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Who holds the key in the NL Central in 2011?
Athlon continues its in-depth preview of the 2011 MLB season. This week, we single out some important names that should be key difference makers for every team. Today, we look at the NL Central.
Chicago Cubs: Carlos Peña, 1B
Which Peña will show up for the Cubs? Will it be the guy who hit .282 with 46 home runs and 121 RBIs in 2007? Or the guy who hit .196 with 28 homers and 84 RBIs last year? That’s the $10 million question. The Cubs are hoping that the free agent first baseman can rebound and add a little muscle in the heart of a lineup with Aramis Ramirez. The team inked Peña to a one-year, $10 million deal to replace Derrek Lee, and he will be counted on to put up big numbers.
Cincinnati Reds: Drew Stubbs, OF
In the post-Adam Dunn/Ken Griffey Jr. era, Cincinnati has focused on having a more balanced lineup. That’s where Stubbs comes in. Stubbs finished 2010 with a team-high 30 stolen bases, but his nonexistent bunting skills, inability to consistently get on base (.329 OBP) and penchant for striking out (team-leading 168 strikeouts) resulted in his ouster from the leadoff role. Regardless of where Stubbs bats in the order, the Reds need their fastest player to take more advantage of his speed, develop his small-ball skills and score 100-plus runs in his second full season in the majors.
Houston Astros: Brett Wallace, 1B
Wallace hit 18 homers in 385 at-bats at Triple-A Las Vegas last season before being traded to the Astros in July and getting his feet wet in the major leagues. Wallace wound up hitting two homers in 144 at-bats, but if he finally begins to blossom at the plate, he could give the Astros another tough out in the middle of the batting order. If Wallace struggles, the team is prepared to move Carlos Lee to first base, which would create a hole in left field. The Astros need Wallace to produce.
Milwaukee Brewers: Zack Greinke, SP
Greinke began making a major difference for the Brewers more than four months before Opening Day. In the aftermath of the trade that brought the former Cy Young Award winner from Kansas City, the Brewers sold more than 1,500 new season tickets, tripling the number of new accounts they had secured before the trade. Greinke’s arrival gave Brewer fans hope, but most important, his insertion at the top of the rotation takes some heat off Yovani Gallardo and gives Milwaukee a starting rotation worthy of the team’s prodigious offense.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Kevin Correia, SP
Considering the lack of options, Correia could be the de facto ace of the Pirates’ staff despite losing his spot in San Diego’s rotation last September. Correia had a rough 2010 as his brother died in a hiking accident in May and he went 10–10 with a 5.40 ERA in 28 games (26 starts). However, good strikeout and ground-ball rates have convinced the Pirates that he is primed for a bounce-back season, and they signed him to a two-year, $8 million contract as a free agent.
St. Louis Cardinals: Colby Rasmus, OF
The Cardinals have a lineup spiced with seasoned All-Stars, but it could be a kid who gives them the necessary additional sock. Rasmus had a turbulent 2010 that featured a spat with manager Tony La Russa and a trade request. Things calmed for Rasmus late in the year, after news of his request became public and Albert Pujols intervened. When comfortable, Rasmus is a burgeoning All-Star who could bring speed and power as the league’s most complete center fielder. His absence proves it. When the Cardinals wheezed for runs in August, Rasmus was injured or scuffling to a .216 average.