NL Central Preview
I'm convinced that there is only one way the Cubs can win a World Series: repeated playoff appearances. This theory is backed by the ninety-something years before the '07 and '08 teams, during which time the Cubs never appeared in the playoffs more than once in a row.
Having said that, I feel very good about the Cubs' chances in the NL Central this year.
Look around this division. What do you see? In reverse order of their finishes in 2008:
Pittsburgh - Paul Maholm might win 10 games, but I don't see anyone else in their rotation that stands a chance of doing so. If you don't have starting pitching, you don't stand a chance over the course of a regular season in my book.
Cincinnati - The only other team in the division with a robust rotation that could get them to a bunch of wins in 2009. Harang's 2008 was atrocious, and I blame it all on Dusty Baker's using him in a relief appearance for no freaking reason. Of course, Dusty will be back in Cincy this year, and is just as likely to make a similarly stupid pitching move. But if Harang returns to form, Volquez and Cueto improve, and Arroyo provides some stability in the #4 spot, they have something there. They also have a closer with experience, something St Louis lacks. On offense, I guess they need a lot of help from Votto and Bruce, but Votto is damn good. Griffey and Dunn are gone, so the outfield defense adds by subtraction. I'm gonna take these guys as the Cubs' stiffest competition in 2009.
St. Louis - Carpenter is still hurt. Mark Mulder can't throw 85 (is he also gone?). That leaves Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse as their front-of-the-rotation starters, and Joel Piniero and Todd Wellemeyer in the back, with a Spring Training success story filling the rotation out. I see a lot of potential for quality starts, but who do they give the ball to after the 6th inning? Russ Springer is gone, and Jason Isringhausen is no longer Jason Isringhausen. It's a good team that will win a lot of games, but I just don't see how they prevent enough runs to win 90 of them.
Houston - Two good starters, two crappy ones. A couple solid relievers, a lot of crappy ones. A few great hitters, and a few crappy ones. There's some talent here, but not enough to win consistently. Oswalt looked bad at times last year, Wandy has never been good on the road, and then their third starter is Brandon Backe? Oy vey. Not too frightened. They'll suck for a long while, make their late push, and end up in the 85-win range.
Milwaukee - Ben Sheets is likely gone, as is CC Sabathia. Without those two, their rotation is really really weak. I expect the same type of results from Jeff Suppan that I do from Jason Marquis, and he's their 2nd starter. These guys could finish 5th in the division.
So that's everyone. The way I see it:
That's a division where the Cubs should win a lot of games. 95 is very reasonable, and that has to be a playoff bound team. Right?