We know that the Central division will be a two team race between the Brewers and the Reds, with the Cardinals 3rd and the Cubs fighting to a 4th place finish. That much is a given, the experts have called it. Ok, I am totally joking. Baseball experts love to buy into hype, and that never changes.
The Brewers are exciting because they made big improvements from last year's team. The Reds are exciting because they surprised a lot of experts last year, although it was obvious to me they'd be pretty good. The Cardinals have a reputation of being good. These are were the rankings come from. I see all 4 teams as being good this year.
I think the Cardinals fell back with the loss of Wainwright, and it will take some serious luck for them to maintain contention. They have some dead weight hitters in Schumaker and probably Theriot, and their defense is worse than any of recent years. I expect this to serious impact Garcia and Carpenter the most as groundball pitchers.
The Brewers defense was very bad last year, and got even worse this year with Yuniesky Betancourt, who is also dead weight at the plate. They are solid hitting 3-4-5 with Braun, Fielder, McGehee, but have real questions after that. If you look at Hart and Weeks last year, they were awesome, but if you look at them any other year they are not. Odds are they won't help out much. The pitching added two really good starters, but they are still a complete waste at 4-5. I think McClouth was a good addition for them though, and I am forced to give them serious contention status.
The Reds this year are basically the same team as last year. Last year they won the division, having a lot of things go right. Seemed like it was more of an example of the other teams losing than the Reds winning though. They are serious contenders but can easily be had.
The Cubs are in it to win it this year and they should be able to hang with the other teams. There is a lot of undeserved negative hype keeping them down in the eyes of experts. Pena hit below 200 last year, but he fought injuries and still maintained an ok OBP with 28 homers. He'll rebound for sure. There is nothing wrong with Aramis Ramirez after a rough 2010. Then there are hitters like Castro, Soto, Soriano, Fukudome, and Colvin who are better than the corresponding lineup positions on the other teams. The Cubs lack a Greinke-type ace but the pitching is still very solid, best overall in the division, and the bullpen looks to be air tight.