Milwaukee Brewers - 84 wins
Cincinatti Reds - 79 wins
Houston Astros - 77 wins
St. Louis Cardinals - 75 wins
Pittsburgh Pirates - 73 wins
CHI: We're looking at a team here who, in my estimation, does not have the best offense in the league and does not have a great pitching staff, but is still the best team in the division. The Cubby lumberjacks are led by Alfonso Soriano (123 OPS+ - adjusted on base plus slugging, 33 HR - home runs), Derrek Lee (.299 EqA - equivalent average), and Aramis Ramirez (129 OPS+), with expectations of big things from Geovany Soto (.424 OBP - on base percentage - in AAA, with a similar .433 OBP in 18 games in the bigs) and Kyosuke Fukudome (.443 OBP in Japan). On the other side, the pitching features the big arm and big gut of Carlos Zambrano (7.4 K/9 - strikeouts per nine innings, but a 4.2 BB/9 - walks per 9). Ted Lilly put up good numbers last year (.286 OBPA - on base percentage against, 3.16 K/BB - strikeouts to walks ratio), as did Rich Hill (.305 OBPA, 2.9 K/BB). Carlos Marmol (.282 OBPA, 12.5 K/9) is probably the best relief option, but former good pitcher Kerry Wood (.310 OBPA, 8.9 K/9) will be making his home in the bullpen this season. The Cubs have a few options all around.
MIL: Milwaukee has the most potent line-up in the Central. There's Rickie Weeks (108 OPS+), Ryan Braun (153 OPS+, 34 HR), Prince Fielder (.323 EqA, 50 [!] HR), Corey "Eurasian Eyes" Hart (.293 EqA), Mike Cameron (.270 EqA), and some other guys! Enough to give the Brewers a good run, but not enough to overcome a lackluster rotation. Ben Sheets (.299 OBPA, 2.86 K/BB) is the ace, but not quite acey enough. Yovani Gallardo (.307 OBPA, 2.73 K/BB) is set to be the breakout sensation of 2008, but not quite breakouty enough. Dave Bush (.338 OBPA, 3.05 K/BB) is sufficient, but not quite sufficienty. Jeff Suppan (.356 OBPA, 1.68 K/BB) sucks. Toss in Eric Gagne (.320 OBPA, 2.43 K/BB) as the cherry on top of the mediocrity.
CIN: Today's Reds may not be a Big Red Machine, but it's safe to call them an Average Red System of Automated Pulleys. Ken Griffey Jr. (119 OPS+, 30 HR) had a resurgance last season, and if he can maintain an injury-free season, he could compliment Adam Dunn (.304 EqA, 40 HR, .386 OBP) and Scott Hatteburg (.291 EqA, 120 OPS+). In an MLB with few reasonable second base options, Brandon Phillips (105 OPS+ but with a .331 OBP) offers a slightly above average option, which any Cincy fan should be happy with. Aaron Harang (.289 OBPA, 4.19 K/BB) is a nice #1, but most of the Reds' staff resembles Bronson Arroyo (.338 OBPA, 2.48 K/BB) and Matt Belisle (.343 OBPA, 2.91 K/BB) - wild and disappointing, but with a good year, could maybe offer a 2005 White Sox. I just don't think that good year is this year. Fransisco Cordero (.274 OBPA, 12.2 K/9, 4.78 K/BB) is a nice closer, and a decent signing for a team that maybe had more pressing needs to address.
HOU: Welcome to Bizarro World, where the Astros have good hitting and shitty pitching. Allow me to introduce you to Hunter Pence (.297 EqA, 130 OPS+), Lance Berkamn (.303 EqA, 131 OPS+) and Carlos Lee (.294 EqA, 126 OPS+). These guys head a line-up that could eat up the weak NL Central pitching. Sadly, the Astros have that same lackluster pitching the other guys' do. Roy Oswalt (.319 OBPA, 2.57 K/BB) is set for a decline based on pedestrian numbers last season, while Wandy
STL: Recently, I was watching Saturday Night Live, and it was so bad I thought I was watching MadTV. Similarly, there will be times when you're watching the Cardinals and may think you're watching Pittsburgh. This is a team that could struggle to get runs with guys like Adam Kennedy (.282 OBP) and Cesar Izturis (.302 OBP) getting regular time. There are questions about Albert Pujols' shoulder and if he will have surgery if the team is tanking (which it will), but presuming all goes well, this is a guy that hit .332 EqA with 32 HR while supposedly dealing with some health issues. Troy Glaus (.282 EqA, 120 OPS+) should continue to be serviceable, while Chris Duncan (.284 EqA, 21 HR) should continue to grow (as a player, not vertically). As for the pitching, well, I'll let them speak for themselves - Adam Wainwright (1.94 K/BB), Braden Looper (1.71 K/BB), Joel Piniero (2.31 K/BB), Jason Isringhausen (1.93 K/BB).
PIT: Where St. Louis has a handful of options at the plate, the Pirates have less. Adam LaRoche (.273 EqA, 21 HR) and Jason Bay (.258 EqA, 21 HR) are basically the only weapons. The pitching is even more disappointing, with guys like Tom Gorzelanny (.336 OBPA, 1.99 K/BB) and Ian Snell (.325 OBPA, 2.6 K/BB) offering a glimmer of hope that won't be realized. Matt Morris (.355 OBPA, 1.67 K/BB) hasn't had an average season since 2005, and he hasn't had a good season since 2003. That was a curious acquisition by the Pirates. I'm not all negative, however; I love Matt Capps (.266 OBPA, 4.0 K/BB) in the bullpen, and on a better team, he would be recognized as a high calibur closer.