This morning in this space, a short series was started on just what baseball teams and players can surprise us this upcoming season. Who will be the next Aubrey Huff or Jose Bautista? As mentioned in the first installment, if the Fan could know for certainty who or what team that would be, it would be genius. But alas, there is no genius here. Just speculation and musings on who could be this year's big surprises. Those surprises are out there and that's one of the reason why each new season is as highly anticipated as the last. This post covers the National League Central Division. Let's start with the Cubs.
Chicago Cubs - If this team contended in 2011, that would certainly be a surprise. While their payroll is high and the fans are diehard, the team still feels too dysfunctional to be taken seriously. They did make some improvements such as Matt Garza, so you never know. If the Cubs were to contend, Garza would have to be one of the surprises with a big season. Garza has been tantalizing, but has simply never been able to consistently have a great season. Will it be this year in a new league? Could be. If Alphonso Soriano had one more big year in him, that would be a surprise.
St. Louis Cardinals - The Cardinals could be capable of anything this year. It all comes down to pitching of course, but the Cardinals have hurt their pitchers by seriously weakening their defense. LaRussa has pulled it off before, but if this team won the division, nobody would be more surprised than the Fan. As for players, if Lance Berkman had a big year after last year's snooze-fest, then that would be a major surprise. Berkman can be a dynamic and effective offensive weapon. The question is whether he still has that in him or has time passed him by.
The Milwaukee Brewers - The Brewers have put all their chips on the table by acquiring Zack Greinke and Marcum at the expense of most of their minor league talent. If the Brewers did NOT contend this year, that would be a major surprise. It would also be devastating to the organization that has done a fabulous job of building the fan base the last few years. Players who could surprise are Jonathan Lucroy, the young catcher who made his debut last season. He showed about as much patience at the plate as a three year old that has to go to the bathroom. But his minor league stats show lots of patience. He could be a big surprise if he gets 400 at bats. Matt Gamel is going to play multiple positions in 2011. At least that's the plan. If he finally does anything in the big leagues, that would be a surprise.
Houston Astros - This team was a surprise in the second half as they put together an excellent run after starting out as the worst team in the National League. It really would be a surprise if they approached .500 baseball this season. It was a pretty big surprise the success that Brett Myers put together last year. If he were to come close to those numbers again would be a huge surprise. It would be a big surprise if Nelson Figueroa has actually come into his own as a pitcher at the age of 37. But last year he was pretty darn good in the second half. Now that he will start in the rotation, if he stays that good over 30 starts would be a major surprise.
Cincinnati Reds - Their division win last year was one of the year's big surprises. Among the team's surprises were two catchers that hit so well, Joey Votto going all superstar on us and Jay Bruce finally gelling into a fine every day player. Oh, and the Fan would consider Arroyo's season a big surprise as well. Who could surprise us this season? For one, Drew Stubbs could become a star this season. He showed some promise last year once he got his chance, but was inconsistent. If he were to approach a .900 OPS, then that would be a really nice surprise.