a 2009 NL East Preview: 2009 MLB National League Central Preview
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2009 MLB National League Central Notebook

 

Cincinnati's hopes of staying in the NL Central race will depend on how their young pitchers perform. Edison Volquez has been a little up and down but appears to be rounding close to 2008 form.

Then there's 23-year-old right-hander Johnny Cueto. Cueto has thrown five consecutive quality starts. The latest was on May 13 against Arizona when he threw 7 very strong innings. He has won four straight games and lowered his ERA to 1.93. That ranks third in the National League. Cueto's stuff arguably matches Volquez because his command and velocity are very consistent.

Cueto had a pretty decent rookie season in 2008 when he went 9-14 with a 2-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. But to this point, he had the Reds tied for first with Milwaukee and St. Louis going into May 14 play.



MILWAUKEE

The old man can still close. When the Brewers signed Trevor Hoffman in the offseason, there certainly wasn't any guarantee that he would be close to the type of closer people remembered in the 1990s and early 2000s.

In fact, Hoffman began the season on the disabled list with an oblique muscle problem. But since his return on April 27, baseball's all-time saves leader -- with 561 -- has been dominant. He's converted all seven save opportunities, has a 0.00 ERA and hasn't allowed a walk in his first eight appearances.

Credit GM Doug Melvin for finding value with the 41-year-old Hoffman on a one-year $6 million deal.

CHICAGO

Alfonso "swinging" Soriano can be the most exciting and maddening player to watch. His power and speed are graceful. His lack of plate discipline can derail his team.

But Soriano isn't going to change because he is one of the most dangerous leadoff men in the game. He led off the May 13 6-4 win at San Diego with a home run. It was the 53rd time Soriano has done that, tying sure Hall of Famer Craig Biggio for second place on the all-time list.

Rickey Henderson has the lead with 81. At 33, Soriano has a chance to catch and pass Henderson before his career is done. Figure that he can probably do this about 4-5 more times this year and close the gap.

As for the strikeouts, Soriano has 1,103 for his career.

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HOUSTON

While most of the Astros starting rotation has been a mess -- Roy Oswalt finally got his first win May 10 against San Diego -- left-hander Wandy Rodriguez has been the emerging story.

The relationship that he has formed with catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez has been the reason for Wandy's start. Although Rodriguez is just 3-2, he carries a very nifty 1.80 ERA and has six quality starts. The ERA ranks second in the national league. The two Rodriguez's have worked well together on calling pitches and keeping runners on base.

Wandy is also becoming more of a strikeout pitcher. He is pace to set a career high in punchouts this year with 176, He has 37 so far.

ST. LOUIS

The Cardinal clubhouse is starting look like your local hospital emergency room. When outfielder Ryan Ludwick went on the disabled list on May 14 with a hamstring injury, he became the fourth important cog to land there.

The others are right-hander Chris Carpenter (oblique), outfielder Rick Ankiel (shoulder) and third baseman Troy Glaus (shoulder). Glaus has been out since the start of the season because he had shoulder surgery back in January.

The lack of depth is hurting. Since Carpenter went down in mid-April, the starters have an ERA of well over 6.00. Plus, there is no production at third base.

 

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PITTSBURGH

If you're Adam LaRoche, you certainly didn't want to be the first to have this happen. The Pirate third baseman became the first player in the big leagues this year to lose a home run because of video replay.

This was the third reversal in the brief history of replay, which began on Aug. 28, 2008. Last year, two players -- Benji Molina and Carlos Pena -- had home runs awarded to them after original calls went the other way.

LaRoche could have used all the help he could get. The career .271 hitter is at .233 for the season and earning a career-best $7.05 million.

 

By Kevin Lonnquist
MLBcenter.com Staff Writer


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