Fearless Predictions

added 2/2/2009 by Scott Barzilla

Bob got us started with the fearless predictions, but I cannot commit that much to my own predictions with the number of free agents out there. So, I will pick my teams, but will throw in a caveat for what happens if everything breaks right and what happens if everything breaks wrong.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have to be the prohibitive favorite. They have more hitting than anyone. They have more pitching than anyone and they've won the last two division titles. It's hard to find any big cracks in their veneer, but there are a few.

They will win if....

Everyone plays reasonably close to what is expected. Last year, a Chicago sports writer thought the Cubs would win by ten games (they didn't). Now, I would be inclined to agree. They have a rotation that is scary deep and a deeper bullpen than you think. Add that to the offense and you get the deepest team in the NL.

They will lose if......

They get hit by the injury bug. Rich Harden has been brittle in the past and the signing of Milton Bradley was downright comical. The key for the other central teams will be the players you don't expect to be in the infirmary. If someone like Carlos Zambrano goes down it could become interesting really quick.

Houston Astros

Yeah, I'm shocked too. No, they aren't winning the wild card. This pick is an indictment of the rest of the division and not necessarily an endorsement of Ed Wade and company. Simply put, we have more pitching than the other contenders. Yeah, I know, you're wondering where. Well, this is how scary this division could be.

They will win if........

The Cubs get into a bus wreck. This has the look of a division that will be academic by July. However, if the Astros get big performances from Michael Bourn and J.R. Towles then it could become very interesting. Otherwise, they are praying to the gods for Mike Hampton to make it through a season healthy. Also, if it isn't too much to ask, a few decent starts by Russ Ortiz will be nice.

They will lose if.......

They don't get clutch performances from players that just weren't that good last year. The Astros are putting an awful amount of pressure on guys that haven't been good in awhile. If this were 2003 we would be dancing in the streets because we have Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, and Aaron Boone. Now, we are stuck with Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, and Aaron Boone. Let's not forget Danny Graves. They will need to flash the "watch out for flyballs" sign to the Crawford Boxes when he comes into pitch.

St. Louis Cardinals

This pick is made purely based on the faith that Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan can make something out of nothing. Chris Perez as a closer? Why not? A rotation made up of spackle and bubble gum? Why not? Albert Pujols will not allow this team to be terrible, but they are a team coasting on a bunch of career seasons. If Ryan Ludwick hits 37 home runs or more then I'll say "I love the Cards" on my avatar.

They will win if..........

Dave Duncan and La Russa scrape up enough pitching to get by. You can't doubt them too much because they managed to turn Kyle Lohse into a 15 game winner. Unfortunately, Lohse may be heading up the rotation this time around. Management has done little. However, the offense should be solid with a number of young reinforcements coming in.

They will lose if........

The pitchers do what they are supposed to do. This is a team with zero pitchers that really scare you. Yet, if I were Cardinals fan I would be plenty scared. Furthermore, players like Ludwick and Ankiel likely will not produce as they did last year. They can only hope that Colby Rasmus will pick up some of the slack.

Milwaukee Brewers

I really wanted to pick the Brewers higher up, but they lost their best two pitchers to free agency (Sheets could come back) and more than half of their bullpen. A team that was a little thin in the pitching department can't afford such a mass exodus. They still have a good core of hitters to make things interesting.

They will win if..........

If they find some young pitchers to take the place of Sabathia and Sheets. If they get Sheets back their ranking could vault up to second place. That's how close this division is. You have to love their lineup and having a steady hand like Trevor Hoffman in the bullpen has to count for something.

They will lose if.........

They simply don't have the pitching. At the moment it looks like they don't have it. I still wouldn't be surprised at a second place finish, but these guys were decimated in free agency/retirement. There is still time to sign a few of the guys available to turn the ship around.

Cincinatti Reds

In some ways, I am encouraged by what I see from the Reds. They have a nice group of young pitchers and they are strong at the end of the bullpen. However, I'm still wondering why management would put their trust in Dusty Baker to steward that rotation? It would be like putting your grandmother into a nursing home run by Dr. Kavorkian.

They will win if...........

The young pitching takes a quantum leap forward. In particular, if they get a good season out of Homer Bailey and a nice bounceback season from their veterans then they could be this season's Tampa Bay. They will need hitters like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to continue their develop as well, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility.

They will lose if..........

Their young hitters don't develop. Losing guys like Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. were necessary for the development of the team, but it doesn't mean they won't be missed in the interim. The Reds did the right thing, but they will probably have to wait until 2010 to make some serious noise.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates are like an etch a sketch that never quite gets fully erased. Each GM is incrementally smarter than the one before. Of course, Dave Littlefield just had to keep from drooling to be smarter than Cam Bonifay. Meanwhile, the current group is considerably smarter than Littlefield. Yet, they continue making the same mistakes. Ryan Doumit? Really? More on him later.

They will win if.......

Pigs fly.

They will lose if.......

They are the Pirates. When you go through a comprehensive look at catcher fielding you find that there are four different categories that are relevant. Ryan Doumit was the 17th catcher out of 18 that qualified overall. What happened to the 18th? He got traded. What happened to the 17th? He was given a three year contract extension. I guess there is no acquiring for taste. The history of the Bucs over the past 16 years has been of an organization that trades away guys it should keep and keeps guys it should trade away. It will likely be another five at least before they become a factor. As it stands, they will be piping light down to them in the cellar.