It's the NL Central that really compelled me to do these previews this year. Everyone - or at least a lot of people - loves the Cubs this year. I don't. I can't really put my finger on why. And I actually was surprised when I saw something about the Cubs defending their division title this year - I had to go look up to see that they won the Central last year. I forgot how close that division got at the end of the year.
The Cubs didn't win last year, though, because they were better than everyone else. They won because the rest of the division was worse than them. That won't be the case this year.
The Cubs are OK...but I don't think they're better than that. And there are some interesting storylines in Chicago - how will Kosuke Fukudome do? Will Kerry Wood add anything out of the bullpen? But the storyline that will not be addressed is will the Cubs win on the 100th anniversary of their last championship...because they won't.
Most of the rest of the division is a disaster. The Pirates, Astros, and Cardinals are all going in the wrong direction. The Pirates are a mess, and the Astros and Cardinals will be plagued by distractions all year. The Astros have the Miguel Tejada situation, and St. Louis has similar steroid accusations and implications on their team.
For some reason, I like the Reds. The past few years I think I might have even picked them to win the division. I'm not going to do that this year, but I am going to say this - I think the Reds are the next team to come out and surprise people. Like the Tigers in 2006, like the Rockies last year, I think the Reds are the next candidate to do that - maybe even this year. I'm not going to pick them, but they're a team with decent talent that plays in a weak division. They could end up winning the division.
But I think this year Milwaukee will finish what they started last year, and make it to the post-season. They're no great shakes either - a lot of pitching question marks - but they should hit their way through the season. I don't think they'll run away with the Central, but I think they'll win it. And looking through this division closely, I think I understand why so many people are picking the Cubs - there's not a lot else out there. It might not take more than 82 wins to win this division again - it was 85 last year. Here's how I think they'll finish:
1-1: Sunday was a big day for me, basketball-wise. Well, not for me personally, but two of the institutions from which I graduated. I'll start with the loss - Boston University lost to Hartford in the America East semifinals - always an exciting time of year as the conference tournaments get underway in college basketball. Unfortunately, BU couldn't get one more win and get into the championship game. I was especially disappointed because I thought they could really win this year (they got hot at the right time of the year) and then get smoked in the NCAA Tournament.
The good news, though, is that my high school, Holy Cross High School, in Flushing, New York, beat Christ the King for the New York City championship. That's their first championship since 1968. So congratulations, Knights. And here's where it all ties together: Dennis Wolff, head coach of the Boston University men's basketball team - mentioned just a paragraph ago - is also a graduate of Holy Cross High School.