NL Central - The Chicago Cubs

While the Chicago Cubs delivered a 2008 NL Central Championship, the fact that they made it no further made the season seem like a complete failure. They met a hot team in the Los Angeles Dodgers, and were unable to compete in that series...

The outfield: The Cubs added a much needed left-handed hitter in Milton Bradley over the off season, and it should prove to be an interesting storyline throughout the season. The addition wasn't a bad one, but everyone is waiting for Milton's first meltdown (we probably won't have to wait too long). Bradley, similar to Alfonso Soriano, is often injured which has to be unnerving for Cub fans. If both of these two go down for an extended period of time, Sweet Lou might as well call in the season... and it is more likely than you might think. The two combined for 235 games played last year... If they can stay similarly healthy this year, then the Cubs should be ok. I would like to see Soriano moved lower in the order for obvious reasons, and Bradley/Soriano hitting back-to-back could prove to be very productive. If healthy, Soriano will hit .270, 30, 100 and 25 SBs, but expect a minor injury somewhere during the season. Bradley should also put up good numbers barring injury. Centerfield is a bit of a question mark, but I like Reed Johnson. He is good on defense, covering a lot of ground, and his bat is steady. Fukudome will come off the bench, as well as Joey Gathright, recently signed in the free agent market. These two are above-average bench players, and if Fukudome can learn how to swing like a normal human being, then the centerfield job could be all his.

The infield: The departure of Mark DeRosa to Cleveland not only saddens the Cubs fan sentimentally, but it should also sadden them materialistically. DeRosa was the glue that held the team together, in more ways than one. The fact that he could play good D at first, second, third and the corner outfield positions added more versatility than I think people realized. He was also a leader on a team needed one. The Cubs will lose their two leaders from last year, Wood and DeRosa... This is scary when you consider who is left on the team to be the leaders... That being said, Mike Fontenot will likely take over the second base job, and should do so in a steady, if non-spectacular fashion. (He reminds me of Mickey Morandini). Aramis will continue to be a clutch hitter with above-average defense. He will also refuse to run out flyballs and groundballs, irritating his viewers. Derrek Lee is one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball, which is more important than many realize. Lee has saved Aramis countless errors over the years, believe me. Lee's bat has taken somewhat of a slide over the past couple of years and I can't imagine it will get any better. Expect .280, 18 and 85. The Riot, Ryan Theriot will start at shortstop... and will do nothing spectacular, but nothing detrimental either. And the crown-jewel of the Cubs infield, Geovanny Soto will have another good year, barring injury. How he improved so dramatically on defense and hitting over the past two seasons is amazing. The reserves in the infield are lackluster, and far worse than last year's... Aaron Miles is several steps down from DeRosa and recently-added Paul Bako is no Henry Blanco on defense or at calling a game.

"Henry Blanco is a wet-dream of a backup catcher." - SWG correspondent Tommy Birch

The pitching staff: The pitching staff will be the Cubs strongsuit this year, and if they can add Peavy (which is looking less likely as time goes on) they would have one of the best staffs in recent memory. The rotation looks like this... Z, Lilly, Dempster, Harden and Marshall/Heilman (Why the Cubs traded for Heilman, a member of one of the worst bullpens ever, last year (2008 NY Mets), is beyond me... Why do you want a pitcher with a 5.21 ERA???). I think Marshall is the favorite for the fifth start job and I am anxious to see if he can put it all together this year. Hes a solid lefty, with a good breaking ball and I think he has the makeup to be a decent starter. Zambrano will continue to be inconsistent, but will have some tremendous outings over the span of the season. He will also hit about .320 with around 5 homers... Not joking... Dempster had a breakout year last season, which is slightly odd because he is nearly 33 years old. I can't imagine he will have as good of a season this year but should pitch well. Harden will dominate when he is healthy, which won't be more than half the season. Lilly is underrated and will eat up innings and will win 15 games. Thats what he does.The bullpen will be solid, but will squander a copious amount of games, because that is what they do... Jeff Samardzija will hopefully build upon his successes of last year. And the tandem of newly acquired Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol should prove to be successful in the late innings. Marmol will close and should be lights out. He has the best stuff in the game, and people will realize that this year. Chad Gaudin and recently added Luis Viscaino could have strong seasons as well, and will need to. This is a good bullpen on paper, no doubt, but I cannot remember the last time the Cubs have had a clutch bullpen. I don't think they ever have.

The final player I will talk about for this blog is Micah Hoffpauir. Hoff will fill in at first and rightfield for the beginning of the season. However, keep an eye on this guy. If he starts producing early, he could take the right field spot, moving Bradley to center (awful defensive outfield, but prospectively tremendous hitting outfield).

My prediction for the 2009 Cubs is 92-70, and another NL Central 'Ship... It goes without saying that they need to get a lot further than last year to please real Cubs fans...