2010 record: 75-87
Biggest offseason acquisition: Matt Garza, who, along with Carlos Zambrano, could give the Cubs the angriest 1-2 pitchers in baseball.
Biggest offseason loss: Tom Gorzellany, on purely technical grounds.
Is this the year that the Cubs…: Whatever you were going to say, no.
Best name on 40-man roster: Welington Castillo, Dominican duke.
The That Guy’s on This Team? Award: Kerry Wood, whose presence here seems more weird than it should.
Spring standout: Last year’s star callup Starlin Castro has 12 RBIs and 4 home runs, which can only mean his untimely demise is imminent.
Probable Opening Day starter: I’m sure Zambrano has already made it abundantly clear to Mike Quade that he will start on Opening Day.
Biggest question for 2011: Has Alfonso Soriano been so underwhelming for so long he’s come all the way back around to being underrated?
Strengths: Idyllic ballpark with laissez faire attitude toward the wearing of shirts
Weaknesses: The oppressive weight of history
Semi-serious assessment: The Cubs are a little better than I first thought before taking a closer look at their lineup. Carlos Pena is a good fit for Wrigley, and Garza should fare well in the National League. I don’t know if it adds up to contending per se, but I think they’ll enjoy a solid season of not completely sucking.
2010 record: 91-71, won division title, lost division series to Phillies
Biggest offseason acquisition: Edgar Renteria, I guess?
Biggest offseason loss: Ancient lefty Arthur Rhodes, who left for Texas.
How does a team recover from getting no-hit in their first playoff game: Clearly, the answer is, they don’t.
Best name on 40-man roster: Chris Valaika. It’s just fun to say.
The That Guy’s on This Team? Award: It still seems weird to me that Miguel Cairo is on this team. Or any team, actually.
Spring standout: Joey Votto is tearing it up as usual, and should undoubtedly be good enough this season to be snubbed for the All Star Game yet again.
Probable Opening Day starter: Edinson Volquez, who proves that it is possible to take performance enhancing drugs and somehow escape the tsk-tsking of the sports press.
Biggest question for 2011: When Dusty Baker destroys Aroldis Chapman’s arm, will the sound of it exploding be more of a pop or a boom?
Strengths: Powerful lineup, solid starting corps
Weaknesses: Vastly overrated chili
Semi-serious assessment: Somehow I’d completely forgotten the Reds won the division last year, and I suspect a lot of other people did, too. This is a quietly great team. I don’t know how that’s possible, when it’s a team whose success is predicted so much on big bats like Votto and Jay Bruce. Still, I think the lineup plus starters like Volquez, Johnny Cueto and, yes, Bronson Arroyo means they’re the (slight) favorites to win the division again.
2010 record: 76-86
Biggest offseason acquisition: Either Clint Barmes or Bill Hall. Yup.
Biggest offseason loss: Tim Byrdak might be it. The Astros didn’t lose too many pieces this winter, although maybe they should have.
What can Astros fans look forward to this year?: About 81 home games.
Best name on 40-man roster: Jason Bourgeois. What a sell out, man.
The That Guy’s on This Team? Award: Brett Myers, just because I think that wife-beating prick should be under a rock somewhere.
Spring standout: Youngster Brett Wallace has 7 doubles and 17 RBIs, which is how many the ZIPS projection system thinks he will have all year. Pretty harsh, ZIPS.
Probable Opening Day starter: Myers. I’ve got nothing else to say except, fuck that guy.
Biggest question for 2011: Is finishing above the Pirates enough of an accomplishment, and can they achieve even that modest goal this year?
Strengths: Stadium with built in locomotive convenient to commuters
Weaknesses: Rock-stupid front office
Semi-serious assessment: Is this the worst team in the majors? The Pirates and Royals might finish with worse records this year, but each of those teams has good, toolsy prospects either in the majors already or on their way. The Astros can not make such a claim, unless Hunter Pence still counts as a prospect (he doesn’t). So not only will they be very bad this year, but barring a miracle, they will be very bad next year as well. I know you can’t really say that about any team, but with the Astros, you kinda can. Sorry.
2010 record: 77-85
Biggest offseason acquisition: Zack Greinke, stolen in the dead of night while the Royals blissfully slumbered.
Biggest offseason loss: The immortal Alcides Escobar, one of baseball’s top 50 prospects last year who promptly stunk up the proverbial joint in major league action.
Is this the most improved team from last year to this year?: Possibly, and if not, most of the fans will be too drunk to notice.
Best name on 40-man roster: Cody Scarpetta, the WASPiest mobster ever.
The That Guy’s on This Team? Award: Takashi Saito, who has found a new team to grossly overvalue him.
Spring standout: Casey McGehee has 4 homers, showing all the promise of his Kruk-ian physique.
Probable Opening Day starter: With Greinke on the injury shelf, Yovani Gallardo will get the nod, as long as he allows himself to be chained down, thus obviating the danger of any rogue pickup basketball games.
Biggest question for 2011: Is this Prince Fielder’s last year in a Brewers uniform? If so, could that uniform be used as a tent for refugees in a war-torn land?
Strengths: Softball-esque lineup, excellent starters
Weaknesses: Fattening local cuisine
Semi-serious assessment: The Brewers were wise to recognize a soft-ish division and to try and capitalize on one more year of Fielder and Ryan Braun, bolstering their pitching staff with Greinke and Shawn Marcum. Those two plus Gallardo makes for one of the best top of the rotations in the league. The only thing that makes me doubt their chances: The Reds are almost the same exact team as the Brewers, with their homer-iffic lineup and good-to-great 1-2-3 starters. Should be an interesting race for the division title, one that I don’t see any other team inserting itself into.
2010 record: 57-105
Biggest offseason acquisition: Kevin Correia. Yes, the Kevin Correia.
Biggest offseason loss: Lastings Milledge and his unique hip-hop stylings.
What is the talent level of the Pirates’ young players?: Very raw, like a tiny unpeeled onion.
Best name on 40-man roster: Gorkys Hernandez, one of my all-time favorite baseball names.
The That Guy’s on This Team? Award: Matt Diaz, who still can’t properly pronounce his own last name.
Spring standout: Pedro Alvarez is working on the bad kind of standout with 21 Ks so far. He’s not a pitcher, by the way.
Probable Opening Day starter: Correia has been announced as the starting pitcher. And if you’re wondering why, take a look at some of the other arms on this staff.
Biggest question for 2011: Will this team be unwatchably bad or just infuriatingly so?
Strengths: Amazing ballpark, reflected glory from the Steelers
Weaknesses: Sid Bream
Semi-serious assessment: I was tempted to say that the Pirates could surprise some people this year, and then I took a look at their pitchers. Hoo boy… An enormous amount of talent in the batter’s box, from hitters like Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, but for whatever reason, the Pirates’ consistently high draft picks have never produced a frontline starting pitcher. Or even a serviceable one. (The closest they’ve come in recent years is Zach Duke, so, yeah.) They could be right on the cusp of things, or they could still be years away. I hope former, but the lack of even acceptable pitching makes me fear the latter.
2010 record: 86-76
Biggest offseason acquisition: The newly be-bearded Lance Berkman.
Biggest offseason loss: Adam Wainwright’s elbow.
Can Dave Duncan revive the career and arm of Kyle McClellan?: I would never doubt the man who made Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver look like aces.
Best name on 40-man roster: Maikel Cleto, who I assume has had lots of fun telling people how to spell his first name.
The That Guy’s on This Team? Award: Ryan Theriot, the darling of Wrigleyville not too long ago.
Spring standout: Jon Jay, who’s driven in 14 runs already to compensate for his aggressively anonymous name.
Probable Opening Day starter: Chris Carpenter, back into the ace role thanks to Wainwright’s Tommy John surgery.
Biggest question for 2011: Will Tony LaRussa bat the pitcher fourth just to fuck with us all?
Strengths: Managerial gray matter, resourceful front office
Weaknesses: Mountains of love letters from George Will
Semi-serious assessment: Like the Twins, the Cardinals are an extremely well-run team that finds a way to compete nearly every year by hook or by crook, so I don’t want to dismiss them. However, trying to run with the Reds and the improved Brewers will be very hard to do without Wainwright. Add to this some injury woes for Carpenter and an awful spring for Jaime Garcia, and that makes their task even harder. Would it shock me to see them do well? No. Would I expect this to last all year? Also, no.