As a part of our MLB betting previews for the 2010 season, Cappers Info poses ten questions that should be on the minds of all baseball fans in the NL West as they prepare to make their MLB picks for the year.
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1: Can the #1 and #1A for the Cardinals continue to pitch like Cy Young candidates? Manager Tony LaRussa had better hope so. SPs Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright combined to win 36 games last year, and each had sub-2.75 ERAs. Now that fellow SP Joel Pineiro has departed, there really isn't a ton of depth in the St. Louis rotation, so Carpenter and Wainwright are once again going to have to carry the load to take some pressure off of a suspect bullpen.
2: Is OF Alfonso Soriano finished? The former New York Yankees phenom only batted .241 last year with just 46 extra base hits, 20 of which were home runs. However, 118 strike outs in 117 games played just isn't going to cut it, and neither will a .303 OBP. For a player that is as much of a liability on defense as Soriano is, he had better be a legitimate 30/30 prospect every single year, or the boys from the Windy City may have to consider making a move.
3: How many home runs will 1B Prince Fielder and OF Ryan Braun hit this year? 80? 90? Heck, 100? The only thing that is going to stop these two from blasting at least as many as the 78 home runs is the fact that there just isn't any protection in this lineup for them unless one of these youngsters that they're throwing in the field is going to step up and pick up some of the slack. Still, pitching to these two is always lethal, and considering the fact that both are still very, very young, they're both only getting better from here.
4: Is there any hope for the Pirates this year to break their dastardly streak of losing seasons? In a word, no. If you want a great quiz in a bar (even in Pittsburgh), ask any so called sports fan to name the five starting pitchers for the Pirates. Beyond Zach Duke, you may not hear any other names if you surveyed an entire sports bar. Save 2B Akinori Iwamura, there really isn't much experience in the field, and now that both middle infielders Jack Wilson and Freddie Wilson have been traded, there isn't much to get excited about any more in Steel Town.
5: Aroldis Chapman: The real deal or a real bust? The only thing that this fire balling southpaw has going against him is that Dusty Baker is the man that is going to be taking care of his arm. Chapman's talent level is clearly off the charts, as he can throw the ball at least 102 MPH on a relatively regular basis. However, with Baker's history of ruining the careers of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, the Cuban defect has to be concerned.
6: Is the Matt Holliday/Albert Pujols combination the best in baseball? There's an argument that Braun and Fielder is a better combo, there may not be better in all of the MLB than what the big bats in St. Louis are going to accomplish. Unlike in Milwaukee, there is a ton of protection floating around in the Cards' lineup, which could lead for some mega, mega numbers for Pujols (.327, 47 HRs, 135 RBIs) and Holliday (.353, 13 HRs, 55 RBIs in 63 games with St. Louis).
7: Can Lou Pinella figure out his bullpen issues? Chicago ranked just 20th in baseball in the bullpen last year, and a lot of that was because RPs Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol never really got things going. Gregg (4.72 ERA, 23/30 save chances) is now departed, which leaves Marmol (3.41 ERA, 15/19 save chances) as the one true closer option. He'll have to keep it together to pick up the slack for a rotation that is effective, but doesn't eat a ton of innings.
8: Does the ageless Trevor Hoffman have another full season under his belt? Why not? Hoffman doesn't throw the ball 100 MPH anymore, but he went 37 for 41 last year in save chances and had a 1.83 ERA. The future Hall of Famer is really the only solid option for nailing down games for Manager Ken Macha, and for as cut and paste as the rest of this pitching staff from #1 to #11 is, Hoffman is going to have to be the consistent, calming influence in the bunch.
9: Is this the year that the Reds finally break the .500 mark? It had better be, or Manager Dusty Baker is going to find himself without a job. The addition of SS Orlando Cabrera was a quiet signing in the offseason, but he's the type of consistent ball player that can solidify a lineup that already features three sluggers in 1B Joey Votto, 2B Brandon Phillips, and RF Jay Bruce. Cincinnati definitely has the ability to compete in this division in '10.
10: Bottom Line: How will the standings look in the NL Central when the season is said and done? This is the question that we will pose for all six divisions and is the one of most importance. Are there are teams in this division that really have the horses to win the World Series? Probably not. However, there are a ton of teams that can win 80+ games in this division, which should make the race for the pennant incredibly interest… Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Astros, Pirates