Coming into this year we knew that the National League Central was not going to be nearly as good as it has been in the past. The departures of Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols were the main reasons for that.
The Pirates are through three series and the rest of the division is about right there with them. The best team in the division to this point is St. Louis Cardinals at 9-3. However, health is a huge issue for them with oldies but goodies like Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran being counted on for production. Berkman is headed to the DL already, so he’ll miss the Pirates series. It certainly wouldn’t surprise anybody to see him miss a lot of time this year, and the same goes for Beltran. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are two more guys that aren’t young anymore that are being counted on in a big way for the Cardinals. Carpenter is also on the shelf right now and doesn’t even have a timetable for when he can start throwing again. Wainwright is off of a big time surgery and hasn’t performed well to this point this year. There are a ton of question marks on this team that make you think they might not win more than 85-90 games this year.
The Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds are supposed to compete for this division as well. The Brewers are off to a 6-6 start and are hitting just .231 as a team (before Thursday’s game) without Fielder in the middle of the order. The Reds are at an even worse .211 mark, although they have a lot of fire power on that offense and will more than likely turn that around in a hurry. Both teams also have poor ERA’s, the Brewers come in at 5.14 and the Reds are at 4.15.
All that is without even mentioning Houston and Chicago, who are both off to bad starts. The Cubs at 3-9 and the Astros are 4-8 and neither team looks good at all. Houston’s pitching rotation has had a decent start to the year with a 3.52 ERA, and their offense could be worse – they are hitting at a .244 clip. Chances are their team batting average will stay around there if not go down, they really don’t have any batters in that lineup that will scare you. Neither of those teams should be in contention at all past May.
If the Cardinals have to battle these injuries all year, the Brewers continue to struggle offensively without Prince, and the Reds battle inconsistency all year, all of which aren’t unlikely situations, a 87-90 win season could win this division this year. That’s a lot to ask from a Pirates team who is hitting a league worst .205 on the season, but at least we know it’s not going to take a bunch to compete here.