Okay, first off, you should all stop worrying. I will be using the full force of my unleashed magic baron powers to ensure Roy Oswalt will be signed today. It's a Wednesday, I won't be around much, and there is a potential bit of news in the works. Come on, universe, don't let me down.
Third, I have absolutely no time at the moment for a full post. Now, ordinarily that sentence would indicate an 1800 word manuscript after the jump, as I tend to write far more when I'm strapped for time than I do on an ordinary day, but not this time. This time I really do need to keep this short, so that's exactly what I'm going to do.
Here is your discussion topic for the day, gentle readers:
The Cardinals look, at this moment, to be the strongest team in the NL Central. The loss of Albert Pujols certainly hurts, but the return of Adam Wainwright, plus the value of Carlos Beltran, has largely served to mitigate the falloff. The projections mostly see the Cards as a 90-92 win team, and that feels pretty accurate to me. They aren't far and away the best team in the division, mid-2000s style, but they are a very strong squad on paper.
I see the NL Central as a three-team race in 2012. The Cubs are still in the early stages of their rebuilding process, the Astros aren't going to be good until they've long since bid the NL adieu, and the Pirates, while intriguing, don't look like serious contenders just yet. They may make it to .500, but I don't think they're making any real noise in the division race this year.
So that leaves the Cincinnati Reds and the Brewers from The Good Land. The Brewers were the cream of the crop last year in the Central (until the playoffs, that is; suck it, Milwaukee!), while the Reds fell off from their 2010 pace to finish third. The Reds went out and picked up Mat Latos and Ryan Madson, while the Brewers lost Prince Fielder and a third of Ryan Braun. On paper the Brewer rotation is still better, with Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke still forming a remarkably potent one-two, but I do worry about Shaun Marcum going forward. The Reds have Latos and Johnny Cueto, but are also paying Bronson Arroyo an enormous amount of money to watch his chorus line leg kick and 82 mph meatballs.
Here's the question: which of those two teams are you more afraid of? The projections will tell you the Brewers are still a hair better than the Reds -- though I haven't seen any projections yet which specifically have Braun missing 50 games -- but I'm not so sure. Personally I fear the Reds a bit more, largely because I think Jay Bruce is going to have a big year. Not necessarily basing that on anything; call it a gut feeling. I also think Homer Bailey takes a step forward this season. He'll never be the ace we all thought he would be coming up, I don't believe, but I think he could be a solid 2.5-3.0 WAR starter if he could just get his home run rate under control. Of course, pitching in the Great American Bandbox doesn't really help on that front.
So that's my two cents. I think the Reds, not the Brewers, present the biggest threat to a Cardinal return to the playoffs in 2012. Really, it wouldn't take much good or bad to move the needle on any of these teams, as I think all three are fairly closely matched.
What do you think?
Next week I'll have another batch of scouting reports, and the week after that we'll do a Spring Training kickoff chat thread. Take care.