2014 SEASON PREVIEW (PART 6): Best Case/Worst Case for… the NL CENTRAL (with Getty Images)

Oh, boy, the NL Central! It’s time for another round of Best Case/Worst Case. And, since the Cubs are in this division, you know there’s going to be a worst case. And, of course, they all have at least vaguely-connected images from Getty on them. Yeah!

(Sorry, Cubs fans)

St. Louis Cardinals

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Best-Case Scenario: World Series title, obviously. They aren’t that different a team from last year aside from losing Carlos Beltran and Edward Mujica as well as trading the not-what-he-used-to-be David Freese.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Rally Squirrel returns… rabid and with a taste for human flesh.

Worst-Case Scenario That Could Actually Happen: Injuries to the pitching staff, particularly Adam Wainwright.

Pittsburgh Pirates
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Best-Case Scenario: .500 again! The playoffs again! And this time, going further than the LDS, but all the way to the World Series.

Worst-Case Scenario: Scurvy.

Worst-Case Scenario That Could Actually Happen: The rotation and bullpen regress while Andrew McCutchen has a post-MVP hangover.

Cincinnati Reds

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Best-Case Scenario: It’s a team that’s good enough to win the World Series if their pitching works out… but that’s a big if. Still, best-case scenario remains World Series.

Worst-Case Scenario: Billy Hamilton runs so fast that he breaks the sound barrier, making everyone in the stadium go deaf.

Worst-Case Scenario That Could Actually Happen: The pitching doesn’t do it, and the Reds go nowhere in the playoffs, if they make it at all.

Milwaukee Brewers

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Best-Case Scenario: Ryan Braun comes back from his Steroid-related… break… and returns to form despite the fact he, presumably, is no longer… doing the thing he was suspended for. The rotation does well and the Brewers stay in it for awhile before fading late in the season.

Worst-Case Scenario: Prohibition.

Worst-Case Scenario That Could Actually Happen: More-or-less what happened last year, only with Ryan Braun playing the whole season. Well, okay, it could get worse: they could be worse than the cubs.

Chicago Cubs

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Best-Case Scenario: Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro continue to develop, nobody gets hurt, and Theo Epstein’s Master Plan (C) continues.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Brewers try to bring Hank the Dog into the stadium. The Cubs refuse his adorableness. Angered, Hank casts another curse upon the Cubs. Soon, Rizzo and Castro are hurt, Jeff Samardzija has decided to go back to football, the Cubs are spiraling to one of the worst records ever, and Theo Epstein runs away screaming “NO! NO! NEVER! THERE IS NO HOPE! NONE!”

Worst-Case Scenario That Could Actually Happen: Injuries and being in a tough division lead to the team being one of the worst in Cubs history. Rizzo and Castro have slump seasons, too.

 

Next time: The NL East!

NL Wild Card Game Preview/Prediction

Like I said yesterday, it’s really hard to predict any single game, and that holds true for tonight. Sure, you’d think the the Pirates- who handled the Reds in their season-ending series- would win, especially with home field and tens of thousands of screaming fans who have waited since 1992 to see playoff baseball. However, again, one game is hard to predict.

That said, I like the Pirates’ chances tonight.

For one, they have the advantages I mentioned above- having shown they can beat the Reds and also having home field. For another, they are better set up to win tonight in other aspects.

Take pitching, for example. The Pirates will be sending Francisco Liriano to the mound. He has a 1.49 ERA in PNC Park, and has lost a grand total of once there this season. In contrast, the Reds have Johnny Cueto on the mound. While probably the better pitcher than Liriano under most circumstances, this will be only Cueto’s third start after returning from a DL stint and that carries huge risk, especially since the Pirates have a better bullpen than the Reds.

While, admittedly, the Pirates’ bullpen has had it’s ups and downs just like every other bullpen, the fact is that Fangraphs lists Pittsburgh’s relievers has having near two more Wins Above Replacement than the Reds’ bullpen. Although it’s something of a simplification, this essentially means that a team with the Pittsburgh bullpen would win two more games than, say, a team with the Reds bullpen. That might not seem a lot, but when you remember how razor-thin some races are in baseball, it can make a big difference. Also, I’m not exactly confident in how well Dusty Baker will do managing the bullpen in tonight’s game, although admittedly managerial comparisons are sometimes heresay.

However, the Reds do have two advantages. The first is the x-factor that is Billy Hamilton. If he gets on base- whether by getting a hit or by pinch-running- then the whole game situation could change, as his speed provides both a real (he can actually steal bases and beat throws) and psychological advantage. The second is that they are better at getting on base.

However, in general, I’m going with the momentum and home field advantage: I predict the Pirates win 6-3. Just don’t quote me on it… unless I’m right.

German ballplayer Donald Lutz made history last night

Last night, during the Reds-Cardinals game, history was made: Donald Lutz made his debut, grounding out in his lone pinch-hit AB against Adam Wainwright.

What’s so special about that, you ask? Well, Lutz, in making his Reds debut, became the first German Major League Baseball player in history (there have been some that were born on military bases there or who came over to America as young children, but Lutz is the first player who can truly be said to be “from Germany”). Although born in Watertown, NY, he grew up and spent essentially his entire childhood with his mother in Germany, not playing baseball until his teenage years.

Who knows how long this first stint for Lutz will last (he is, after all, mainly on the roster right now as a replacement for Chris Heisey while he is on the DL), but still, it’s not every day you can say that something happened yesterday in baseball that hadn’t happened before. So congratulations to Donald Lutz, the first German MLB player in history.

MVP of Yesterday (April 22, 2013): Jay Bruce

The MVP of Yesterday is Jay Bruce, who went 2-5 with a HR and 3 RBIs. However, it’s not just that: in the bottom of the 13th inning of Cincinnati’s game against the Cubs, his 2-run double tied up the game at 4. Bruce would then score the walk-off run when Cesar Izturis singled to left.

MVP standings (after the jump):

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