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5/02/2007 01:01:00 PM

NL Central: Progess Report

Prince Fielder
Prince Fielder and the Brewers own the best record in baseball.
Frank Orris/WireImage.com
By Albert Chen

With May here, it's time to dish out grades in the NL Central for the month of April.

Brewers
Grade: A
Ben Sheets has been so-so. Dave Bush has a 6.23 ERA. Prince Fielder and Bill Hall haven't warmed up. And yet on Wednesday, Milwaukee had the best record in baseball? According to the folks at Cardinals blog "Viva El Birdos": "The Brewers won’t be easy to catch." Indeed: in a mediocre division, don't be shocked if the Brew Crew run away with first place -- they're for real. Stud prospects Yovani Gallardo (2.42 ERA, 42 Ks in 30 innings) and Ryan Braun (.342 average, .694 slugging at third base) are dominating at Triple-A Nashville and will soon be starring at Miller Park. The Brewers are looking like this year's Tigers. Scout's take: "Their late inning combo of [Derrick] Turnbow and [Francisco] Cordero has been devastating. That's been the key. These two guys looked horrendous during parts of last year but now Turnbow looks like he did a few years back when he was unhittable and Cordero is the dominating guy he was in Texas."

Cardinals
Grade: D
True, their injured ace logged just half a dozen April innings, but the once mighty offense has scored more runs than only the Nats. In fact St. Louis has been outscored 123-84 -- only Washington has a worse run differential. Most disheartening to the Red Bird faithful has been the lack of progress from young hurlers Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright. The good news? Albert Pujols probably isn't going to hit .260 for the rest of the year. Scout's take: "Bottom line: they're not going to finish .500 without a healthy Jim Edmonds [.211 with a .294 OBP]. It's pretty clear that his shoulder is still bothering him. His swing isn't right. I know they're hoping he can play himself into shape but that may not be realistic. This team is toast without him."

Astros
Grade: D
It's a deal the folks in the Crawfish Boxes are gonna be bellyaching over for years: On Dec. 12 GM Tim Purpura dealt away prized pitching prospect Jason Hirsh and three other players for Jason Jennings. The pitcher of the year in the Double-A Texas League in 2005 and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2006, Hirsh has a 3.41 ERA and 25 Ks in five starts for the Rockies and Jennings, a 28-year-old with a 4.71 career ERA, is out with an elbow injury. Meanwhile, the offense -- still punchless with $100 million addition Carlos Lee -- can't score runs. Scout's take: "The offense looks awful but they're not this bad. Lance Berkman is going to hit. Carlos Lee is going to hit. But why isn't Mark Loretta playing more often? The guy is an All-Star and is hitting [.375] but [Craig] Biggio is in there every day hitting .250. I'm worried about the starting pitching: they've got [Roy] Oswalt and no one else that's a No. 2 or even a No. 3 starter."

Cubs
Grade: C+
The Northsiders finished the month in last place and posted their first losing April since 2002 but the Cubbies aren't even close to 2002 bad. Their luck should change: Chicago outscored their opponents by 20 runs and were 0-6 in one-run games. The pitching staff ranks sixth in the majors and take away two bad innings and Carlos Zambrano's unsightly ERA is south of 3.50. Despite a slow start Chicago should be playing meaningful games in September. Scout's take: "Moving [Alfonso] Soriano back to left field is going to help him. I think adjusting to center field was the cause of some of his struggles at the plate. He's going to turn it around. The hamstring injury isn't a big issue. When it's all said and done this lineup is the best in the National League."

Pirates
Grade: B-
Before this year most people didn't know Ian Snell from Ian McKellan even though the left-handed control artist was a 14-game winner. In 34 innings this year he's allowed six runs and one home run and K'd 28 hitters and emerged as the ace of a very promising young starting pitching staff. Once Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, and Adam LaRoche get going, the Pirates could start to win more consistently. Scout's take: "Salomon Torres is awful. They should give Matt Capps a look at closer. I really like Ryan Doumit. He's been injured a lot but he's got big upside and hopefully he'll get a chance to show what he can do. With their starting pitching this team has a lot more promise than they've had in a long time."

Reds
Grade: C+
Last year GM Wayne Krivsky came in and made more deals than Howie Mandel, most notably the notorious Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez trade that netted them a group of relievers. Less than a year later the Reds' biggest headache remains their 'pen -- none of the relievers they received in the trade has pitched for them this year. Look for Krivsky to go out and get more help for a surprisingly strong starting rotation. Is there a more underrated pitcher than Aaron Harang? Scout's take: "I like Matt Belisle. He may be ready to take the step that Harang did when he was 27. Krisvky knew Kyle Lohse from Minnesota and he looks like he's made a great deal in bringing the kid in. This isn't a great team, but it's a team that's going to be competitive in this division. They'll score runs -- they always score runs. But I think they'll surprise people with their pitching."

Around the division

  • Richard Justice says 2009 will be a great year for the Astros. 2007? Not so much.


  • Viva El Birdos say part of St. Louis' problem is that they've simply run into a bunch of hot starters.


  • Good news for Cardinals Nation: Matthew Leach says Chris Carpenter may be back as soon as next week.


  • Derrek Lee says Alfonso Soriano is "trying to do too much to impress."


  • A blog devoted to Josh "Wonderboy" Hamilton.


  • The Pirates are playing decent ball, but attendance in Michael Chabon country is down big.


  • Mike Stanton carries his World Series rings around in a Walgreens bag.

    Labels:

    posted by SI.com | View comments |  
  • Comments:

    Posted: May 2, 2007 10:14 PM   by Andrew
    Firstly, the Astros only gave up two other players besides Hirsh to get Jennings--Willy Taveras and Taylor Buccholz.

    Secondly, the 'Stros starting pitching (save Woody Williams) has been doing fine--take a look at Chris Sampson (3-1 with a 3.55 ERA) and Wandy Rodriguez (24 K's in 26 IP with a WHIP of 1.19). The hitters have just not been able to do much for them, and until they do, they're gonna keep losing.
    Posted: May 3, 2007 10:12 AM   by john
    Ian Snell is a "left-handed control artist?"

    Last I checked, he was right handed and threw heat.
    Posted: May 3, 2007 11:28 AM   by Anonymous
    On top of the Astros not sending four players for Jennings (as was cleared up in the first post above), but the Astros also got another player in the deal: Miguel Asencio.
    Posted: May 3, 2007 7:05 PM   by J-Bizzle
    Hopefully the Brewers can be last years Cardinals as opposed to last years Tigers....
    Posted: May 19, 2007 5:26 PM   by Anonymous
    you know what, i'm tired of people saying that biggio shouldn't be playing, he's so freakin close to getting 3000 hits that i don't care if he stays in our lineup, until he gets number 3000 nothing else matters, by the way he's not been doing terrible he gets hits when we need him to
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