National League Central

April 03, 2005|By Previews by South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Chicago Cubs

Record, finish: 89-73, 3rd.

Manager: Dusty Baker, 3rd season with Cubs, 13th overall.

Payroll: $100 million.

Hot seat: Jeromy Burnitz. Leaves altitude of Denver for challenge of replacing Sammy Sosa.

Best case: Everything clicks and they become this year's Red Sox. ... Kerry Wood and Mark Prior combine for 38 wins and 450 innings. ... The ill vibe of last season gives way to the sort of "Dustiny" they were feeling in 2003. ... Derrek Lee finally overcomes his April bugaboo and strings six solid months together.

Worst case: Corey Patterson still can't figure out he needs to cut down his swing in the leadoff role. ... Losing Sosa and Moises Alou leaves them with a serious offensive void. ... Nomar Garciaparra's fragile body stages its annual breakdown. ... The lack of a set closer leaves the bullpen unsettled and unreliable.

LINEUP

CF Corey Patterson

2B Todd Walker

SS Nomar Garciaparra

3B Aramis Ramirez

1B Derrek Lee

RF Jeromy Burnitz

LF Jason Dubois

C Michael Barrett

ROTATION

RHP Carlos Zambrano

RHP Greg Maddux

RHP Mark Prior

RHP Kerry Wood

RHP Ryan Dempster

BULLPEN

LHP Glendon Rusch

LHP Mike Remlinger

RHP LaTroy Hawkins

Cincinnati Reds

Record, finish: 76-86, 4th.

Manager: Dave Miley, 3rd season with Reds.

Payroll: $60 million.

Hot seat: Eric Milton. Can the former University of Maryland star lead a staff or is he merely a complementary pitcher?

Best case: Milton and Ramon Ortiz lengthen out a decent rotation and give pitching coach Don Gullett something to work with. ... Ken Griffey reclaims his status as one of the game's most feared offensive weapons. ... Adam Dunn cuts down his strikeouts and ratchets up his power numbers even further.

Worst case: Some body part somewhere ruins Griffey's season yet again. ... Austin Kearns can't stay healthy enough to remain on the field. ... Three left-handed hitters in the middle of the lineup make the Reds vulnerable to late-inning specialists. ... After boosting payroll in the offseason, the team gets off to a slow start and starts dumping salaries in July.

LINEUP

2B D'Angelo Jimenez

SS Rich Aurilia

1B Sean Casey

CF Ken Griffey

RF Austin Kearns

LF Adam Dunn

3B Joe Randa

C Jason LaRue

ROTATION

RHP Paul Wilson

LHP Eric Milton

RHP Ramon Ortiz

RHP Aaron Harang

LHP Brandon Claussen

BULLPEN

RHP Danny Graves

RHP Ryan Wagner

LHP Kent Mercker

Houston Astros

Record, finish: 92-70, 2nd.

Manager: Phil Garner, 2nd season with Astros, 13th overall.

Payroll: $79 million.

Hot seat: Jason Lane. It's not fair, but he's stepping in for Carlos Beltran.

Best case: Roger Clemens, who has staged more comebacks than Ozzy Osbourne, powers his way to Cy Young No. 8. ... Roy Oswalt stays healthy enough to win more than 20 games for the first time. ... Garner's positive mojo gets the Astros to play above their heads again. ... They sneak to the top of a weakened division.

Worst case: Craig Biggio slows down more and exacerbates the offensive losses of Jeff Kent and Beltran. ... Right fielder Lance Berkman's knee injury keeps him out beyond early May. ... Andy Pettitte's balky elbow won't cooperate, and he lands on the disabled list again. ... Brad Lidge gets overworked due to an uninspiring setup crew.

LINEUP

2B Craig Biggio

SS Adam Everett

1B Jeff Bagwell

LF Mike Lamb

CF Jason Lane

RF Luke Scott

3B Morgan Ensberg

C Brad Ausmus

ROTATION

RHP Roy Oswalt

RHP Roger Clemens

LHP Andy Pettitte

RHP Brandon Backe

RHP Brandon Duckworth

BULLPEN

RHP Brad Lidge

RHP Chad Harville

LHP Mike Gallo

Milwaukee Brewers

Record, finish: 67-94, 6th.

Manager: Ned Yost, 3rd season with Brewers.

Payroll: $42 million.

Hot seat: Carlos Lee. His power bat cost the Brewers speedy and popular outfielder Scott Podsednik.

Best case: J.J. Hardy announces his presence with a Rookie of the Year candidacy. ... Top prospects Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder (Cecil Fielder's son) remodel the right side of the infield by midseason. ... Ben Sheets actually gets some run support this year and makes a quiet bid for the Cy Young Award.

Worst case: Lee's slide continues despite a change-of-scenery trade. ... The rest of the rotation beyond Sheets proves as pedestrian as it seems. ... New closer Mike Adams and other imposters prove poor substitutes for departed All-Star Dan Kolb as Milwaukee finishes with a losing record for the 13th straight season.

LINEUP

CF Brady Clark

2B Junior Spivey

1B Lyle Overbay

LF Carlos Lee

RF Geoff Jenkins

3B Russell Branyan

C Damian Miller

SS J.J. Hardy

ROTATION

RHP Ben Sheets

LHP Doug Davis

RHP Victor Santos

LHP Chris Capuano

RHP Gary Glover

BULLPEN

RHP Mike Adams

RHP Ricky Bottalico

RHP Justin Lehr

Pittsburgh Pirates

Record, finish: 72-89, 5th.

Manager: Lloyd McClendon, 5th season with Pirates.

Payroll: $36 million.

Hot seat: Benito Santiago. At 40, he gets the first crack at replacing Jason Kendall.

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