After covering the Cubs, Brewers, Astros, Reds, Cardinals, and Pirates this past week, it is finally time to make my final predictions for the 2008 AL Western Division. But first, as always, let's break down the division by pitching and offense.
Roy Oswalt had a bit of a down year last year. However, even if he bounces back the 'Stros bullpen will be mediocre at best.
The Astros parted with Brad Lidge and Chad Qualls and picked up Jose Valverde and Geoff Geary. While I fully understand why the Astros went in this direction, I do not think it helped improve the team in any way. Valverde has had one nice year and Geary, well... I just don't like Geary because he was a Phillie.
I just heard today that Chris Capuano will probably need Tommy John Surgery. That puts this rotation in serious jeopardy. With Ben Sheets likely to get hurt and only make about 10 starts, I don't see the Brewers accomplishing much with this rotation.
Eric Gagne was a tale of two seasons last year. He was terrific in Texas, as the closer, and terrible in Boston, as a setup guy. This year, he'll get another chance to close in the National League. However, he better perform, because if he doesn't, Derrick Turnbow and the rest of that pen won't help much either.
I love the acquisition of Kyle Lohse here. With Lohse and Wainright at the helm of the rotation the Cards could have two 15 game winners this year. However, unless Carpenter comes back very soon, the rest of the rotation is a mess.
The Cardinals bullpen is also weak, and that includes unpredictable closer, Jason Isringhaussen.
The Pirates have a rotation stocked with improving young talent. Moholm, Snell, and Gorzelany have proven themselves while Zach Duke has been very inconsistent. With an experienced pitcher in Matt Morris to aid in the development of the young kids, the Pirates rotation can very easily be a surprise to a lot of people.
In the bullpen, Matt Capps has been a very good, young closer over the last couple years. While the loss of Salamon Torres will hurt, the pirates pen still has a solid core with Marte, Capps, and company.
Holding on to Big Z was huge for Chicago. Now that Dempster is back in the rotation (where I always felt he should've been) this rotation could be very, very good.
Kerry Wood, Bob Howry, and Carlos Marmol will make up the back end of the bullpen. While it appears Wood will get the nod as the closer, it is unknown whether he'll be able to pitch back-to-back days. Still I think this bullpen core is the best, young core second only to Boston.
The Reds have a ton of upside in their starting rotation. Good, young starters, Johnny Cueto, Edison Volquez, and Homer Bailey, coupled with ACE, Aaron Harang and a solid number two guy in Bronson Arroyo give the Reds, by far, the most promising rotation in the NL Central.
The Reds' bullpen has been a weak area the last few years. However, signing Francisco Cordero this off-season gives that pen a much needed boost.
Outside of Xavier Nady, I have no clue how the Pirates will perform. Jason Bay and Adam Laroche are way too inconsistent to count on. The rest of the Pirates lineup just isn't good.
With Griffey Jr. continuing to age and Corey Patterson being the Reds biggest winter acquisition offensively, the Reds are in pretty bad shape here. However, if Adam Dunn exceeds his normal production in his contract year and Joey Votto and Jay Bruce come up and perform well in the majors, the Reds offense could surprise some people.
Everyone knows about Albert Pujols' nagging injury. Everyone knows about Troy Glaus and Rick Ankiel's HGH usage. However, if spring is any indication, at least for Pujols and Ankiel, this lineup could be very formidable, meaning trouble for the Central.
This Brewers lineup could be amazing for years to come. Ryan Braun looks like the real deal. Give him a full year, along with Fielder, Hardy, Hall, newly acquired, Mike Cameron, and Corey Hart and you've got a very talented, young lineup.
Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman are one of the best tandems in baseball. Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence are two very skilled ballplayers. Ty Wigginton and Miguel Tejada add a huge boost to this lineup. Over all, this is the most balanced lineup in the Central. However, outside of Berkman, the lack of a true left handed bat and an aging core worry me a bit.
Kosuke Fukudome. Kozz-OO-K Fook-oo-doe-mAY. The only two word and seven syllables that matter to this Cubs lineup. A-Sor, Aramis Ramirez, Derek Lee, Felix Pie, and possibly Brian Roberts mean nothing if Fukudome bombs. He is the glue in this lineup. Very expensive glue if you ask me; but glue nonetheless.
1. Cubs: 88-74
2. Reds: 83-79, 5 GB
3. Brewers: 81-81, 7 GB
4. Cardinals: 78-84, 10 GB
5. Astros: 78-84, 10 GB
6. Pirates: 70-92, 18 GB
Division MVP: Kosuke Fukudome: you know, the whole "glue" thing that I just talked about.
Runner Up: Alfonso Soriano
Divisional CY-Young: Carlos Zambrano: there's a reason he made so much money, and he'll prove that he deserved it right away.
Runner Up: Kyle Lohse
* By the way, I apologize for taking off for two days, but it was Easter. I'll do my best finish by the start of the season (for every team except Boston and Oakland).