What's up with the presumed opening-day starters for the three NL Central Division favorites? First the Cardinals Adam Wainwright goes down with a bum elbow that required season-ending Tommy John surgery. Then the Reds Edinson Volquez, whom manager Dusty Baker oddly anointed as the opening-day starter before spring training even opened, was thrown off course with visa issues relating to his positive drug test from last year. And now the Brewers newly acquired ace, Zack Greinke, breaks a rib while playing in a pick-up basketball game.
The Reds announced today that Volquez's visa problem appears to have been cleared up and that he's still on track to start opening day. The same obviously can't be said for Greinke, who was likely to open the season for the Brewers against none other than Volquez and the Reds (look for Yovani Gallardo to start instead).
Unlike Greinke, who's only expected to miss a few starts, Wainwright is out for at least the 2011 season and maybe more. It's a devastating blow to the Cardinals, who, by my calculations, were already a step or two behind the Reds and Brewers before the injury. Sure, the Cards still have primo top-end talent in Albert Pujols, Matt Holiday and Chris Carpenter (whose 35-year-old body is already showing signs of breaking down this spring), but the rest of their roster is pretty mediocre.
It's curious (frustrating, actually) that before the injuries to Greinke and Wainwright, many national magazines and so-called experts were picking the Reds to finish third in the division despite having the deepest roster and most complete team of the three contenders. That unfortunate train of thought was no doubt influenced by the fact that the Reds largely stood pat this offseason while the Brewers added starters Greinke and Shaun Marcum and the Cardinals … uh, they added Ryan Theriot and an aging Lance Berkman, both of whom are steep downgrades defensively. Sometimes standing pat is the right thing to do — especially when so many Reds haven't yet reached their full potential.
Oh, how things can change quickly. MLB Network did its “30 Clubs in 30 Days” preview on the Reds this week, and both hosts — Dan Plesac and John Hart — picked them to win the division. The two analysts said the Reds were solid in every phase of the game. Plesac went as far as to call Joey Votto a "beast" and that Aroldis Chapman has the nastiest left-handed stuff since Randy Johnson.