Each week, The Herald-Whig sports staff and a member of the WGEM sports department will debate a pertinent topic.
Here is this week's question:
"What should we expect from the Cardinals and Cubs this season?"
Matt Schuckman, Sports Editor
Although the realistic goals are different for each franchise, one word sums up what each franchise promises to offer.
In the Cardinals' case, it's intriguing to think this could be a World Series contender. The Redbirds have an ace, several live arms and a legitimate closer, making them capable of winning any series.
The lineup features an All-Star left fielder capable of collecting another 100 RBIs, a first baseman whose ability to hit in clutch situations was unparalleled last season and a Gold Glove catcher considered to be the best in the business.
And the role players make this team complete.
To top it off, the lingering feeling they choked in the playoffs -- Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said that himself -- has given this team incentive and drive. That makes me believe there will be another Red October.
Meanwhile, the intrigue in the Windy City isn't centered around postseason possibilities. It's based on potential. How much better can the Cubs be?
Well, the Cubs need to be better. The Theo Epstein experiment is in place, and with a cornerstone of the rebuilding process set with first baseman Anthony Rizzo returning, there is a possibility the Cubs wind up winning 75 games.
The bottom line is this: The victory total needs to improve. The quality of play has to get better. And progress must be made.
Should we expect that? Without a doubt.
The Cardinals are one of the National League mainstays, a viable contender year in and year out. The Cubs are working to get there. As this season progresses, both fanbases will have reason to believe -- and expect -- good times are ahead.
Blake Toppmeyer, Sports Writer
Despite the lowly Houston Astros moving to the American League, neither the Cardinals nor Cubs will finish in last in the NL Central. That honor will go to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The more compelling question, of course, is will either team finish first?
I'll say no, and it's not because I'm on the Cincinnati Reds bandwagon. I'll take the Milwaukee Brewers to finish first in the Central with the Cardinals a spot behind.
The key for St. Louis will be how well a talented, but fairly young, pitching staff holds up. If Shelby Miller pitches like he did in the minor leagues, if Lance Lynn pitches like he did during the first half of last season, and if Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia stay healthy, the Cardinals are probably good enough to contend for a World Series. We know the Cardinals will hit. They always hit. I just see too many question marks in the rotation to pick them to win the division. I'll take them to win 89 games and claim a Wild Card spot.
The Cubs should be much improved this season. Having said that, it's easy to improve when you went 61-101 the year before.
Chicago has two of the most talented young stars in the game in shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Left fielder Alfonso Soriano quietly had a really good year last season. Beyond that, the lineup won't scare many people.
The Cubs' rotation has some nice arms, including Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson. The problem is they don't have an Adam Wainwright, Johnny Cueto or Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation. That will hurt Chicago. So will having the always erratic Carlos Marmol pitching the ninth inning. Overall though, it should be a much more tolerable season on the North Side. I'll pencil the Cubs in for 74 wins.
Josh Rizzo, Sports Writer
Expectations for the St. Louis Cardinals should be extremely high. An explosive lineup, led by Matt Holliday and David Freese, should keep the Cardinals in a tight race for the National League Central title with the Cincinnati Reds.
Finding consistency in the rotation will be the key for St. Louis. Without Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright will move into the No. 1 slot, and Jaime Garcia, who has had injury issues in the past, will move into the No. 2 slot. Will Garcia be able to stay healthy and in the rotation?
For the Chicago Cubs, expectations should still be low. They are still rebuilding and are a few years away from seriously contending.
The Cardinals and the Reds are the clear-cut favorites.
Chicago fans seems to be excited by first baseman Anthony Rizzo, so that will provide some hope for the future. In the present, pitching will be an issue for the Cubs. Matt Garza and Scott Baker will be injured, with Jeff Samardzija taking the spot.
Josh Houchins, WGEM SportsCenter Host
Well, can both still petition to get the Astros back in the NL Central? That team will be terrible. I digress.
Wins? Being straightforward, the Cardinals could max out at about 90 while the Cubs could touch 75. And those two numbers could be high for both.
Injuries may damper early success for the Cardinals, but if the pitching staff led by the recently overpaid Adam Wainwight can be a true staff by July, they could flourish down the stretch and claim the division.
The Cubs need one thing from its new pitching rotation full of No. 4 starters -- innings. Combine that with the continued rise of Anthony "Don't Call Me Josh" Rizzo and a stud shortstop who just needs to pay attention more, and a .500 record could be close.
And if not, just enjoy your Old Style even more and remember that it's summer and there's no snow in sight.