Welcome to the gigantic SOX & Dawgs 2010 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 7 week period in January and February 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.

National League Central

St. Louis Cardinals1. St. Louis – Manager: Tony LaRussa (15th year/33rd overall)

Albert Pujols - St. Louis CardinalsIn what could be the tighest division race in all of baseball will come down to three teams. Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis all have legit chances to grab the division flag but in the end the Cardinals will be crowned Central Division champs because the of dual 1-2 punches of Albert Pujols and Matt Holiday in the lineup and Cris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright on the mound. The Cards finally signed a top of the order guy in free agent 3B Felipe Lopez and he should help immensely in setting the table for its ever dangerous 3-4 hitters. Brad Penny could play a pivotal role if he pitches well enough to be the third starter.  Look for Dave Duncan to get him on track toward a 12-14 win season.

Key Players: Albert Pujols 1B; Matt Holiday LF; Brad Penny SP; Kyle Lohse SP; Ryan Franklin RP

MVP Candidate: Albert Pujols 1B and Matt Holiday LF

Cy Young Candidate: Cris Carpenter SP and Adam Wainwright SP

ROY Candidate: David Freese 3B

Key Additions: Brad Penny SP (FA-SF); Felipe Lopez 3B (FA-Mil); David Freese 3B (Rookie)

Possible lineup: Lopez 3B; Rasmus CF; Pujols 1B; Holiday LF; Ludwick RF; Molina C; Schumacher 2B; Ryan SS

Possible rotation: Carpenter; Wainwright; Penny; Lohse; McClelland

Milwaukee Brewers2. Milwaukee – Manager: Ken Macha (2nd year/6th overall)

Prince Fielder - AP PhotoThe Brew Crew didn’t make any big name pickups in the offseason but who they did come away with should help solidify the middle of the rotation as well as the middle of the infield.  Key acquisitions of CF Carlos Gomez in a trade, the promotion of ROY candidate Alcides Escobar at short and the veteran presence of Gregg Zaun behind the plate make the team fairly strong up the middle. If they get any type of contribution from starting pitchers Manny Parra and Jeff Suppan they’ll be tough in the division and wild card race.

Key Players: Prince Fielder 1B; Ryan Braun LF; Carlos Gomez CF; Alcides Escobar SS; Randy Wolf SP; Doug Davis SP

MVP Candidate: Prince Fielder 1B

Cy Young Candidate: None

ROY Candidate: Alcides Escobar SS

Key Additions: Randy Wolf SP (FA-LAD); Doug Davis SP (FA-Ari); Alcides Escobar SS (Rookie); Carlos Gomez CF (Trade-Min); Gregg Zaun C (FA-TB); LaTroy Hawkins RP (FA-Hou)

Possible lineup: Gomez CF; Weeks 2B; Braun LF; Fielder 1B; Hart RF; McGhee 3B; Zaun C; Escobar SS

Possible rotation: Gallardo; Wolf; Davis; Parra; Suppan

Chicago Cubs3. Chicago – Manager: Lou Piniella (4th year/24th overall)

Carlos Zambrano - AP PhotoSorry to disappoint the Northsiders but it will be another year without the Cubs bringing home baseballs holy grail.  In a valiant race, I see the Cubbies falling short and finishing third.  The biggest news for Cubs fans is that Milton Bradley turned into Marlon Byrd in the off season and he should provide more sock in the middle of the order.  They also grabbed OF Xavier Nady and IF/OF Kevin Millar as free agents although Millar will have to compete for a job where I think Nady is a lock for the fourth outfield spot.

Key Players: Geovany Soto C; Aramis Ramirez 3B; Alfonso Soriano LF; Marlon Byrd CF; Carlos Zambrano SP

MVP Candidate: Derek Lee 1B

Cy Young Candidate: None

ROY Candidate: None

Key Additions: Marlon Byrd CF (FA-Tex); Xavier Nady OF (FA-NYY); Kevin Millar 1B/3B/OF (FA-Tor); Carlos Silva SP/RP (Trade-Sea)

Possible lineup: Soriano LF; Theriot SS; Lee 1B; Ramirez 3B; Byrd CF; Soto C; Fukudome RF; Fontenot 2B

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

Cincinnati Reds4. Cincinnati – Manager: Dusty Baker (3rd year/17th overall)

Jay Bruce - AP PhotoThis could be the final season of the Dusty Baker regime. While injuries have played a role in the outcome of the previous seasons it won’t be pretty if the Reds don’t stay in contention until late in the season. They’re counting a lot on their young players like ROY candidate CF Drew Stubbs, RF Jay Bruce and 1B Joey Votto as well as the youngsters in the back of the starting rotation. I think its just too much to ask this season but maybe 2011 will be better.

Key Players: Joey Votto 1B; Brandon Phillips 2B; Scott Rolen 3B; Jay Bruce RF; Aaron Harang SP

MVP Candidate: None

Cy Young Candidate: None

ROY Candidate: Drew Stubbs CF

Key Additions: Orlando Cabrera SS (FA-Min); Drew Stubbs CF (Rookie); Aaron Miles IF (Trade-Oak)

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

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

Houston Astros5. Houston – Manager: Brad Mills (1st year)

Lance Berkman - AP PhotoFirst year manager Brad Mills brings the winning ways of the Boston Red Sox to Houston as he gets his first chance to pilot a MLB club.  Mills is a smart guy and learned a lot along the way as a bench coach in Montreal and Boston but this team is a ways away from making any kind of splash in a pennant race.  The left side of the infield is new with the additions of rookie SS Tommy Manzella and free agent 3B Pedro Feliz. I just don’t think their pitching will hold up for them and Brandon Lyon just is not a quality anchor in the pen.

Key Players: Lance Berkman 1B; Pedro Feliz 3B; Carlos Lee LF; Roy Oswalt SP; Brandon Lyon RP

MVP Candidate: None

Cy Young Candidate: Roy Oswalt SP

ROY Candidate: None

Key Additions: Pedro Feliz 3B (FA-Phi); Brett Myers SP (FA-Phi); Matt Lindstrom RP (Trade-Fla); Brandon Lyon RP (FA-Det); Tommy Manzella SS (Rookie); Brad Mills MGR

Possible lineup: Bourn CF; Matsui 2B; Berkman 1B; Lee LF; Feliz 3B; Pence RF; Manzella SS; Towles C

Possible rotation: Oswalt; Rodriguez; Myers; Norris; Moehler

Pittsburgh Pirates6. Pittburgh – Manager: John Russell (3rd year)

Andrew McCutchen - AP PhotoMake it 18 losing seasons seasons in a row for Bucs. There isn’t a lot here and what is will be wearing a different uniform by September 1.  Newly acquired Akinori Iwamura and Bobby Crosby will provide the young team with some leadership but unfortunately they can’t help with the pitching.  All is not lost in the Steel City though as the Pirates sport one of the most exciting young players in the game in CF Andrew McCutheon and have a potential ROY candidate in Pedro Alvarez but he’ll need to bump Andy Laroche to the bench or another team in order to make a splash.

Key Players: Aki Iwamura 2B; Andrew McCutchen CF; Lastings Milledge LF; Paul Maholm SP; Octavio Dotel RP

MVP Candidate: None

Cy Young Candidate: None

ROY Candidate: Pedro Alvarez IF

Key Additions: Aki Iwamura 2B (Trade-TB); Brendan Donnelly RP (FA-Fla); Bobby Crosby IF (FA-Oak)

Possible lineup: McCutchen LF; Iwamura 2B; Jones 1B; Doumit C; Moss RF; LaRoche 3B; Milledge LF; Cedeno SS

Possible rotation: Maholm; Duke; Ohlendorff; Morton; Hart


Tomorrow: The AL Central.