National League Central
The Cardinals are the best team in baseball. They can attribute this honor to one man above all others - MGL. Just kidding. While a top notch sabrmetrician who probably has a hand in a lot of their low cost but effective fill in players, none can deny the identity of the true king.
King Albert may he live forever. Pujols claimed his first MVP in his first season out of the shadow of emporer Bonds. Derrek Lee had ever so slightly better numbers, yes, but Lee was having a career year. Pujols was just being himself. A big slugger playing 1B, Pujols even led the team with 16 steals, while only being caught twice. There's nothing he can't do.
The offense depends on King Albert, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. While Edmonds will turn 36 and can't last forever, the Cardinals got very little from the injured Rolen. Any kind of comeback for him should make up for a possible decline by Edmonds. David Eckstein remains one of my favorite players to watch. He's not likely to play as well as last year but gives you decent offense for a shortstop and enough walks + HBP to be useful setting the table. The rest of the lineup doesn't make much money. The strategy seems to be just find guys who don't totally suck. Average performance is to be celebrated, as average performance for everyone else + Pujols will still be one of the best offenses in the league.
The Cardinals play some great defense as well. The best are Yadier Molina, who totally shuts down the running game and picks off a few people who don't want to run as well, and Scott Rolen, provided the shoulder injury doesn't ruin his defense. ( I believe its the non-throwing shoulder). The defense makes the pitching look better than they are, and Carpenter is pretty good anyway. Mulder is an average pitcher now, but is on the perfect team to disguise that. Anthony Reyes, if he gets a chance, could be outstanding. I don't project a role for Sidney Ponson, but this team can probably even make him look useful.
86 wins is probably more than most Cub fans expect. Derrek Lee is not going to repeat his near MVP season. Aramis Ramirez provides a big bat and subpar glove. Matt Murton hits .279 with 21 homers. Ronny Cedeno .273 with 13 HR, though you never know what Dusty Baker will do if either struggles. The team projection improves if I take time away from Neifi and give it to Hairston, but we all know that isn't going to happen. Juan Pierre isn't great, I don't think he'll be better than Corey Patterson in 2006, but Pierre is a huge improvement over Patterson 2005, and is much better suited to the leadoff role. Pierre rebounds somewhat, hitting .295 with 55 steals and 103 runs. The defense overall is slightly below average, with Lee the best and Ramirez the worst (relative to position).
Zambrano and Prior don't need great defense, they strike out too many hitters. They lead a solid pitching staff. I'm projecting a half season for Kerry Wood.
The Brewers have developed some great young talent, and this is the year they put it all together. They're not quite ready to overtake St Louis.
The Brewers had 3 good starters last year (Sheets, Davis, Capuano) and will add a 4th in David Bush (projected ERA: 3.93). The bullpen probably overachieved last year, and they may have some problems late in games this year. The defense is a little below average, mostly due to Weeks, who was terrible last year.
The offense has power in the middle (Jenkins, Fielder, Lee) but I don't see enough high on base averages. They'll be in the middle of the pack in runs scored. To build a top notch offense, they'll need middle infielders Weeks and Hardy to develop into offensive forces. I think they will, just not yet. Brewers will contend in 2006 for the first time since forever, and possibly become an elite team in 2007.
Pirates winning 81 games? What the hell? Chone, its time to turn in your blog credentials.
A full year out of Zach Duke, a better year out of super talented Oliver Perez, some more good looking young pitchers (Snell, Maholm) and the riddance of Jose Mesa give them a decent staff.
Sean Casey helps out tremendously, as he replaces useless Darryl Ward. Randa and Burnitz are so-so, I don't think they add anything the Pirates didn't have. Paulino and Doumit give them 2 options for playing a good hitting catcher.
About half the improvement is offensive and half defensive, though I'll really have to see it to believe it. Its just what the computer says.
This is the year the Astros collapse. Clemens does not figure into the projection, I have no idea if he'll return in may. Biggio finally gets old. The defense is weak, outside of Adam Everett. If Tavaras plays CF, Berkman plays either corner or 1B. Between Jason Lane, Jeff Bagwell, and Preston Wilson, one isn't going to play very much. It doesn't make a big difference who, their projections are all similar.
Oswalt, Pettite, and Lidge are outstanding. Lack of pitching depth hurts, and the Astros give up a lot of runs.
Reds are in the cellar. They score a lot of runs, with Dunn hitting 40 and Wily Mo getting 32 as a starter. Griffey plays half the season before getting hurt, playing horrible defense in the process. The whole team is -36 runs defensively. Add that to a homeriffic ballpark, and mediocre at best pitching, and the Reds give up over 850 runs, worst outside of Colorado. The scary thing is that its an improvement over 2005 for them.