Today, Northside Wire takes a look at the top starting pitchers in the National League Central Division. With the loss of the division’s unquestioned ace Adam Wainwright, the debate for the league’s top arm is up for grabs.
1. Zack Greinke #13 Milwaukee Brewers
Greinke maybe a newcomer to the NL Central this season, but this should work in his favor as few NL Central batters have had the chance to face him before. Despite a shaky 2010 outing with Kansas City, where Zack received little-to-no run support, expect Greinke to bounce back this season with numbers similar to his Cy Young award winning campaign of 2009.
Due to his social anxiety issues, Greinke looked towards mid-market clubs as his next home and Milwaukee looks to be an ideal fit for the young right-hander. The Brewers lineup should provide solid run support and allow Greinke to eclipse his win total of last season, which was only 10.
2. Chris Carpenter #29 St. Louis Cardinals
Cardinals fans have to be holding their collective breath as the 2011 season rolls closer. After losing their ace and Cy Young hopeful Adam Wainwright, the pressure has been shifted to Carpenter to not only perform, but to perform and stay healthy. There is hope, however, that if Carpenter can perform as he did in 2010, where he pitched in 33 games – his highest total since 2005 – that Carpenter can fill the void as the staff’s No. 1.
With a lineup that is stacked with sluggers such as Pujols and Holliday, Carpenter should rack up a solid win total as long as he keeps his ERA in the same ballpark as last season’s 3.22. The addition of starter Jake Westbrook should also help to alleviate the pressure on Carpenter’s shoulders as the Cards try to reclaim the Central division title.
3. Johnny Cueto #47 Cincinnati Reds
In his 2010 campaign, Cueto posted a 12-7 record and 3.64 ERA. His 12 wins, 3.64 ERA and .257 opponent batting average were all career bests for the 25 year old right-hander. As a strikeout specialist, Cueto rarely pitches deep in his outings, but his total innings-pitched numbers have been consistent throughout his young career and should serve as a model of consistency.
The NL Central defending champion Reds will need Cueto to perform at a high level again this season if they hope to repeat as division champs.
4. Yovani Gallardo #49 Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers did some serious rotation bolstering this off-season with the addition of ace Zack Greinke, which will alleviate pressure and provide greater pitching matchups for their new No. 2, Gallardo. At just 25 years of age, Gallardo has already posted back-to-back 200 strikeout seasons and flashed a career best 14 wins in 2010.
Gallardo’s numbers are strikingly similar to our No.3 man on this list, Johnny Cueto. As a strikeout specialist, his pitch count can run high and innings-per-outing can be low, but expect Gallardo to improve on last season’s totals in wins and ERA.
5. Matt Garza #17 Chicago Cubs
Selecting Matt Garza, a newcomer to the NL Central, to round out our Top 5 list may surprise a few people, but hear us out. Despite joining a team with over a century of woes, Garza has to be optimistic as he leaves a dwindling Rays team and the an AL East division that features stacked top-to-bottom lineups such as the Yankees and Red Sox. Sure, Wrigley Field is not the most pitcher friendly park in the NL, but no longer facing the DH is another upside to joining the Cubs.
Garza has managed to produce an ERA under 4 and pitch in 30 games in each of the last three seasons in a division that is arguably one of the greatest of all time in terms of offensive production. Garza will man the No. 2 slot in the rotation for the Cubs, which could mean he should avoid the likes of facing Greinke and Carpenter.