Sunday, April 5, 2009

NL Central "hinge" players

With the season beginning tomorrow, I decided to take a look at what I call "hinge" players on all the NL Central teams. "Hinge" players might not be the best player on their respective team, but them having a breakout could go a long way in determining their team's success. If you want to with cliches, they would be referred to as "x-factors." 

Cubs - Rich Harden
Harden put up really impressive numbers after coming over from the A's last season (5-1, 1.78), however he was skipped over a few times in the rotation for preventive reasons. If this is the case in 2009 and he makes say, 24 starts instead of 30, that is completely fine to me. The fact is he has to actually make those starts. When healthy he is the best pitcher, and maybe even player the Cubs have. If he is able to start 24+ games, he makes a very good rotation an elite one. Milton Bradley easily could have been put here as well, but I think that the Cubs can withstand Bradley's replacement player (Fukudome/Hoffpauir) better than they could Harden's (Samardzija).

Cardinals - Chris Carpenter 
Yes, this is the easiest one to pick. Carpenter, if healthy, is clearly the best pitcher in the division. Think of it this way: in a three game series where the Cards rotation stacks up the right way, you get Carpenter, Wainwright, and Lohse/Wellemeyer. With these pitchers going, you have a extremely good chance of taking of 2/3. If Carpenter isn't in there, you still you know you will get a good outing with Wainwright, but Lohse and Wellemeyer are uncertainties heading into the season. Putting known quantities (that bring back positive results) on the mound on a night to night basis is what it is all about, and if healthy, Carpenter drastically improves the Cardinals. 

Brewers - Corey Hart 
It would have been really easy, and probably right, to pick Yovani Gallardo here, but I chose to go with Hart. I don't think the Brewers will be able to outpitch hardly anyone this season, so they will have to rely on their solid lineup to win them games. This is simply something Brewer fans should accept. Fielder and Braun will definitely rake, so it will be up to Hart (who does not have the pedigree or natural talent of the other two) to repeat his All-Star form and provide another dimension to the Brewers offense. 

Astros - Wandy Rodriguez
Oswalt will be good. Berkman/Lee will lead an offense that will score enough runs to keep Houston competitive on any given night. Rodriguez is the best chance the Astros have to give them great starts out of a rotation spot not claimed by Oswalt.

Reds - Jay Bruce
For so many years the Reds had a glut of outfielders with plus power in Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, etc. Now with them all gone, and with light-hitting outfielders Willly Taveras and Chris Dickerson replacing them, the Reds need someone to bring the power back. Bruce seems to be a can't miss prospect, and I have no doubts he will be just that. However, the Reds need him to give them a power threat next to Joey Votto and Edwin Encarnacion.

Pirates - Andy LaRoche
I'm not going to try to rationalize the Pirates pitching staff, which I consider to be the place to lay a foundation when you are rebuilding. LaRoche is the most likely player to develop into a Jason Bay-type great player that goes unnoticed on a small-market losing team. 

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