lineup. Their starting pitching begins with Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers, but it ends with an 18-car pileup in the form of Nelson Figueroa. It’s up to J.A. Happ to keep this lousy team out of last place. I’m sensing luck will be on his side though, as his Baseball Reference page is sponsored by “Laura.” Prediction: 71 wins

6. Pittsburgh Pirates (2010 record: 0-162, 6th place) — Through expert “hypnotosis,” the Pirates convinced seven new faces to sign on this past offseason. Of those seven — Joe Beimel, Kevin Correia, Matt Diaz, Josh Fields, Scott Olsen, Lyle Overbay, and Cesar Valdez — the logical guess is that none of them will contribute anything meaningful. Scott Olsen served up a homer to Nick Green yesterday, so his season’s over. How about Overbay? No, he’s awful. Since Cesar Valdez has barely had a Red Bull in the majors, perhaps a bit of hope for something unshitty resides there? Perhaps. But the term “baby steps” should absolutely be the pressure-free motivational words for these guys, simply because they’ve had 18 (18!) consecutive losing seasons. Finishing 81-81 or better would be more emotional than Macho Man’s proposal to Miss “Elizabuth.” I wouldn’t count on it though. Their second baseman’s name is Neil, and the starting rotation sounds like Maholm, Ohlendorf, Correia, McDonald, and Olsen. Hooooooly crap. Watching the Bachelor while seated in a pit of various flavored Bon Bons sounds more appetizing than the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates. Unless they bring back those old hats. Then it’s a whole different story. Prediction: 65 wins

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The official song for this division is “Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead. It’s an obvious nod, or shrug rather, to the Pirates:

[Photos via Getty]

 

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