Welcome to the Gigantic SOX & Dawgs 2011 MLB preview.  Over the next week you will get a team by team look at its key players, new faces, their potential MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year candidates, their possible starting lineup and rotation as well as a quick summary.

This preview was sculpted over a nearly seven week period in the off season with some mild tweaking as we went along prior to publication.  It comes from a culmination of reading so many baseball magazines, periodicals, articles and websites that in some cases I may know a team better that its own management. 

Yesterday we looked at the AL West and we started on Sunday with the NL West, today it’s the NL Central.

To continue reading, click on the read more button below if you’re on the home page.

National League Central

St. Louis Cardinals1. St. Louis – Manager: Tony LaRussa (16th year/34rd overall)

In what could be the tightest division race in all of baseball it will come down to three teams. Milwaukee, Cincinnati and St. Louis with all having a legit chance to grab the division flag.  In the end the Cardinals will be team crowned Central Division champs because the of dual 1-2 punches of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday in the lineup and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright on the mound. This team should win about 90 games but it’s biggest battle will be to keep Pujols from going to elsewhere, like Boston, in free agency.

Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts to a comment by a teammate during fielding practice at Roger Dean Stadium on February 17, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida.Key Players: 1B Albert Pujols; LF Matt Holliday; RF Lance Berkman; SP Kyle Lohse; RP Ryan Franklin; C Yadier Molina

MVP Candidate: 1B Albert Pujols and RF Matt Holliday

Cy Young Candidate: SP Chris Carpenter and SP Adam Wainwright

ROY Candidate: None

Key Additions: RF Lance Berkman (FA-NYY); SS Ryan Theriot (Trade-LAD); RP Brian Tallet (FA-Tor); INF Nick Punto (FA-Min); C Gerald Laird (FA-Det)

Possible lineup: Schumaker 2B; Berkman RF; Pujols 1B Holliday LF; Rasmus CF; Molina C; Punto 3B; Theriot SS

Possible rotation: Carpenter; Wainwright; Westbrook; Garcia; Lohse

Cincinnati Reds2. Cincinnati – Manager: Dusty Baker (4th year/18th overall)

Look for more improvement out of Cincinnati this season.  A repeat as NL Central Champs could be in the cards but it will depend on how St.Louis rebounds from 2010. The Reds won the division and got to the playoffs for first time in 15 years last season.  Along the way they found an electrifying set up man in Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman and had the NL MVP in 1B Joey Votto.  All this got Dusty Baker a new contract and increased expectations for 2011.

Cincinnati Reds batter Joey Votto hits a double against the New York Mets in the ninth inning of their MLB National League baseball game in New York, in this July 5, 2010 file photo. Votto, who helped the Reds claim their first post-season berth in 15 years, was a runaway choice as National League Most Valuable Player announced November 22, 2010.Key Players: 1B Joey Votto; 2B Brandon Phillips; 3B Scott Rolen; RF Jay Bruce; RP Aroldis Chapman

MVP Candidate: 1B Joey Votto

Cy Young Candidate: SP Edinson Volquez

ROY Candidate: RP Aroldis Chapman

Key Additions: OF Jeremy Hermida (FA-Oak); SS Edgar Renteria (FA-SF)

Possible lineup: Stubbs CF; Phillips 2B; Votto 1B; Rolen 3B; Bruce RF; Gomes LF; Hernandez C; Renteria SS

Possible rotation: Arroyo; Cueto; Volquez; Leake; Bailey

Milwaukee Brewers3. Milwaukee – Manager: Ron Roenicke (1st year)

The Brew Crew made their own off season splash by grabbing former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke away from the Nationals and Yankees in a trade with Kansas City.  The Brewers under first year manager Ron Roenicke, who comes from the Angels, are going to try to get back to the post season in what is most likely the final year of 1B Prince Fielder playing in Miller Park.  Will the edition of Greinke do what getting CC Sabathia did for them in 2008?  Greinke is good but we will have to see if he can duplicate what Sabathia did but with some help from Yovani Gallardo and Shawn Marcum anything is possible.

Milwaukee Brewers' Prince Fielder hits a third-inning RBI single off New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese in the first game of a baseball doubleheader in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010Key Players: 1B Prince Fielder; LF Ryan Braun; CF Carlos Gomez; SS Yuniesky Betancourt; SP Zack Greinke; SP Shaun Marcum

MVP Candidate: 1B Prince Fielder

Cy Young Candidate: SP Zack Greinke

ROY Candidate: None

Key Additions: SP Zack Greinke (Trade-KC); RP Takashi Saito (FA-Atl); SP Shaun Marcum (Trade-Tor); SS Yuniesky Betancourt (Trade-KC); OF/1B Mark Kotsay (FA-CWS)

Possible lineup: Gomez CF; Weeks 2B; Braun LF; Fielder 1B; Hart RF; McGehee 3B; Bentancourt SS; Lucroy C

Possible rotation: Greinke; Gallardo; Marcum; Wolf; Narveson

Chicago Cubs4. Chicago Cubs – Manager: Mike Quade (1st year)

Sorry to disappoint the Northsiders but it will be another year without the Cubs bringing home baseballs holy grail.  They have a new field boss in Mike Quade, who was the interim manager the final month of 2010, a new 1B, a fairly new SS, a new SP and more disappointment. What’s it now 103 years since the last championship?  I hope it’s not another 103 years but it won’t be this year not when the front office pieces together this group.

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano (38) points to a pop-up off the bat of San Diego Padres third baseman Oscar Salazar in the seventh inning during their MLB National League baseball game in San Diego, California September 27, 2010.Key Players: C Geovany Soto; 3B Aramis Ramirez; LF Alfonso Soriano; CF Marlon Byrd; SP Carlos Zambrano; 1B Carlos Pena

MVP Candidate: 1B Carlos Pena

Cy Young Candidate: SP Matt Garza

ROY Candidate: None

Key Additions: RP Kerry Wood (FA-NYY); 1B Carlos Pena (FA-TB); SP Matt Garza (Trade-TB)

Possible lineup: Castro SS; DeWitt 2B; Pena 1B; Ramirez 3B; Bryd CF; Soriano LF; Fukudome RF; Soto C

Possible rotation: Dempster; Garza; Wells; Gorzelanny; Zambrano

Houston Astros5. Houston Astros – Manager: Brad Mills (2nd year)

I feel bad for Brad Mills.  The guy really doesn’t have much of a team here and possibly only the Pittsburgh Pirates are what keeps them from the NL Central basement.  Last season they traded away two of their best players in Roy Oswalt (Phi) and Lance Berkman (NYY) and they’re a few years away from having anyone to replace them.  Long gone are the days of Bagwell and Biggio.  The ‘Stros did have a solid above .500 second half last year finishing 40-33 Mills hopes to build on that in 2011 and keep them moving forward.

Houston Astros left fielder Carlos Lee reacts after missing a ground ball during a spring training baseball workout Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011, in Kissimmee, Fla.Key Players: LF Carlos Lee; RF Hunter Pence; CF Michael Bourn; SS Clint Barmes; SP Wandy Rodriguez

MVP Candidate: LF Carlos Lee

Cy Young Candidate: SP Wandy Rodriguez

ROY Candidate: None

Key Additions: INF/OF Bill Hall (FA-Bos); SS Clint Barmes (Trade-Col); SP Gustavo Chacin (FA-Tor)

Possible lineup: Bourn CF; Barmes SS; Pence RF; Lee LF; Johnson 3B; Hall 2B; Wallace 1B; Castro C

Possible rotation: Rodriguez, Myers; Happ; Chacin; Norris

Pittsburgh Pirates6. Pittsburgh Pirates – Manager: Clint Hurdle (1st year/9th overall)

Make it 19 losing seasons seasons in a row for Buco’s. There isn’t a lot here and what is will likely be wearing a different uniform by September 1.  New manager Clint Hurdle hopes to bring his background as a hitting coach and success with younger players as a field boss to the ‘Burgh as the Pirates ty to right the ship.  That’s going to be hard with what many consider the worst ownership and front office in all of baseball.  They did spend some money in the off season bringing in free agents Lyle Overbay, Garrett Atkins and Matt Diaz but they’re just more in the long run off short term signings of lower level players. If this team wins 58 games I’ll be shocked.

Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen prepares to run bases during spring training baseball practice, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011, in Bradenton, Fla.Key Players: CF Andrew McCutchen; RF Garrett Jones: SS Ronny Cedeno; 1B Lyle Overbay; SP Paul Maholm

MVP Candidate: RF Garrett Jones

Cy Young Candidate: SP Paul Maholm

ROY Candidate:

Key Additions: 1B Lyle Overbay (FA-Tor); LF Matt Diaz (FA-Atl); 1B/3B Garrett Atkins (FA-Balt); SP Kevin Correia (FA-SD)

Possible lineup: McCutchen CF; Diaz LF; Walker 2B; Alvarez 3B; Overbay 1B; Jones RF; Snyder C; Cedeno SS

Possible rotation: Maholm; Ohlendorff; McDonald; Correia; Olsen

Tomorrow we will preview the AL Central.

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