In NL Central, injuries could shift balance of power

In NL Central, injuries could shift balance of power
March 28, 2011, 11:58 pm
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Monday, March 28, 2011
Posted 6:31 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Talk to enough Cubs people in Arizona and you notice they return to the same point: As long as we stay healthy

It will take months before anyone can finish that thought. But there is a sense of guarded optimism around camp, especially when you take a look at the rest of the National League Central.

The Cardinals have already lost 20-game winner Adam Wainwright, who will spend this year recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The Brewers are waiting for their Cy Young candidate Zack Greinke to heal from a fractured left rib suffered while playing pickup basketball. Milwaukee could begin the season with five players on the disabled list: Greinke; outfielder Corey Hart; catcher Jonathan Lucroy; and pitchers Manny Parra and LaTroy Hawkins.

The Reds rotation has also taken a hit, with Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey expected to be placed on the disabled list this week.

Through the course of 162 games, my guess is we will all have to deal with these situations from time to time, Cubs manager Mike Quade said. A couple of (teams) are going to have to deal with it early. If youre fortunate enough to stay healthy knock on wood we have all spring and I hope we do all summer then, yeah, thats a good thing.

But rarely does that happen. So whether its pitchers or regulars, during the course of (a season) youre usually going to be down some of your prime people.

Sure, injuries could shred what looks to be a very solid bullpen on paper. Check back in September to see if Kerry Wood wound up on the disabled list for the 15th time in his career, and confirm that John Grabows left knee held up for an entire season.

Both Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza have made at least 30 starts in each of the past three years. During that time, Carlos Marmol has averaged 79 appearances per season.

That means they are extremely durable or you could argue that theyre eventually due for a physical breakdown, given all the collective stress on their right arms.

But this close to Opening Day, the Cubs are going to focus on the positives.

Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano worked out extensively at the teams facility in the Dominican Republic this winter. Not only are they in better shape, they say they were energized by being around all those hungry, young players.

Marlon Byrd took up boxing and didnt sprint as much in the offseason in order to save his legs. He feels his body is better prepared for all the day games at Wrigley Field. He vows to stay strong in the outfield and through the second half.

Catcher Geovany Soto hasnt felt this good in years, and has no restrictions after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last September.

Carlos Zambrano was joking when he said that the psychologist gave him approval to be alone by himself. Either way the Cubs will be reminded of these two words: Im cured.

Zambranos mental health is a major issue in a division where the margins could be very thin.

Baseball Prospectus rates the Cubs as an 80-win team though thats not far behind the Brewers, projected to be in first place at 85-77.

Even without Wainwright, it would be foolish to dismiss the Cardinals, who have had one losing season in the past 11 years. Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols could be free agents at seasons end, but they wont make that a distraction.

The Reds are still the defending champions in the Central. Their core of young players should make them a factor for years to come.

But it wont take an unbelievable season to contend in a division without an overwhelming favorite. An NL Central team hasnt won a postseason series since the Cardinals won it all in 2006. To get in the tournament, the key could just be staying healthy.

We fully expect to be in contention in the National League Central. (I) dont have any doubt we can do that, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. We won two divisions in a row and then we were supposed to kind of cruise and St. Louis won easily (in 2009). Then they were supposed to cruise and Cincinnati had a great year. The division (got) better.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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