Decisions are starting to be made, pitchers are being stretched out for more than 30 pitches an appearance, and lineups are starting to get closer to resembling major league lineups rather than a mixture of hopeful minor league prospects. As the season draws closer, we’re going to give you a preseason set of power rankings to get you up to speed for Opening Day.
1. Cincinnatti Reds: The Cincinnati Reds become the favorites in this division purely based off subtractions from other teams. Albert Pujols is no longer a Cardinal, and Prince Fielder is no longer a Brewer. The Reds did make a big trade in the offseason to acquire front line starter Mat Latos from the Padres, and he will join Johnny Cueto at the top of the rotation. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips will bring the offense, and the Reds are sitting pretty before the season gets under way.
2. St. Louis Cardinals: The World Series champions have had a bit of retooling to do since they were spraying champagne in October. Albert Pujols took his talents to Los Angeles, and that leaves a big gap in the lineup for Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman to fill. Hall of Fame head coach Tony LaRussa retired, meaning they will have a new manager on the top step for the first time in 16 season. It’s not all doom and gloom in St. Louis though, they do get Adam Wainright back into their rotation, who missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery. Along with the strength of the rest of the rotation, the Cardinals will once again be competitive.
3. Milwaukee Brewers: Like their divisional counterpart Cardinals, the Brew Crew has a bit of rebuilding to do as well. Prince Fielder left for big money over the winter, and his left handed bat will be sorely missed. They added former Cubs third basemen Aramis Ramirez to the squad, and they do still have the reigning NL MVP in Ryan Braun. With the rotation headlined by Zach Greinke, the Brewers should make noise again in 2012.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates: With the Pirates on the cusp of their 20th consecutive losing season, there seems to be at least a small, minute gleam at the end of the tunnel. The Pirates were the surprise of the National League last year when they managed to stay relevant until August before unraveling at the seams. They locked up Andrew McCutchen to a long term deal and add A.J. Burnett to their rotation, but just crossing the .500 mark for this team would be cause for a parade in the steal city.
5. Chicago Cubs: The Steve Bartman incident of 2003, along with the last century of torture from the baseball gods, continues to burn holes in the souls of Cubs fans everywhere. The good news on the north side is that they took a step in the right direction this winter, trading for Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, who knows a thing or two about killing legendary curses. The bad news is, it takes time to build a team from the ground up, and the Cubs are in year 1 of a multi-year process. Patience Cubs fans, nothing lasts forever.
6. Houston Astros: They finished with the worst record in all of baseball last season, and appear to be spiraling into another failure of a season in 2012. They do have a new owner, Jim Crane, who promises to pump money and provide resources to turn the team around, but it’s not in the foreseeable future. The Astros have a farm system ranked in the bottom half of the entire league and average to below-average baseball appears to be on the horizon for awhile. The good news? They’re doing baseball a favor and bringing back the awesome Colt .45 jerseys that they wore for their first three years of existence.