Do The Reds have what it takes to win the central?
Let's take a look at the 2012 rosters 3 of the top NLC teams (Pirates could potentially play spoiler, but I wouldn't bet on it.) This post assumes that Braun will be serving his 50-game suspension, and will be reflected accordingly when and if he is relieved of that suspension. The way that this works is that for each first place category, a team will receive 5 points, second place gets 2 points, and third gets 0.
Position: Player (team) : Comparison
First Base: Joey Votto (Reds), Lance Berkman (Cardinals), Matt Gamel (Brewers)--This is by far the easiest category to rank. Now that Fielder and Pujols are out of the division, and the league, Joey Votto is the unquestioned best first baseman of the Central, and of the national league as a whole. Even if Berkman likely won't have as good of a year as last year, it's not hard to be better than Matt Gamel. [Reds +5, Cardinals +2]
Second Base: Brandon Phillips (Reds), Rickie Weeks (Brewers), Skip Schumaker (Cardinals)-- This one was also pretty easy to rank. Phillips was the most award-receiving member of the Reds in 2011, and for good reason. His defense is elite, and his bat is hot, resulting in his third gold glove and his first silver slugger. [Reds +5, Brewers +2]
Third Base: Aramis Ramirez (Brewers), David Freese (Cardinals), Scott Rolen (Reds)--This category was difficult to rank, because when Scott Rolen can stay on the field, he is an essential asset to the team. It was close, but I gave the edge to Freese due to his spectacular postseason performance. However, Ramirez is the unquestioned leader of these 3. [Brewers +5, Cardinals +2]
Shortstop: Zack Cozart (Reds), Alex Gonzalez (Brewers), Rafael Furcal (Cardinals)--Well, if there's one thing for sure, Gonzalez is a defensive upgrade over Betancourt, any day of the week. However, if Cozart lives up to his minor league stats, and his stats within his 11-game stint in the majors, he will be a superstar. And even if he isn't, with plus defense, it won't be hard to beat a .241 batting average, and a .231, respectively between Gonzalez and Furcal. [Reds +5, Brewers +2]
Left Field: Matt Holliday (Cardinals), Ryan Ludwick/Chris Heisey (Reds), Norichika Aoki (Brewers)-- This one was easy. Ludwick and Heisey will be a dynamic duo at the plate, but Holliday is just a monster. Even off of a 'down' year, he's still the unquestioned kind of left field for the NLC. [Cards +5, Reds +2]
Center Field: Jon Jay (Cardinals), Drew Stubbs (Reds), Nyjer Morgan (Brewers)-- Drew Stubbs is set to have a monster year- that's the word around the MLB. If he can cut down on his strikeout rate and develop a better eye, he will be the cream of the CF crop. However, Jon Jay, based on last year, is just the overall better player. [Cards +5, Reds +2]
Right Field: Jay Bruce (Reds), Carlos Beltran (Cardinals), Corey Hart (Brewers)-- Jay Bruce is, without a doubt, the best RF in the NLC, and the scary thing is- he's only going to get better. What he lacks in batting average (a stat that should increase in 2012 as he works on plate discipline) he makes up for in homers and RBI. If he can do this, then he will approach the 40 homerun mark in 2012. Not to mention that Jay Bruce has, arguably, the strongest throwing arm in right field in the majors. Beltran is also a productive player, though not at Bruce's level, but has trouble staying on the field. When he can, though, he can hit. Corey Hart is also a great player, but the NLC is stacked in terms of right fielders. [Reds +5, Cards +2]
Catcher: Yadier Molina (Cardinals), Ryan Hanigan/Devin Mesoraco (Reds), Jonathan Lucroy (Brewers)-- Yadier Molina needs no introduction. Though it's extremely unlikely that he will have the kind of year he had in 2011, he is still a great catcher, especially on the defensive front, though he's good with a bat too, hitting .274 lifetime and .305 last year. Devin Mesoraco is one of the highest rated catching prospects in the MLB, backed up by Ryan Hanigan, who has a plus throwing arm and a good bat (or visa versa.) [Cards +5, Reds +2]
Brewers: 9 (increased to 14 upon Braun's return.)
Cardinals: 21 (decreased to 18 upon Braun's return.)
SP 1- Adam Wainright (Cardinals), Yovani Gallardo (Brewers), Johnny Cueto (Reds)-- Cueto is a great pitcher, but is overshadowed by Wainright and Gallardo, two of the NL's best pitchers. [Cards +5, Brewers +2]
SP2- Mat Latos (Reds), Zack Greinke (Brewers), Chris Carpenter (Cardinals)--Latos is the clear leader of this field, but placing Greinke and Carp were harder. I went with Greinke here because Carpenter was overworked last year, and is entering the twilight of his career, whilst Latos and Greinke are both young arms. [Reds +5, Brewers +2]
SP3- Jaimie Garcia (Cardinals), Shaun Marcum (Brewers), Bronson Arroyo (Reds)--Garcia is the single most underrated pitcher in baseball right now (swiftly followed by Latos.) [Cards +5, Brewers +2]
SP4- Mike Leake (Reds), Randy Wolf (Brewers), Jake Westbrook (Cardinals)--Mike Leake has been steadily improving year after year, and is on the verge of a breakout year, according to some analysts. [Reds +5, Brewers +2]
SP5- Aroldis Chapman/ Homer Bailey(Reds), Chris Narverson (Brewers), Kyle Losche (Cardinals)--If the chapman experiment works out, he could be one of the most deadly pitchers in the league. And if it doesn't, Homer Bailey gets the chance to shine. Bailey has been poised for a breakout year for a couple of seasons now, but this could be the year, now that he knows that he is legitimately fighting for a spot. [Reds +5, Brewers +2]
John Axford (Brewers), Ryan Madson (Reds), Jason Motte (Cardinals) [Brewers +5, Reds +2]
Reds (+5), Brewers (+2), Cardinals.
PREDICTED NL CENTRAL STANDINGS:
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