The National League Central features some of baseball’s oldest teams and this year, most of these old teams will be facing imminent change. So let’s take a look at this division set to the tune of I Know You Rider, one of the oldest songs in the Grateful Dead’s repertoire. By most accounts, the “rider” in I Know You Rider refers to a woman, but as applied to each team in the National League Central, “rider” carries a unique meaning. Here it goes . . . .

I Know You Rider
Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone

The St. Louis Cardinals the “Rider” can only mean their first baseman, Albert Pujols. Albert is a free agent at the end of this season and is looking to be paid as though he is the greatest hitter of the 21st century, which he is, and by most accounts the Cardinals can’t afford it. Also unfortunate for the Cardinals is the news that their best pitcher, Adam Wainwright, will be out all season with an arm injury, and All-Star hitter Matt Holiday just had an appendectomy that will keep him out indefinitely. The Cardinals would love to win it all in Albert’s last year, but it doesn’t look like this team is healthy enough to do it. The Cardinals will miss Albert when’s he’s gone.

The Milwaukee Brewers are in much the same position as the Cardinals, as their best power hitter, Prince Fielder, is also a free agent at the end of this season. The Brewers haven’t been great for awhile but seem to have all the pieces in place to do great things this year. This offseason, the Brewers traded for Cy Young winner, Zack Grienke, and may have the best lineup in the NL Central. The Brewers are acting like a team that is going for it. While they may miss Prince Fielder when he’s gone, the Brewers have an excellent chance of celebrating with him at the end of this year.

The Cincinnati Reds won the division last year, lead by NL MVP, Joey Votto. The Reds should be pretty good this year, but having made no significant offseason moves, the Reds will have a tough time battling Brewers for division best. Their lineup is solid but not spectacular and so is their pitching, thought Reds Heads will get to enjoy a full season of Cuban relief ace, Aroldis Chapman, who last year threw a 105 mph fastball. While this group was talented enough to win the NL Central last year, it’s likely the case that the rest of the division has caught up and passed them. In this case, the Rider to be missed is most certainly their successful 2010 season.

_The Sun Will Shine In My Back Door Someday _
March Winds Will Blow All My Troubles Away

While the top half of the division can only look forward to missing their respective Riders in the future, the bottom half of the division, only has sunnier days to look forward to. One of the most appealing themes of baseball is the promise, or at least the hope, that next year will be better. No matter how many games a team loses in a given year, they get to start over next year with 0 wins and 0 losses. Let’s take a look at a few teams getting accustomed to March winds blowing troubles away with the promise of clean records on Opening Day in April.

If anyone appreciates those March winds of change it is the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a world series in one thousand years. The Cubs had a pretty disappointing 2010 season and while they made some moves this offseason like acquiring Matt Garza and Carlos Pena, this is pretty much the same team as last year, only a little older and slower. There are very two bright spots for the Cubs, 21 year old shortstop Starlin Castro who will look to improve on a great rookie season, and strikeout machine Carlos Marmol, the Cubs’ closer. But, in all likelihood, the Cubs will go another year without winning the World Series.

The Houston Astros also had a disappointing 2010 season, but decided to do something about it – namely, break the team down and build it back up, by trading away their best pitcher, Roy Oswalt, and best hitter, Lance Berkman, to load up on younger talent and try to rebuild towards a championship team. The Astros may be decent this summer, but their lineup has many inexperienced players and their shaky bullpen needs a lot of help. Nevertheless, the wheels are in motion, and the sun may be shine on the Houston Astros sooner than later.

Finally, there are the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are technically speaking a major league baseball team, though they haven’t had a winning season since the Grateful Dead toured. The Pirates seem to be perpetually in the rebuilding phase of things. This year, the Pirates have put together a few good hitters and good bullpen, and things may be starting to turn around. But this team lost 105 games last season, and the only question for this team is whether or not they lose more than 95 games this year. My bet is they lose 90. Stay tuned Pirates fans.

This is probably the most competitively balanced division in baseball, and it’s going to be a close race at the top, with the meaningful games being played right up to the end of the season. The Brewers, Reds, Cubs and Cardinals can all finish in anyone of the first four spots, but it likely ends this way: Brewers, Reds, Cubs, Cardinals, Astros and Pirates.