6. Houston Astros – After the recent trade, it is official, the Astros are officially Happless. The good news is that this team is actually in a rebuild and after blowing up the roster has unequivocally dropped them to the basement of the Central.
5. Chicago Cubs – Chicago is a great place to take in a baseball game. It is unfortunate that the Chicago fans cannot get some kind of return on their commitment to their fabled cubbies. The Cubs have some great talent on the farm...the issue is the high priced lack of talent filling out the roster.
4. Milwaukee Brewers – it is hard to succeed when you lose of the premiere mashers in the league. The effects are felt up and down the lineup. There is also rumours bandying about losing Greinke. That’s a tough 1-2 punch in a brew filled belly.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates – I am not sure if Bonilla, Van Slyke and Bonds have returned to Pittsburgh under the assumed names ‘McCutchen, Presley and Jones’ a la Juan Carlos Oviedo/Leo Nunez but the results have been good. Realistically, this is a team that has received great pitching out of a number of castaways. Unfortunately, I think that the Bucs ‘smoke and mirrors’ approach won’t last another 50 games.
2. Cincinnati Reds – Kind of surprised to see the Reds leading the Central but someone has to be in first. The bullpen has been untouchable though. It will be interesting to see how the Reds fair without Votto in the lineup for an extended period although Frazier has filled in nicely. I anticipate a slight fall from grace without the Canadian clubber.
1. St. Louis Cardinals – Lightning always strikes twice. Isn’t that the saying? The Cards are just far enough out of the divisional lead to mimic last year’s comeback. Although it seems as though the Cards should have suffered offensively considerably without Pujols it has not been the case. Players have stepped up in his absence and it would not surprise me to see the Cards sneak back into the top spot.
5. Kansas City Royals – A wealth of young talent scattered across the roster and more waiting in AAA with Myers but not ready to contend yet. This team will challenge shortly assuming they are able to fence in all of the talent long enough to put the jersey numbers on the same roster.
4. Minnesota Twins – The Twins have had a couple of bright spots (Plouffe, Revere) emerge among what has unfortunately been a lost season. Injuries to starting pitching coupled with a slow return to health have kept the Twins in the basement. However, they’ll manage to get out of the gutter as health and performance concerns fade.
3. Cleveland Indians – On paper, this team presents more like the teams it stands above. The OF has been solid (Damon not included) even without Sizemore for the 8th straight year. Kipnis has been a solid MI as a rookie. Starting pitching has been anything but spectacular and aside from Chris Perez rants the bullpen hasn’t created much buzz either.
2. Chicago White Sox – Welcome back Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy. What a difference a year makes. Strong performances by De Aza, Rios, Pierczynski coupled with the above make you question Ozzie’s managing style. Sale has been dynamite as a starter and the bullpen has not faltered too often with Addison Reed closing shop.
1. Detroit Tigers – Charlie Sheen is not the only prominent member of society touting Tiger blood. The recent acquisition of Infante and Sanchez should only strengthen this team for a playoff push. They may roster a Prince but the Tigers will finish as Kings of the AL Central.