Not unlike a Stephen Strasburg fastball, MLB 12: The Show is rapidly approaching. March 6th grows closer with every passing day, and with that fast approaching release date comes a question that often vexes many gamers: “What team should I be?”. Considering you’re attached to this team for the entirety of a 162 game season plus playoffs, this is a pretty major decision and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
We here at StickSkills are here to help. We’ll be walking you through every team to help you find the one that’s right for you. We continue today with our third division, the National League Central.
Part 1: National League East
Part 2: American League East
The Impact Veterans: Matt Garza, …, hmm. Alfonso Soriano, I guess.
The Young Guns: Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo
The Scouting Report: I’ll just cut to the chase right off the top, this lineup is really bad. There are dark black holes at catcher (Geovany Soto) and third base (Ian Stewart), and there isn’t much sizzle left anywhere else either. Starlin Castro is your star, and he’s the guy you’ll build around. Castro hit .307 with 10 home runs last year out of the shortstop position. That figures to get him a really good contact rating, a minuscule amount of pop (but enough that you’ll run into one every now and then), and at age 21, a sure A for potential. Castro is a sure thing in MLB 12, you can watch him grow into one of the best shortstops in your game if you choose the Cubs. Unfortunately for you, it’s really the only spot that’s on complete lockdown right now. Anthony Rizzo is a promising young bat at age 22, but he’ll be seeing his first full-time gig at the ML level this year. Rizzo might have good potential (B+/A- or so), but he won’t really be all that good ratings-wise for your first year or two in Franchise. He only hit .141 with 1 HR in 49 games at the ML level last year (granted it was in the hitter’s wasteland that is Petco Park), so Rizzo doesn’t appear to be the immediate answer to your offensive woes. Much to Cub fans around the country’s chagrin, Alfonso Soriano is still here. And he was actually sort of productive last year, posting a .244 average with 26 homers and 88 RBI. Soriano’s far from his heyday, but he’ll likely get pretty decent power ratings. As we’ve discussed in the past, it’s easier to hit for a higher average with a lesser contact player in video games, so a person who’s really good at this game could conceivably pull a .275, 35 HR, 100 RBI out of Soriano. He might not be good in real life, but he’s an asset here on a team that doesn’t have many of them. The rest of the lineup is blah. Marlon Byrd is perfectly okay, Reed Johnson hit .309 last year so he’s alright, Darwin Barney’s plenty serviceable, but there’s not much here. This is a bad offensive team, no two ways about it.
Over on the pitching side, it’s all about one man: Matt Garza. Garza was terrific after coming over from Tampa Bay last year, posting a 3.32 ERA in 31 starts. He’s 28, which is the prime of one’s career, but he figures go have a good 5 to 7 dominant years left. He’ll surely get a decent potential rating and that will ensure that Garza continues to be one of the better pitchers in your Franchise for a few years to come. The rest of the rotation is thoroughly unexciting. Ryan Dempster and his high 4 ERA is still here. He does that cool thing with his glove when he pitches, but other than that he doesn’t bring anything to your team. He’s 34 and he’s completely average. What you see is what you get at this point with Dempster, and what you see is someone completely replaceable. Paul Maholm’s here. Anybody care? No? Okay, moving on. Chris Volstad figures in as the #4 guy. He posted a barely sub-5 ERA last year, but he’s only 25 so he has some upside. Hope for a decent potential rating (but don’t expect anything too crazy), and then see if you can get him to progress into a #2 or #3 starter, which is probably his ceiling. At the very least, you can use him to fight Nyjer Morgan. Carlos Marmol’s erratic filth continues to anchor the back of the pen. 34 saves last year for Marmol, but a 4.01 ERA out of the closer spot. He’s 29 and shouldn’t progress to be much better than he is now, I wouldn’t think.
The Strategy: Win later. You have a couple pieces in Castro and potentially Rizzo, but not much now. I’d strongly recommend seeing what you can get for Matt Garza. He’s really good, yes, but that lineup has nobody that scares you at all. If you can get a feared hitter for Garza, or a couple guys that have high potentials to turn into a feared hitter, you should absolutely pull the trigger on that deal. Also, Chicago is a large market team that’s flush with cash. Don’t be afraid to use some of it in free agency to better your team.
The Conclusion: Cubs fans are a devoted bunch, and they better be if they want to take this team. There isn’t a lot here to look forward to, but if you want a rebuilding effort and you want a team that can spend cash in the offseason, the Cubs are a good place to look.
The Impact Veterans: Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Johnny Cueto
The Young Guns: Mat Latos, Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman
The Scouting Report: So what’s the opposite of Chicago’s relatively punchless offense? It’s this team. Joey Votto is where any discussion has to begin, and he is as talented a hitter as there is in baseball. Following up his 2010 MVP campaign with a .309/.416/.531, 29 HR, 103 RBI season, Votto once again figures to be one of the best hitters in The Show. He’s only 28, so he figures to be in his prime for awhile yet, so what you get if you choose Cincinnati is an absolute pillar to build around for years to come. Figure on Votto being one of the best players in the entire game when it ships in March. But Votto is not alone. Brandon Phillips had a very nice year last year, hitting .300 with 18 homers in 150 games. Phillips is 30 now, so the player he is now is who he’ll continue to be, but that player is really good. Expect a good contact rating to pair with pretty decent power. Pairing him with Votto at first gives you one of the best 1B/2B combos in all of baseball. Jay Bruce is still here, and he thrived last year. .256, 32 homers, 97 RBI for Bruce, who is somehow still only 24 years old even though it seems like he’s been around forever now. His contact rating won’t be great (though you could probably still hit for a decent average with him), but you’ll be given a guy with unreal power and possibly even an A potential, making Bruce a very valuable piece to the Reds puzzle. Drew Stubbs will patrol center for you. He’s 27, and hit just .243 last year (but with 15 homers). If you can progress him just a bit up to a .260-.270 guy, you’ll have a very good centerfielder for the next 5 years or so. Chris Heisey also blasted out 18 homers in a part time role. Ryan Ludwick signed with Cincy in the offseason and he also brings some pop. Scott Rolen is a witch at third. This is just personal experience, but no player killed me more in MLB 11. I couldn’t get him out, and I couldn’t get anything hit in his general direction past him. Your mileage may vary with that. That said, this lineup is just build to kill the ball, and you should have no trouble doing that.
Over on the pitching side, Johnny Cueto comes into MLB 12 figuring to be an ace quality pitcher with probably A potential for the future. The now 26 year old posted a 2.31 ERA in 24 starts last year for Cincy, and will definitely be the ace of your staff this year and for years to come. The Reds acquired Mat Latos this offseason, and he figures to be a nice piece to pair with Cueto at the front of the rotation. Latos is already a very good pitcher, and similar to Jay Bruce is somehow only 24 years old. A 3.47 ERA last year, a probable A potential, sounds like a frontline guy for the next decade to me. Mike Leake continues to be solid, posting a 3.86 ERA last year. Leake is also only 24. I doubt he gets an A potential, but a high B sure ain’t bad and he’ll easily progress into a really good, borderline great starter for you over the next few years. Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo are still around, but their incredible blandness and averageness doesn’t really merit any discussion. They’re serviceable, and that’s about it. Bailey might still have some potential on him, so he can progress to above average, but I doubt you’ll get him to be anything more than a #2 or #3 guy. Ryan Madson, who was displaced in Philadelphia by Jonathan Papelbon, is the new closer after the departure of Francisco Cordero. Madson is 31, posted a 2.37 ERA with 32 saves last year, and should be a solid dependable guy in the backend for you.
The Strategy: Win now. This team can bash, they have some good pitching, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be in the NL mix every single year for the next five or so years. Continue to build around Votto, maybe devise a strategy for Rolen’s imminent retirement (a day that I will cherish in my Franchise), and just enjoy a team that’s built to win for a good long while.
The Conclusion: They play in a bandbox, and they have the power to take advantage of it. Combine this with great young pitching and you have one of the better teams to choose for your Franchise from the start. They’ll fly a bit under most people’s radar, but those who do the research will see this is a great roster with a chance to be dominant.
The Impact Veterans: Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez
The Young Guns: So, that Jeff Bagwell was good back in the day, am I right?
The Scouting Report: Oh dear god. I almost feel like skipping Houston. The NL Central’s got 6 teams, I’m allowed to skip one, right? No? Darnit. Well, here we go. Carlos Lee doesn’t suck. .275, 18 homers, he can hit a bit yet. That should garner him a halfway decent contact rating, and he should still have plus power. He’s 35, though, so what he is now will be his highpoint in your Franchise. He split time between left and first last year, go ahead and stick him wherever, he’s a butcher either way. From there, there’s not one thing to inspire hope. Just a bunch of middling younger guys who might have decent potential, but won’t be good at all really to start your Franchise. Brett Wallace is probably the most promising of the bunch. He’s 25 and was once considered one of baseball’s best prospects. He might get a low A potential for you, though I’m not totally sold that he will. Wallace posted a .259, 5 homer year last year. The problem for him is that this wasn’t a pretty good September call-up. He did that in 115 games. I’m not sure a guy who posts that line in that amount of games still gets an A potential. Jose Altuve, JD Martinez, Chris Johnson, Jason Bourgeois, there’s a bunch of young-ish guys on this team, but they don’t inspire confidence. I doubt any of them becomes anything more in your game than an average player at their position. There’s just nothing here. This is the most completely empty cupboard in MLB.
It gets slightly less depressing over on the pitching side of things, but that’s not saying much. Wandy Rodriguez had a nice year last year, posting a 3.49 ERA in 30 starts. He’ll be your ace, but he’s 33. He’s not really a guy you can build around right now. Brett Myers is here, and so is his mid 4’s ERA and total unremarkableness. Next. Bud Norris made 31 starts for the ‘Stros and posted a 3.77 ERA. At 26, he’s an interesting guy. With a decent potential rating, he could progress to be pretty darn good. Maybe even good enough to be that guy that you can build around for the future. Definitely check out Norris’s ratings when you first plug in the game, as he’s pivotal to whether or not a Houston franchise is simply really depressing or if it’s the sign of a serious psychological self-hating disorder. There isn’t much else here. JA Happ looked good in Philly a few years ago, he’s not anymore. A 5.35 ERA and an age of 29 makes him pretty useless to you. I’ll be honest, I don’t know who the heck their closer is right now, but the fact that I can’t find out who he is by checking stats isn’t very promising.
The Strategy: Pick someone else. Failing that, win much later. There isn’t anything here, and there doesn’t appear to be a ton here for the future either. Trade Carlos Lee while he still has a bit of value, then prepare for the rebuild to end all rebuilds.
The Conclusion: This is the worst team in MLB. Not a question in my mind. If that kind of thing intrigues you, then more power to you. Just don’t blame me when you get to July and you’re many, many games out of first. I tried to warn you.
The Impact Veterans: Ryan Braun, Zack Greinke, John Axford, Corey Patterson
The Young Guns: Yovani Gallardo
The Scouting Report: We’ll address it up front, yes losing Prince Fielder hurts this lineup. A lot. But it’s not barren. And we begin with the NL MVP from last year (and possible PED user) Ryan Braun. Braun’s lingering 50 game suspension (which as of this writing is not official yet) means nothing to us. Suspended or not, he’ll be available from game one for you in The Show. So what you’re getting in Braun is a guy who’s 28, under team control for something like the next decade at a kind of reasonable rate, and is one of the top five or so hitters in all of baseball. Braun’s bat is truly special, and he showed it by hitting .332 with 33 homers and 111 RBI last season. Those sound like A contact/A- power numbers to me, which is a rare combination. He also has a bit of speed, as he stole 33 bags last year. PEDs or not, in The Show this is one of the most complete players there is. Elsewhere, Rickie Weeks just keeps posting solid seasons. Last year it was .269 with 20 homers, but as is often the case with Weeks, it was an injury shortened year as he rolled his ankle hustling too hard to first and wound up only playing in 118 games last year. Weeks is 29, he might still have a bit of potential on him, and if you can keep him healthy you’ll have one of the better hitting second basemen in the league for years to come. Corey Hart chipped in a solid season as well from right field. He hit .285 with 26 homers in 130 games, and figures to be either the second or third best hitter in this Brewers lineup. Aramis Ramirez comes over from rival Chicago and is a major upgrade for them at third. Ramirez hit .306 with 26 homers last year and plugs well into a position where the Brewers got almost no production last year. As far as replacing Prince Fielder’s production goes, Ramirez won’t do it (or even come close), but he’ll make a nice dent in it. At 33, he is what he is, so don’t expect much if any progression out of him. The real wildcard in this lineup is at first. Mat Gamel has tore the cover off the ball in the minors for years now, but has never put it together at the ML level. Some blame lack of consistent playing time. Well the 26 year old will get his chance this year, as he figures to be Milwaukee’s near everyday first baseman. He’s likely used up some of his potential from his days as a top prospect, but a B is still a reasonable expectation. I don’t think he’ll be very good right out of the box, though, so if you can replace him you might want to. Elsewhere, Jonathan Lucroy will be serviceable but unspectacular for you, Alex Gonzalez likely won’t hit at all, and the platoon of Carlos Gomez and Nyjer “Tony Plush” Morgan in center is a speedy one that is more than capable of wreaking havoc on the basepaths. Gomez, in particular, will be one of the fastest players in the entire game. Bunting for a hit fairly often with him is recommended, it worked a lot in MLB 11.
The pitching staff in Milwaukee is identical to last year’s, and last year’s was pretty darn good. Yovani Gallardo (3.52 ERA in 33 starts) is 25, already has dominant stuff, and figures to get an A-ish potential. He’ll be one of the best in the entire game in a couple years in your Franchise, so Yo is definitely a guy to build around. Zack Greinke is here as well, and he figures to still have the dominant stuff he’s had in past editions of The Show. Greinke had a bit of a down year by his standards last year, posting a 3.83 ERA in 28 starts. I sincerely doubt he takes that much of a ratings hit, though, as he’s been so dominant in the past that I think SCEA will chalk Greinke’s 2011 up to lingering injury and keep him as one of the game’s best. Shaun Marcum’s downright terrible performance in the playoffs last year will likely overshadow the fact that he had himself a heck of a year in his first in Milwaukee. A 3.54 ERA in 33 starts, Marcum was really good all year for Milwaukee and figures to be a high end guy at that #3 spot in the rotation for you in The Show. He’ll probably rate out to what would be a #2 on a lot of teams, but with Gallardo and Greinke anchoring the staff there’s no chance he’ll ever rise above them. At 30 years old, Marcum likely is what you see, I wouldn’t expect him to improve all that much over future years in your Franchise. Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson round out the rotation and are really good for #4 and #5 guys, though they have no potential to build for the future. The backend of the pen is as dominant as there is in baseball. Francisco Rodriguez was acquire the day of the All-Star Game last year, and despite some reservations about being a set-up man he thrived in that role. K-Rod’s got some age on him, and he’s pricey, but he’s good to have around for now. Just don’t count on keeping him in future years of your franchise. Then there’s the mustachioed man, John Axford. Axford came out of nowhere in 2010 to save 24 games, and followed it up with an electric 2011. A 1.95 ERA to go with 46 saves ensures that Axford will be one of the best closers in MLB 12. He’s 28, he may progress a little, but right now he’s already one of the game’s best and should stay that way for the next 5 or so years in you franchise.
The Strategy: Win now, just don’t expect to win the World Series. The NL Central this year has some weakness to it, and there’s no reason with this pitching staff and a lineup that is still fairly competent even without Prince Fielder that you shouldn’t contend in this division.
The Conclusion: Yes, losing Prince Fielder hurts, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the Brewers. You’ll hit the ball deep, you have a great pitching staff, this is still a team that will be a blast to use in MLB 12, despite the loss of the big guy.
The Impact Veterans: Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton, maybe? I don’t know.
The Young Guns: Andrew McCutchen
The Scouting Report: The Pirates shocked baseball last year when they were actually contenders in the NL Central deep into the season. They faded down the stretch, but for awhile there the lowly Pirates were the feel-good story of baseball. At the center of this resurgence was Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen is 25, coming off a .259/23 homer season, and is a shoe-in for A potential. This is the guy you will be building around. The .259 isn’t great, I’ll grant you that, but he posted a .286 average in his first two years at the ML level, so I would expect him to be a halfway decent contact bat based 0n past reputation. Combine that with decent power and good speed, and you have a guy that should progress to be one of the best outfielders in The Show. It’s what’s around McCutchen, though, that’s a bit problematic. Neil Walker had a nice year last year, hitting .272 with 12 homers, but he won’t be anything remarkable in a video game. Probably the most intriguing guy is Garrett Jones. Jones will continue to have a good amount of power, probably, but he’s not a good contact hitter. We’ve discussed this a few times before, but often times in a video game it doesn’t matter if the guy you’re using isn’t a great contact hitter. You’ll make contact more often than he will in real life because it’s a video game. Decent players could probably pull a .270, 25-30 homer season out of Jones, which would give Pittsburgh a sorely needed secondary offensive threat to pair with McCutchen. Elsewhere, the Pirates acquired Casey McGehee from Milwaukee in the offseason. McGehee had a brutal 2011, but he was very good in 2009 and 2010, so it should be interesting to see if he’s a decent player or not based on past performance factoring into ratings. Pedro Alvarez is still hanging around. He hasn’t been very good at the ML level, but he might have decent potential, so it could be wise to give him a look.
Over on the pitching side, Jeff Karstens was the guy on this staff last year. Karstens posted a 3.38 ERA in 26 starts in 2011, and at the age of 29 he figures to be pretty good yet for a few years down the road. Nothing to get real excited over, but a solid arm for your rotation. Similarly, Charlie Morton also had a nice year last year (3.83 in 29 starts). Morton is 28, so he’s similar to Karstens in that he shouldn’t become much more than what he is, but what he is is pretty solid. Elsewhere, James McDonald was slightly above average last year in 31 starts, with a 4.21 ERA. He’s 27, so he could still have a bit of potential on him, but I doubt it. I wouldn’t look for him to ever become much more than a solid #2. Kevin Correia’s still here, although his 4.79 ERA ensures the type of ratings that probably make you wish he wasn’t there. At 31 years old he won’t get better either. Joel Hanrahan closed for Pittsburgh last year and was wonderful in that role, posting a 1.83 ERA and 40 saves. He figures to be one of the better closers in the game, and at 30 years old he’ll be around for awhile yet.
The Strategy: Win in the near future. McCutchen’s going to be a star, you have a decent if unspectacular pitching staff, with a couple moves this could be a playoff team. I doubt it is as constituted, though, so prospective GMs will need to be active and aggressive if they want to get this team to the next level.
The Conclusion: The Pirates were a fun story last year, and the pieces are here if you want to make a run with them in The Show this year. It might not go totally to plan early, but at least you have Andrew McCutchen.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Impact Veterans: Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright
The Young Guns: Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn
The Scouting Report: And so we’ve come to the 2011 World Series Champions. The Cardinals needed a miracle to get into the playoffs, got that miracle in the form of an Atlanta Braves collapse, and rode that momentum straight through Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Texas on their way to a championship. This was probably tempered by Albert Pujols’ departure, but what a ride it was for the Cardinals and their fans. Moving on to the 2012 Cardinals, they’ll still be very good. I feel like I need to say that right from the start, because losing Pujols definitely hurts, but they’re still pretty loaded. Matt Holliday continues to be one of the best and most underrated hitters in baseball, posting a .296 season last year with 22 homers. Holliday will likely rate very well in the contact and power departments, though at 32 there probably isn’t a lot of potential there. But the Cardinals aren’t built to win later, it’s about winning now with them, and right now Matt Holliday is a really valuable piece. Joining Holliday in the lineup is Carlos Beltran, who came over from a brief stint in San Francisco to sign a free agent deal with the Cards this offseason. Beltran hit .300 with 22 homers last year, and figures to be a lot like Holliday in that right now he’ll be a very good contact and power guy, but his window’s probably closing a bit. Beltran’s also got some injury risk on him, so be wary of that, but if you can keep him healthy this is a 3-4 combo that’s to be feared. And lest we forget Lance Berkman. The rest of the league did, and they paid the price last year. Berkman bounced back to form in a big way last year, hitting .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBI. It will be interesting to see what kind of ratings he gets in The Show. If they take 2010, a year in which he struggle, as a complete aberration then Berkman should be one of the better hitters in The Show. He could even be a B+/A- contact guy with the same ratings for power. Obviously Berkman at 36 will only regress from this year in your franchise, but for a year you’ll likely have one of the better hitters in the NL to go with Beltran and Holliday. World Series hero David Freese will get a lot of attention, and to be sure he had a scintillating October. His regular season showed some promise as well, as Freese hit .297 with 10 homers in just 97 games. I’d look for him to be one of the guys that gets the biggest ratings bumps this year, and a guy who at 28 can still progress some and become a darn good third baseman for you. Yadier Molina remains the catcher, and he remains a darn good one. Hitting .307 with 14 homers last year, the 29 year old was as good at the dish as he was with his cannon arm behind the plate. He’ll progress a bit, but he already figures to be one of the better catchers in the game.
Perhaps the biggest addition for the Cardinals this year is getting Adam Wainwright back from injury. Wainwright’s 2010 season, the last one he played, was absolutely electric. A 2.42 ERA in 33 starts. Being able to pair him with Chris Carpenter, who also figures to be one of the best pitchers in the game, is an unbelievable luxury for the Cardinals. It’s rare to have two pitchers this good at the top of your rotation. There aren’t many teams that can boast this kind of 1-2 punch. Neither Carpenter nor Wainwright offer much in the way of progression, but they’re so good already that you won’t need to worry about that. 25 year old Jaime Garcia continues to impress. He regressed a bit from a stellar 2010, but a 3.56 ERA in 32 starts is hardly anything to sneeze at. I would suspect Garcia will still carry an A-ish potential on him to go with what should already be considerable ratings. He’ll be a worthy heir to 36 year old Chris Carpenter’s throne in a few years time in your franchise. Kyle Lohse also had a pretty darn good year, posting a 3.39 ERA in 30 starts. Lohse is 33 and figures to be nothing more than the #2-ish starter that he’d be on most teams, but the fact that he’s a 4 here speaks to how unreal this rotation is. Jake Westbrook will probably be your #5, but you might want to consider giving Lance Lynn a shot. He’s only 24, should be comparable to Westbrook in most areas, and will have a bunch of potential. The Cards went closer by comittee (kind of) in the regular season last year, but in October it was Jason Motte (and his beard)’s show. I would expect that to continue this year, and I would expect him to be a very good closer for you now and for years to come, as he’s only 29 years old.
The Strategy: Win now. This pitching staff is absolutely phenomenal, and the lineup can still mash even without Pujols. The Cardinals should still contend in the NL Central, and honestly, on paper, they’re probably the favorites.
The Conclusion: If you just want to win a World Series and get it over with, this might be your team. The pitching staff is as good as there is, and that should allow you to dominate what’s a fairly weak division for many years to come.
What do you think about the write-up for the NL Central division? Are you planning on playing with any team in this division? Be sure to let us know what you think by leaving us a comment below, or discuss MLB 12: The Show in our forums.