Ah, baseball season. We move along to the N.L Central to try and organize what most people call “the worst division in baseball.” As of the last four or five years, the N.L. Central breaks down to a three horse race, with two of the horses being a bit stronger. I’m of course referring to the Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers. The Pirates and Cubs would like to join the party, but it’s going to take quite the miracle for that to happen. Let’s get to looking at the teams.
Projected Order of Finish: Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs
Why the Reds could win the N.L. Central: The Cincinnati Reds have quietly turned into a National League powerhouse. Behind their two All Stars Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, it’s hard to count them out at any point in the season. If they can stay healthy and get a boost from 2012 rookie standout Todd Frazier and their off-season acquisitions of Shin-Soo Choo and Jonathan Broxton, it could be a long season for the rest of the N.L. Central. They also manage to shorten every game to 8 innings as Aroldis Chapman throws fire and leaves batters shaking in their shoes as triple digits consistently hit the radar gun.
Why the Reds wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: If Frazier collapses, Choo doesn’t pan out and Chapman isn’t as effective this year, things could derail quickly in Cincinnati. Not to mention the fact that Bruce and Votto are only getting older. It’s hard to see all of that happening, but hey, you never know. Their starters are also not all perfect. Mike Leake and Homer Bailey are spotty at best. Really though, worst case scenario for the Reds is probably taking 3rd in the Central.
Why the Cardinals could win the N.L. Central: I’ll be honest, every time I look up and down the Cardinals lineup it scares the bejeezus out of me. Each and every one of them can change a game with a single swing of a bat. That alone makes them scary. Not to mention they’re only two years removed from a World Series Championship. Pitching staff? Solid. Relievers? Battle tested, but can be shaky at times. It’s as simple as that.
Why the Cardinals wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: If they get off to a slow start while missing Furcal, Freese, Motte, and Carpenter, the Reds may be too far ahead to catch them. They’re defensively worse off without Furcal and Freese. No doubt. Things can get shaky down in St. Louis, but I don’t think that Matheny or the Cardinals’ front office would let that happen for too long before making changes.
Why the Brewers could win the N.L. Central: As a Brewers fan, I always think they could win the N.L. Central. Is 2013 their year? They’d most likely need a lot of things to go their way, but certainly aren’t far off from making a good run. In fact, they’re about a good bullpen and decent pitching staff away. Blowing an incredible amount of leads in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, the Brewers could have easily made the playoffs last year if that didn’t happen. Braun, Weeks, Hart, and Ramirez will be the main driving forces for the offense while Gallardo and recent acquisition Kyle Lohse will have to maintain their composure on the hill. Anything can happen, they could play like they did in September last season, or they could play like they did in April last year. Time will tell.
Why the Brewers wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: The other side of things is clearly the Brewers first half of the season for them last year. The bullpen and pitching staff hardly got much of an overhaul by only adding Lohse and Gorzelanny. It’s their biggest weak spot and the biggest difference between the Brewers finishing above .500 or falling into the depths of the Central. Another huge factor will be if MLB finds Braun guilty of something that earns him a 50 game suspension. But he hasn’t done anything wrong, so that’s probably a long shot.
Why the Pirates could win the N.L. Central: The Pirates won’t win the Central. Plain and simple. Then again, McCutchen is certainly going to try and carry this team to victory. A.J. Burnett got comfortable last season, and N.L Central veteran Wandy Rodriguez will bolster their rotation a bit, but that’s about where it stops. Gaby Sanchez will provide some pop, Garrett Jones will try to play like he’s still young, and Russell Martin will load the back end of the lineup. It could happen.
Why the Pirates wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: The Pirates won’t win the Central. Plain and simple. A team that hasn’t finished over .500 since 1992 and things probably won’t be changing this season. They lack a lot of fire power on both sides of the ball. Their bullpen is weak, they don’t have another big bat to help McCutchen, and just don’t have the overall makings of a winning team. I’d love to see 81 wins happen for them…it’s just not going to be 2013.
Why the Cubs could win the N.L. Central: Whaddya know. Another team that won’t win the Central. The Pirates have been bad, but the Cubs have been worse the last few years. They’ll try to hone their young talent this year led by 2012 standout Anthony Rizzo. Starlin Castro also provides some excitement at shortstop and certainly helps make watching a Cubs’ game bearable. I don’t want to say it can’t happen, but Theo Epstein will have to keep on chugging to turn this team into the next Red Sox.
Why the Cubs wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: Because they’re the Cubs. History gives you every reason why they wouldn’t win the Central. They have an unproven lineup, an unproven and extremely shaky rotation, not to mention Carlos Marmol is known for putting runners on base late in games. Hopefully they can get some AAA guys up and let them get a taste of the big leagues and maybe see what their future will hold. Until then, the rest of the Central thanks them for the wins.
Jay Bruce, Joey Votto – Reds
Matt Holliday – Cardinals
Ryan Braun – Brewers
Andrew McCutchen – Pirates
Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro – Cubs
Johnny Cueto – Reds
Adam Wainwright – Cardinals
Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse – Brewers
A.J. Burnett – Pirates
Rookie of the Year
Wily Peralta – Brewers
Shelby Miller – Cardinals
Gerrit Cole – Pirates
Who do you think wins the N.L. Central? Can the Cubs or Pirates salvage a winning season? Let us know in the comments!
-Kurt Peter (@FalconKP)
In about six weeks, the World Baseball Classic will be upon us again and Team USA will look to win its first title in the competition’s history. They’ve got a good shot — manager Joe Torre released his roster on Thursday, and they are absolutely loaded.
Unfortunately for fans of Team USA, one glance at a few competing rosters will stop the celebration in its tracks. Can someone unseat two-time defending champions, Team Japan? Will Team USA improve upon their 4th-place finish in 2009?
We can’t predict the results down to the wire, but we’re here to do what we do best at Three Up, Three Down. We rank the rosters! So strap in, baseball fans, and see if your favorite team stands a chance:
**The “Stick to Soccer” Group**
Notable player(s): Barry Larkin, Manager (and Hall of Fame Reds SS)
International Baseball Federation (IBAF) Ranking: 20
Breakdown: Good thing for their dominance on the international soccer scene, because Brazil isn’t going anywhere in the Classic. Yan Gomes was the first Brazilian player to ever reach the big leagues, and the country itself only has 14 players signed to Major League contracts. How they will win: They won’t. Why they won’t: See “How they will win.”
Notable player(s): Bruce Chen, SP, Royals
IBAF Ranking: 18
Breakdown: The Chinese baseball team is a decade away from being a serious contender, but they are headed in the right direction. They’ve made steady improvements over international tournaments since a decent showing at the 2009 WBC, in which they eliminated Chinese Taipei. How they will win: Hustle, starting pitching. Why they won’t: Not enough of either.
Notable player(s): Paco Rodriguez, RP, Dodgers/Engel Beltre, OF, Rangers
IBAF Ranking: 16
Breakdown: I’m not sure what to think about Spain. They lack star power, but did knock off Israel and South Africa in qualifiers. The roster is dotted with promising Major League prospects, but I don’t foresee Spain winning more than a game, maybe two in the WBC. How they will win: Breakout tourney from Beltre. Why they won’t: Their Pool C competition is stacked (Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic).
Notable player(s): Jason Grilli, RP, Pirates/Francisco Cervelli, C, Yankees/Nick Punto, IF, Dodgers/Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs/Chris Denorfia, OF, Padres
IBAF Ranking: 9
Breakdown: Not only did we miss out on a Hall of Fame induction for Mike Piazza, but he won’t be participating on Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic either. Props to the Italians for back-to-back Euro Championships, but the competition is pretty weak over there right now. I think they will be humbled in the WBC. How they will win: Play with a chip on their shoulder. Why they won’t: Even the MLB-level hitters are thin.
#12: KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS
Notable Player(s): Jair Jurrjens, SP, MLB Free Agent/Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox/Jurickson Profar, 2B, Rangers/Jonathan Schoop, 3B, Orioles/Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves/Roger Bernadina, OF, Nationals/Andruw Jones, OF, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 7
Breakdown: The Dutch soccer team is one of my favorites to watch. And for the first time in recent memory, so will their baseball team. They just missed my “dark horse” cut, due to sheer overall talent of the rest of the field. But the Major League potential of some youngsters on this roster is extremely intriguing. They’ve won 20 of 32 Euro Championships ever played. How they will win: Infield of dreams breaks out. Why they won’t: Not all the youngsters will perform.
**The Dark Horses**
#11: SOUTH KOREA
Notable player(s): Jae Seo, SP, former Met, Dodger, Ray in MLB
IBAF Ranking: 4
Breakdown: I feel ridiculous ranking Korea this low, considering their past successes in the WBC. But, it’s the third time this tournament has been played and each team has scouting on the opposition now. I don’t think South Korea will sneak up on anyone this time around. How they will win: High on-base percentage, good defense. Why they won’t: Too much good competition.
Notable player(s): Peter Moylan, RP, Dodgers
IBAF Ranking: 10
Breakdown: There’s a handful of good Major League players (like A’s closer Grant Balfour) who hail from the land down under, but there isn’t a whole lot of MLB experience on this roster. Team Australia still has a shot at advancing, but they may have more trouble than in years past. How they will win: Pure grit. Why they won’t: Not enough runs, upstart opposition in Pool B.
Notable player(s): Jesse Crain, RP, White Sox/John Axford, RP, Brewers/Jameson Taillon, SP, Pirates/Russell Martin, C, Pirates/Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays/Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins
IBAF Ranking: 6
Breakdown: We all know that Canada produces some bona fide stars in MLB (Joey Votto, anyone?), but not all are present and accounted for on this roster, similar to Team Australia. They still have the talent to make a run with Lawrie, Morneau and Martin in the middle of the lineup though. How they will win: Dominant bullpen, good middle of the lineup. Why they won’t: Too much youth in the rotation.
#8: CHINESE TAIPEI
Notable player(s): Chien-Ming Wang, SP, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 5
Breakdown: There’s a reason that Team Chinese Taipei is a top-five ranked country right now. But their proudest current professional representative (Orioles pitcher Wei-Yin Chen) is not on the team yet. This team is still legit, and has a very winnable pool group. How they will win: Small ball. Why they won’t: Overall talent is lacking.
**The “Justtttt A Bit Outside” Group**
#7: PUERTO RICO
Notable player(s): Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals/Carlos Beltran, OF, Cardinals/Angel Pagan, OF, Giants/Mike Aviles, IF, Indians/Javier Vasquez, SP, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 12
Breakdown: There may be no more high-ceiling-yet-average team in the WBC this year. Team Puerto Rico has finished fifth at both tournaments preceding this, and killed Team USA in 2009 before being ousted by them two games later on a walk-off hit. Even with players such as Molina, Beltran and Pagan, they won’t even be favorites in their own pool. How they will win: The Major League talent they have is relentlessly good. Why they won’t: Lack of depth in the rotation.
Notable player(s): Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers/Luis Cruz, 3B, Dodgers/Yovani Gallardo, SP, Brewers/Danny Espinosa, 2B, Nationals/Sergio Romo, RP, Giants
IBAF Ranking: 11
Breakdown: In their pool, Team Mexico will have to deal with Team USA, but other than that they should be favored to top Team Canada and Team Italy to move on. They have a decent infield, top-of-the-line ace, and one of the best closers in baseball. How they will win: Adrian Gonzalez goes off, Gallardo is dominant. Why they won’t: Romo is neutralized unless they have a lead late.
Notable player(s): None
IBAF Ranking: 1
Breakdown: Don’t let the lack of notable players deceive you — this team is good. Really good. They have played in the IBAF World Cup 29 times and won 25 gold medals, finishing second the other four times. In the WBC, Team Cuba has finished second and fourth (which, at the time, was their lowest finish ever in international competition). They just can’t legally have players like Aroldis Chapman or Yoenis Cespedes on their squad, otherwise they might be even better. How they will win: Hard-throwing starters, handful of five-tool prospects. Why they won’t: The top four teams are just too stacked.
Notable player(s): None
IBAF Ranking: 3
Breakdown: Again, don’t let the lack of Major League firepower fool you. Much like Cuba, Team Japan has been a hotbed for MLB stars over the years (Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish). Even though none of them joined the fray in 2013, this team is stacked. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of future MLB players come off this roster after good WBC performances. After all, they are two-for-two in WBC titles up to this point. How they will win: Ichiro-style on-base scavengers, deceptive pitching. Why they won’t: Not having Ichiro and Darvish, among others, will end up costing Team Japan.
#3: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Notable player(s): Santiago Casilla, RP, Giants/Octavio Dotel, RP, Tigers/Alexi Ogando, RP, Rangers/Fernando Rodney, RP, Rays/Wandy Rodriguez, SP, Pirates/Edinson Volquez, SP, Reds/Carlos Santana, C, Indians/Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers/Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees/Edwin Encarnacion, DH/OF, Blue Jays/Hanley Ramirez, IF, Dodgers/Jose Reyes, SS, Blue Jays/Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers/Melky Cabrera, OF, Blue Jays
IBAF Ranking: 13
Breakdown: The only reason Team Dominica is ranked so low by the IBAF is because all those notable players are stars in the big leagues, and don’t regularly compete internationally for their country. But now that the WBC has rolled around again, this is one unbelievably good team. My only concern is their starting pitching depth. How they will win: Scoring 15 runs per game (no…really). Why they won’t: Like I said, starting pitching depth. Will Volquez and Rodriguez be enough?
#2: UNITED STATES
Notable player(s): Jeremy Affeldt, RP, Giants/R.A. Dickey, SP, Blue Jays/Craig Kimbrel, RP, Braves/Kris Medlen, SP, Braves/Ryan Vogelsong, SP, Giants/Chris Perez, RP, Indians/Joe Mauer, C, Twins/Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds/Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies/David Wright, 3B, Mets/Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees/Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers/Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins/Adam Jones, OF, Orioles/Joe Torre, Manager
IBAF Ranking: 2
Breakdown: I didn’t even pick all the “notable players” I could have for this team. It’s Team USA’s equivalent of the MLB Dream Team, and Justin Verlander still is undecided as to whether he’ll join the rotation. This team is already a favorite with a balanced lineup and very strong pitching staff, but adding JV would be a coup. Check out fellow Three Up, Three Down host Bryan Mapes’ grades-by-position for Team USA. How they will win: Veteran experience, explosive pitching. Why they won’t: The bane of their existence, Team Japan, will come along eventually.
Notable player(s): Anibal Sanchez, SP, Tigers/Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners/Francisco Rodriguez, RP, MLB Free Agent/Ronald Belisario, RP, Dodgers/Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks/Salvador Perez, C, Royals/Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers/Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians/Miguel Cabrera, 3B/1B, Tigers/Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants/Marco Scutaro, 2B, Giants/Carols Gonzalez, OF, Rockies/Gerardo Parra, OF, Diamondbacks
IBAF Ranking: 8
Breakdown: The quantity of star power on Team Venezuela might not match up to Team USA or Team Dominica, but the quality is far and beyond. When you start your rotation with Hernandez and stack the middle of your lineup with the reigning Triple Crown winner between Gonzalez and Sandoval, you are a very, very scary team. Even though their WBC pool is very tough, it would be a momentous upset to not see Team Venezuela make moves in the 2013 tournament. How they will win: A large margin of victory. Against anyone. Why they won’t: Slumping hitters or being outplayed by one of the other favorites.
And that’s a wrap. This writer believes Team Venezuela is the team to beat, with Team USA, Team Dominica and Team Japan not far behind. But in all honesty, there are about 10-11 teams who could potentially take home the title in 2013. Root for your team and country to take home top honors, and stay tuned to Three Up, Three Down because we’ll have all your World Baseball Classic coverage.
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
It’s over. Thank the good baseball lords above, it is finally over. The deadline and the bad-for-blood-pressure rumors that go with it is finished for now, and the Ryan Dempster saga, most importantly, has come to a close.
And he ended up with one of Three Up, Three Down’s favorite teams – though not exactly the one you might have expected. After flirting with Mapes’ Braves and having a steamy public relationship with my Dodgers, it’s Brian’s Texas Rangers that swooped in at the last minute to steal Dempster away.
Let’s break down the trade:
SP – Ryan Dempster
3B – Christian Villanueva (Single-A)
SP – Kyle Hendricks (Single-A)
Wait…that’s it? After all that back-and-forth between the Dodgers, the demands to only go to certain teams, the reportedly super-high asking price…and all it took was two high-potential Single-A prospects?
Theo Epstein must have really wanted to get rid of Dempster, who expanded his one-team list of acceptable teams to three (added the Yankees to the list as well) in the last half hour before the deadline. This doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice for a Rangers team that is now absolutely loaded with starting pitching to go along with a ferocious offense.
That offense is one of the reasons a young, power-hitting corner infielder like Villanueva was expendable. And Hendricks has some good potential as well, but you never know with pitchers.
Never fear, Cubs fans. You didn’t strike out completely. First of all, Dempster had to go somewhere. He wasn’t going to re-sign long term after the season, and at least the Cubs reeled in two pretty good prospects for him now, instead of nothing later.
I think the winner of this trade is pretty obvious. The Rangers now have Dempster, to go along with fellow rental Roy Oswalt, Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, and about 83 other above average starters in a rotation that was sorely lacking depth and experience in their previous two World Series runs.
If Texas returns to the Fall Classic for the third straight year, they are now in much better position to actually bring home the title. You have to think that facing a top three of Harrison, Dempster and Oswalt would be about as pleasant as hugging a porcupine for opposing offenses.
Stupid analogies aside, the Cubs strengthened an already-loaded farm system even further with these two guys. You have to like that Epstein is finally doing what previous front office regimes wouldn’t, and completely overhaul to rebuild for a few years down the road.
Fans of both of these teams have suffered long enough. The Rangers now look poised to head into the postseason as prohibitive title favorites (again, just stronger this time), and the Cubs might field a surprisingly competitive team by 2015.
All in all, a trade that had to happen, finally happened. The Rangers got the arm they needed, the Cubs unloaded Dempster and brought in more young talent. So how do you see the trade? Vote in the polls below and grade that trade!
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
Walking into historic Wrigley Field two hours before game time allowed me ample time to check out the Bartman seat (sorry Cubs fans), watch a little BP, and most importantly figure out what’s for lunch.
I asked a gentleman working the Cubs authentic shop what he suggests I try. “We have these new tots,” he said. “Loaded with Cholula hot sauce, mozzarella, and green onions, they’re awesome.” He continued by telling me about a hot dog stand where you can get unique styles of dogs. He said “go for the Heater”. He couldn’t have made two better suggestions.
Lucky for me and anyone else that wishes to indulge in the tots and a dog, they are sold at the same stand. As prescribed, I ordered the Cholula tots and a “Heater”. The heater is your standard hot dog topped with blue cheese coleslaw and buffalo wing sauce. The Cholula covered tots were hands down the best tots I’ve ever had. The surplus about of sauce wasn’t enough to make them overwhelming and the cheese gave them a creamy taste. Add in the chopped green onions for some flavor and crunch and you have a great ballpark snack.
The “Heater” hot dog was exactly what I expected, delicious. Personally I like hot dogs with slaw on them and the blue cheese taste made it a little more unique. Factor in the buffalo wing sauce and you have a tasty dog with some zing. If you haven’t had a dog with slaw on it before and aren’t afraid to try it, I highly suggest it!