Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #15

On Monday, you read what our regulars had to say. Now, you get to hear from the enemy: Enjoy the contrasting opinions that these big timers provide, and feel free to rip each other apart in the comments. Nothing like a good division rivalry, eh?
EDIT:  Since this seems to be a topic people are passionate about, as links come in, I’ll try to make them available here.  The pages will open in a new window so that you can continue on with our discussion.

Question:
Project the 2007 NL Central teams’ order of finish from first to sixth. Which team(s) will be most surprising (for good or for bad)?


Milwaukee’s representative, Jeff Sackmann from Brew Crew Ball:

1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Houston Astros
5. Cincinnati Reds
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Even though I’m a Brewers fan, I feel like I’m in the NL East of the late ’90s. There’s a prohibitive favorite, and it’s nonsensical to bet against them. Whether the Cards will take the division with 85 or 95 wins depends on who stays healthy and how well Walt Jocketty plugs up the rotation, but I just don’t see any other team catching them this year.
This is the year the Crew takes the long-awaited step forward. It’ll still only be to 84-85 wins, but it’ll be a big psychological boost for both the fanbase and the front office. With Yovani Gallardo and Ryan Braun ready to help full-time by next year’s opening day, Milwaukee ought to be the favorites for the division in 2008. This prediction, of course, depends on at least half the team staying healthy, which in itself would be a step forward from 2006.
Any one of these first three teams could win the division. The Cubs probably have the greatest variance of any of them: if everything breaks right (including Mark Prior returning to form), this is a 93+ win team. There are still, however, a lot of old and/or injury-prone players here. The offense is fearsome and the starting rotation is expensive, but there are so many things that could go wrong that it’d be foolish to assume that none of them will.
The Astros won’t break .500 this year, despite having paid nine figures for Carlos Lee. Even if they somehow woo Roger Clemens back, it won’t be enough to crack the top three in the division–and it’s unlikely they’ll manage that. If there’s a team in the NL prone to disappoint, it’s these guys: there are plenty of quality players on this team, but after Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, not much of a core to build around.
Wayne Krivsky has built a nice bullpen, but by trading away so much offense, leaving Ken Griffey Jr. in center field, and hoping that Homer Bailey will somehow take over the third, fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, he’s left the Reds with a few too many holes. Even if Arroyo and Harang repeat their strong ’06 campaigns, the Reds aren’t in a position win 80 games.
There’s enough young talent here that the Bucs could mount a charge for 5th, but that’s hardly reason for much excitement. It’s tough not to root for a team with such a great core of young starters, but it’s also hard to get behind whatever Dave Littlefield is doing. The upside here is 75-78 wins, which in other contexts would strain the definition of “upside.”
Houston’s representative, Joshua from The Crawfish Boxes:
1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Houston Astros
4. St. Louis Cardinals
5. Cincinnati Reds
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
I think that the NL Central will be very tightly contested from top to bottom in 2007. No team clearly improved itself in all areas, and its champion from 2006 pretty clearly got worse. I could definitely see a division champion with 88 or 89 wins, and a fifth place team with 79 or 80.
The Brewers were the fashionable dark horse in 2006, then underperformed, and now are being left for dead. But people forget J.J. Hardy was gone after May and Rickie Weeks was out after July. And people forget Ben Sheets made only 17 starts. Did you know Sheets’ strikeout to walk ratio last year was 10.25? Hardy will give my Adam Everett and your Jack Wilson a run for the money glove-wise while posting much higher slugging numbers. Johnny Estrada should help, too. Chad Moeller and Damian Miller were brutal last year, and I’ve gotta watch Brad Ausmus, so I don’t say that lightly. But Claudio Vargas does not compare to Doug Davis, and I can’t help but think that if the Brewers had somehow been able to keep Davis, they’d be my prohibitive favorites.
Before you make any Ted Lilly jokes, consider that Lee Sinins’ Runs Saved Above Average tells us that Lilly had a better year in 2006 than Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia, Brad Penny, Kevin Millwood and Jake Westbrook. Z can definitely hang with the Oswalts and the Carpenters of the division, and Lilly is certainly a serviceable number three, perhaps even a number two, but who else is going to pitch? It gets scary to think what Jason Marquis might allow on a day when the wind is blowing towards Waveland Avenue. Considering that the division may be short on pitching depth, but has no lack of quantifiable aces, it seems very possible that the Cubs will have the worst rotation in the division. Yes, they will outscore the rest of the division, but I’m not sure how much that will mean. Biggest question: can Piniella get Aramis Ramirez to show some hustle, some of the time?
I have a feeling that runs scored will be way up on Crawford Street. Carlos Lee should hit 30 homers, Lance Berkman should hit 40, Morgan Ensberg should have an up year, and I even think that Adam Everett will have a solid campaign, with a batting average in the .260s and runs scored in the 60s. But the pitching after Oswalt and Jennings looks really suspect. I have no great faith in quadrogenarian Woody Williams, and while I can imagine scenarios where Wandy Rodriguez and Chris Samspon are solid in the four and five slots, I imagine those things as a fan, not as anyone with a solid grounding in reality. That said, if Clemens lands with Houston, the Astros can take the pennant. Sadly, I think he ends up in The Apple.
Worst off-season in the division, two years in a row. The Cardinals appear to be proposing a strategy of filling the holes in your rotation by depleting your bullpen. I normally don’t place too much stock on any bullpen going into the season, but if Looper and Wainwright are inserted into the rotation, then Cards fans may end up wishing it was Walt Jocketty who had signed Mike Stanton, or traded for Gary Majewski.
Harang and Arroyo could be the best one-two punch in the division, and the bullpen should be (better be!) good, and they say good things about Homer Bailey, but amazingly, I wonder about this team’s offense, which appears to be Adam Dunn (who OPSed .850 last year, by the way), Edwin Encarnacion and not much else.
I’d feel better about the acquisition of Adam LaRoche if I didn’t feel that the Bucs had an equivalent talent in Craig Wilson, and just wasted him. Zach Duke’s ZiPS numbers look very nice, and in fact the entire rotation less Shawn Chacon should cause the rest of the division trouble from time to time. Jason Bay is Jason Bay. I think it would be great if Freddy Sanchez could lead the league in hitting again.

Cincinnati’s representative, Amanda from Red Hot Mama:

1. Cincinnati Reds
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Houston Astros
4. Chicago Cubs
5. St. Louis Cardinals
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Reds hung with the World Champion Cardinals into September last year, but while the Cards still seem to be logy from the after party, the Reds have been toning up. The lineup doesn’t bring the power that it once did, but the starting rotation is solid and the defense can back it up. The Reds will be the most surprising in 2007, if only because of the surprising rate at which general manager Wayne Krivsky can replace personnel.
Projected to be the sleeper of 2006, the Brewers disappointed last season. But this is a team that didn’t lose much and signed an actually decent ex-Cardinal pitcher in Jeff Suppan. Look for them to realize some of the expectations they fell so short of before.
The Astros hung with the Cards even longer than the Reds did, but the pitching powerhouse is a shadow of its former self. Pettitte is gone, and who knows whether Clemens will be back. Carlos Lee ought to help, but if the Cubs have taught us anything, it’s that one guy named Lee does not an offense make.
No team in the division has done as much over the off-season to try to improve as Chicago. Thing is, they had so far to go to get themselves to respectability that even the additions of Alfonso Soriano and Lou Piniella can only raise this team to the rank of “adequate.” If the Cubs can do as much after the 2007 season as they’ve done before it, you can look for them to contend in 2008.
These guys know there’s a World Series every year, right? Because the Cards’ inactivity makes it look like they checked “Win Championship” off their Honey-Do list and have now moved on to cleaning the grout and organizing their collection of Potato Chips That Look Like Phyllis Diller. This team has lost too much talent to coast through 2007, but they’re close enough that a big move before the start of the season could bump them back up to the top half.
The Pirates are a dysfunctional organization in every way. I’m a Reds fan, so I’m hardly dreaming of a Pittsburgh World Series, but the Pirates fans I’ve met are good people. They deserve better than they’ve got.

Chicago’s representative, Rob G. from The Cub Reporter:

1. Chicago Cubs
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Houston Astros
5. Cincinnati Reds
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
I feel that if one assigned each team a number from one to six and then rolled a standard issue die, one could predict the NL Central with about the same percentage of accuracy, but I’ll give it a shot.
What do these rankings suggest? Well number one that I’m a homer and that as spring training grows closer, so does my level of optimism. Number two is that there is no dominant team in the NL Central, so I’ll take the team that I feel has the most depth to get through the grueling 162. While the Cubs’ throwing big money at Soriano, Ramirez, Lilly and Marquis drew the big headlines, the smaller signings like Ward and Floyd, along with the players pushed to secondary roles because of the bigger signings, are what makes the 2007 Cubs far more dangerous than the previous years.
As for the rest of the league, the Cardinals look like the same team they were last year, and while that somehow netted them the World Championship, it wasn’t a bad-luck 83-win team, that’s exactly who they were (channeling Dennis Green). The Brewers’ offense looks to be lacking some punch in the middle of the order beyond Prince Fielder, and while the starting staff looks solid, it’s still in the position of counting on a full season of Ben Sheets, which isn’t something you want to be in the position to count on. The Astros always end up better than I give them credit for, and if Roger Clemens does re-sign with the team for the bulk of the season (let’s say no later than mid-May), I’d probably jump them up to number one or two. The Reds were a nice story last season, but I don’t think Bronson Arroyo is nearly as good as he pitched last year, and their offense seems to get weaker by the season. The Pirates have nothing left in the stable if anyone gets hurt or has a bad year, so they’ll have to rely on a nice run of luck in terms of career years and injury-free baseball for them to make any noise. And even if they get all that, I still think it’s a .500 team at best.
St. Louis’ representative, Erik from Future Redbirds:
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Houston Astros
5. Cincinnati Reds
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
I’m not trying to be a homer, but I don’t get the theory out there that the Cardinals are not moving forward after a disappointing 83-win regular season. While they lost proven inning eaters in Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver, and the off-season moves of re-signing Jim Edmonds, Mark Mulder, Scott Spiezio, Preston Wilson and the signings of Adam Kennedy, Kip Wells, Ryan Franklin and Russ Springer are not all that exciting of a splash, I think this ball club improves some by subtraction. This is a team that gave Aaron Miles nearly 500 at bats at second base and Jason Marquis 33 starts. Mark Mulder’s arm nearly fell off, Isringhausen imploded, Jim Edmonds was a concussed mummy and they lost Albert Pujols for over 2 weeks. They also didn’t receive the help of Chris Duncan until July; before that the starter was predominantly So Taguchi. No, they are not a 100-win team, but if they stay mostly healthy and their young arms in Reyes and Wainwright perform as expected, I see them an 88-90 win team.
I like what the Brewers did this winter in signing Suppan; their rotation is going to be very formidable if Sheets can stay on the field. They will have their struggles on offense, but I don’t see any major holes in their lineup that they shouldn’t overcome. The Cubs improve their offense with Soriano, and if Lee comes back healthy I can see them scoring a lot of runs. I think the signing of Lilly was good, but I don’t like him in that ball park. I laughed pretty hard when I heard they signed Jason Marquis, surely the one of the most dreadful signings of the winter. The Reds were extremely lucky last year, getting career years out of Ross, Hatteberg, Phillips and Arroyo. The Astros’ window has shut in my mind, without Clemens and Pettitte I can’t see them cracking .500. I like the Bucs’ young pitchers in Duke, Gorzelanny, Snell and Maholm. I have them at sixth, but I think they can do better then that, maybe even finish fourth.
I see this division getting a little tighter this year. I think the Pirates, Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals can all take steps up this summer, while I see the Reds regressing and the Astros driving across the country in a diaper to kill their rival lover, only to be thrown in jail…Wait, wrong Astro. The Astros will bomb. Signing Lee to an albatross contract and trading a better young pitcher in Hirsh for Jennings had to give their fans some Tums-worthy indigestion this winter.

Author: PLCArchives

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