Thursday, March 31, 2011

DBS Pizza Kitchen

My muse DB~ was coming up tonight for dinner, so I wanted to pull out the stops and do something a little different for her. I put a finger in the air to gauge the interest in a Mexican pizza. The prevailing winds said "yes".

Using the always handy Boboli crust, I spread a pico de gallo mix that I whipped up over the base. I diced up two small stem tomatoes, a chunk of white onion, and a healthy section of fresh cilantro. I squeezed a little fresh lemon juice over the mix just to try and convince spring time that it was OK to come out and play.

On top of the pico de gallo, I placed some cooked chicken chunks seasoned with Penzey's taco seasoning mix. On top of that I put a healthy dose of shredded Mexican cheese blend. DB~ loves avacados (and I have rapidly gained a taste for them too) so I filleted some paper thin slices to be placed on top once the pizza came out of the oven. I also added some shredded lettuce for some crunch.

The pizza was fantastic and is one that we will probably incorporate into the DBS Things To Make List on the side of my refrigerator.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We're fans of Bedford Springs

As I mentioned in the last post, DB~ got a deal through Groupon for a one night stay at the Omni Bedford Springs in Bedford, PA. We went last weekend and enjoyed magnificent high 60's degree weather, in contrast to the mid 30's as I type this. We both took a 1/2 day off from work to make the 2 hour trip from Pittsburgh to Bedford.

Bedford Springs is about 3 miles outside of the main "downtown" area of Bedford. You have to turn off of Business 220 to get there, which appears to have been relocated as a result of the expanded resort as evidenced by the apparent fresh cuts through a mountain, so when you come around the bend you see this HUGE Georgian plantation in front of you. The Bedford Springs has 216 rooms and stretches 1/4 of a mile. It's a long and narrow structure that's hemmed in between Business 220 and a small mountain that is the source of the springs.

The Bedford Springs was purchased by the Omni Group, who completely renovated and nearly doubled its size in 2007. A world-class spa (you need to make reservations 4 to 6 weeks in advance, apparently) is within the hotel and there is a links style golf course adjacent. Bedford Springs has been built in sections over the years, with the first part originally built in 1806. Additional sections were built over the next 100 years.

The Bedford Springs has been host to 7 U.S. Presidents, 4 of which were sitting Presidents. Our room was down the hall from the Polk Presidential Suite. If I remember correctly, the last President to appear there was Reagan when he was Governor of California during a Maryland Chamber of Commerce meeting.

It's no secret to the loyal 7 readers of this blog that DB~ and I love to go geocaching. It's our "thing" that we share as a joint activity. Right on the property itself there were 4 caches, plus 1 that is offline, that we were able to do and enjoy the natural beauty of our surroundings.

As we were hiking on a trail during our first trail, a man jogged past us in the opposite direction. We both turned to each other and said "Was that...Andy Sheehan from KDKA?" I'm not a local news guy at all, but pretty much everyone knows him. It was definitely him. Surprisingly, we passed each other again so I said "Hi, Andy!". He slowed down his jog and looked at us as if he was trying to decide if he knew us, so DB~ blurted out "We're fans!!!". Which we're not. It was hilarious how she blurted it out like a little schoolgirl meeting Justin Bieber. After we cached, we showered up and went to the Jean Bonnet Tavern for dinner, which I covered in the last post.

The next day we enjoyed a nice complimentary breakfast, as part of the Groupon package, and then did some more caches on the periphery of downtown Bedford, including one of the more unique ones that I have done in my caching career (in terms of method of hiding it). We also explored downtown Bedford, had lunch in a nice little cafe, and poked around some stores. Neither one of us are really into antiques, so some of the town's appeal was lost on us, but we still enjoyed our 24 hours in Bedford.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Jean Bonnet Tavern -- Creepy yet Tasty

DB~ got a deal on Groupon for a one night stay at Omni Bedford Springs in Bedford, PA. I'll be discussing the town of Bedford and the Bedford Springs resort in a subsequent post, but today's post will be about our dinner destination on Friday night...the Jean Bonnet Tavern.

So...yeah...if you don't take the French out of your mouth, it sure sounds like you're pronouncing this person's name. I promised DB~ that I wouldn't make any jokes to our, presumably, 20-something server when we got there. And let me tell you, that was a hard promise to keep, especially when our blond 20-something server welcomed us to the (this person's pronounciation) Tavern as soon as we got there.

The building dates from 1762 and is divided into a restaurant on one side, a tavern on the other, with a bed and breakfast on top. According to the restaurant's menu, the Jean Bonnet was built along the only road connecting Eastern PA with the Ohio River and the territories to the west. The Actual Jean Bonnet and his wife purchased the tavern in 1779 (with the building eventually being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979). In the late 1790's, the JBT was the meeting site for PA farmers upset over the federal excise tax on whiskey that would eventually swell into the Whiskey Rebellion. Think of the Dan Onorato tax on booze, but with tri-cornered hats and muskets.

In present times, not only the Jean Bonnet have nearly 250 years of history behind it, but they have also fashioned themselves as a go-to place for those that believe in the paranormal. Unbeknownst to us when we got there, the Jean Bonnet is supposedly haunted by a wide variety of spirits of those wronged here in the past. During the Whiskey Rebellion and during those zany days of fightin' with Injuns, apparently quite a few people were hung in the tavern. Nothing like going down for a drink with the fellas and watching someone swing from the rafters. And people say Netflix is a bane on people interacting with society?

As our server told us, the TV show Ghost Hunters has filmed here a couple of times. She was also kind enough to bring a binder over to DB~ and I showing all of the apparitions that have been photographed over the years. Most of them were categorized as "orbs" which are little balls of light in the picture. We thought they looked like water stains. During restorations in the 1950's, while they were digging up the floor the contractors found an intact skeleton of a man dating from the 1700's (determined by the clothes and ornamentation) long buried and forgotten. Perhaps he's one of the noises that people claim to hear thumping about periodically.

All of the hanging, ghosts, Whiskey Rebellion aside, the Jean Bonnet Tavern (snicker) is a good place to eat. DB~ tries to not eat meat in general, but specifically on Fridays during Lent, so I didn't want to have seared animal flesh falling out of my gullet either. As a result, we both had the crab cakes dinner. The two crab cakes were jammed with crab meat and just the right amount of breading to hold the whole kit and kaboodle together. For her potato side, DB~ got the sweet potato fries. They were crispy outside and soft inside and served with caramel sauce on the side. It was unbelievable how much the caramel improved the taste of sweet potato fries, which if not careful can get bland on you. With our dinner we got a standard sized house salad, but we preceded our dinner with a spinach and artichoke dip. Typically when you get a dip or a hummus, the restaurant never gives you enough dipping instruments and you feel guilty asking for more. Not here. We got plenty of tri-colored (red, white, and blue of course) tortilla chips. We were able to snack on the remainder throughout our dinner.

In summary, if you are in the Bedford area, I highly recommend checking out the Jean Bonnet. Whether you believe in ghosts, are interested in Whiskey Rebellion history, or just want a decent steak, there's something for everyone here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Is it worth it to have a Face of the Franchise their whole career?

Perhaps as a fan of a small-revenue club, this whole post should be taken with an entire shaker of salt. In my beaten down mentality as a Pirates fan, I’m wondering if it is worth it to have a Face of the Franchise player spend his whole career with one team. At some point, it seems with the escalated salaries today that a player is being vastly overpaid for his services rendered.

Is it better to squeeze all the value out of player in his three minimum wage years plus his three arbitration years and then let some other team get saddled with an overpaid free agent contract? Of course the player I have in mind is Andrew McCutchen.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the first true five-tool talent that the Pirates have had since Barry Lamar Bonds roamed the outfield. His production, at an assumed salary of around $435,000 in 2011, is a steal in baseball salary terms. In fact, Fangraphs recently had an article discussing the top players in the majors in terms of surplus value over the past 2 years. Surplus value is the difference in a player’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and the dollar equivalent ($4.25M/WAR average over the past 2 years) minus their actual contract salary. For instance, if a player was worth 8 WAR combined over the past 2 years, his presumed WAR worth would be $34M. If that same player earned $500,000 each year ($1M total), his surplus value would be $34M - $1M = $33M.

Fangraphs anointed McCutchen as their pick, along with Jason Heyward, as the newest potential Surplus Value Stars. McCutchen produced 6.7 WAR over his first 1+ seasons (2009 was not a full season, as he was called up in June).
Let’s assume that Cutch-22 signs a contract extension similar to Grady Sizemore’s contract that he signed back in March 2006 when Sizemore had the same 1+ seasons under his belt as McCutchen. Here are Sizemore’s salaries and WAR’s for each season under that deal:

2004 (partial year, “free” year to Indians in terms of arbitration time) = 1.1 WAR, $3.3M value, $300K salary
2005 = 5.4 WAR, $18.4M value, $320K salary
2006 = 7.3 WAR, $27.1M value, $500K salary
2007 = 5.7 WAR, $23.7M value, $900K salary
2008 = 7.1 WAR, $31.9M value, $3.2M salary
2009 = 1.9 WAR, $8.6M value, $4.6M salary
2010 = -0.3 WAR, -$1.2M value, $5.6M salary

2005 to 2007 represent Sizemore’s min wage years, while 2008 to 2010 would be his arbitration years if he didn’t sign the contract he did. His contract bought out his first FA year (2011) for $7.5M, with a team option for $8.5M in 2012. At the time of signing this deal and even the first few years, it seemed like an absolute steal of a deal. But starting in 2009, Sizemore encountered a series of injuries, culminating with dreaded microfracture surgery on his knee last year.

The Indians have received 28.2 WAR from Sizemore during his first 6+ years with the club, the standard years a player gets before free agency. That WAR translates to a $111.8M value on the open market, yet the Indians only paid Sizemore $15.4M over this time, giving the Indians a Surplus Value of $96.4M. Even if Sizemore did not play a single inning for the Indians in 2011 and they paid him $7.5M for nothing this year, he would still be a ridiculous steal of a contract for them.

But what if Sizemore did not have that deal with the Indians and left them after 2010and then developed an injury going into 2011? That new team would be saddled with a player that could be paid nearly $20M/year, based on his career to that point and similar to a Carl Crawford-type of deal, and not playing up to his fullest potential. Then there would be no Surplus Value, as a $20M player needs to produce 4 to 4.5 WAR to justify that salary every year.

Going back to McCutchen, the Sizemore deal is eminently affordable for any team, even one with limited resources like the Pirates. Normally, I advocate signing hitters to a maximum of 5 year deals, but mentioned that 6 years is possible for a franchise cornerstone. A 6 year deal would buy out the first year of Cutch-22’s free agent years. At that point, I’m wondering if it would be better for the Pirates to release him into the wild and let some other team deal with the possibility of a 30 year old Andrew McCutchen developing knee problems (Jason Bay, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Beltran) or a declining skill set.

In my heart of hearts, I would hate to see McCutchen ever play in any other uniform, but in these wintery economic times that the Pirates have put themselves in, McCutchen may price himself out of our market and his true value to the club. You never want to pay someone in the present for past glories.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spoon - a different perspective than expected

The Squiggle and I are pretty normal people, relatively speaking. We're both nerds, she more of a tech-nerd and way hotter than me, but we're normal people. We go to a restaurant, eat the food, check out the decor, talk about the food (I think about reverse-engineering the food), and then we go home (and I sometimes blog about it).

But on Thursday night, we had dinner with friends at a restaurant that we have been meaning to try for a while, Spoon in East Liberty. The other two people that we were with made the night into a 3 hour dinner that we wished could have lasted even longer, because of their connections to Spoon and the great conversation we had with them.

The lady knows the co-owner very well, so as a result she has gotten to know the other co-owner well, too. The 2nd co-owner is the Executive Chef of Spoon, Brian Pekarcik. When he heard that we would be eating there on Thursday night, he made a point to roll out the foodie version of the red carpet for us.

Brian came out to the table and asked us how adventurous we were feeling that night. We all pretty much said we would give anything a shot one time. He started us off with an espresso sized cup of roasted fennel and pickled beet soup. I'm not a huge fennel guy, but the strength of the fennel had been mellowed by the slow cooking of the soup. The beets chunks added a nice punch to this tantalizing starter.

When that was done, three appetizers (also courtesy of Brian) were brought to the table. The first was one of the most popular appetizers ordered at Spoon, the Bacon 'n Eggs. This dish was a section of pork belly, perfectly cooked to be soft on the underside and crispy up top (like a thick slice of bacon), underneath a poached egg that upon any contact released the yolk on to the dish. Like nearly everything we ate tonight, it was edible art. You almost felt guilty ruining it by putting a fork into the dishes. Almost.

The second appetizer was Sashimi Tuna Duo. This was ahi tuna (the pink tuna) and yellowfin tuna (the brownish tuna) served raw with a delicate glaze of soy and sesame. The wasabi was dotted in little green circles along the plate. DB~ and I are sushi wimps. We prefer our sushi to be wrapped in rice where we don't have to think about it, but both of us devoured this dish. It was perfectly presented and our dinner mates weren't super wild about sushi, especially the gentleman of the pair.

Our third appetizer was the Lemon and Goat Cheese Souffle. Brian has recently changed the menu to reflect some more springtime ingredients. If you go to Spoon within the next few months that this menu will be in effect, I recommend this appetizer the most of the three we tried. The goat cheese souffle is done, I believe, in a tian form in which it is placed into a 3 inch high metal mold and then lifted off when done to create a mini tower of culinary delight. This dish had a more standard bacon, with pieces of applewood smoked bacon criss-crossing some arugula and a poached egg. Lemon + Goat Cheese = DBS is in food heaven.

Who's ready for dinner now? Both of the guys ordered the Grilled Filet with Braised Short Ribs, with the short ribs resting on some ultra-smooth garlic mashed potatoes. DB~ had the Crispy Skin Striped Bass, as Spoon had her at "hello" with the artichoke/spinach/goat cheese ravioli that it came with. Our lady about town ordered the Kennedy Chicken 2 ways and seemed to enjoy this simple yet elegant dish as well, in between telling a wide variety of stories that kept DB~ and I near tears with laughter.

After dinner, Brian came out to our table again to get our feedback and converse. I asked him about his background, as he said that certain dishes have followed him through all 5 restaurants that he has Exec Chef'ed at in his career. This is his first major Pittsburgh restaurant, as most of his experience was on the West Coast in San Diego and San Francisco, including working at one of famed restauranteur Bradley Ogden's joints. He came back after 10 years to his hometown to the Marriott before hooking up with Richard Stern, the other co-owner. His skill and passion for food will keep Brian successful no matter what.

Brian insisted, after we all demurred on dessert, that he bring us two desserts to try. I was glad, because my high metabolism had already burned off the meal to that point. The portions at Spoon are not large, they are "fancy gourmet size", but completely worth it. The Bananas and Cream dessert (toffee cake with bananas and caramel, topped with deep fried chunks of banana) and the Brioche French Toast with Poached Pears were brought to our table. There was nothing left by the time the 4 of us were done.

The best part is that thanks to our insider connection, we only paid for our entrees. It was a great way to see the restaurant in a way that DB~ and I may not have seen. With having a chef at our nigh-disposal, I regret not asking him to prepare me (us) something totally off the menu. Would have been the perfect chance.

As for the decor of the restaurant, it is a deep earth tone, near ochre shade motif. There are wall sconces adorning the walls, but not much else. Bridging the gap between the two main seating areas are a set of huge leather couches by a fireplace, which were quite inviting on this cold and rainy March night. DB~ didn't care for the tile floor, though, and was overall unimpressed with the decor.

Spoon is one of the best meals I have had in a long time and one of those gourmet restaurants that is worth going to for a special occasion. The taste, plating, and presentation (in Iron Chef terms) were all at a level that you just don't always see. Highly recommend checking it out.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bringing the Mardi Gras to the Burbs of Pittsbugh

Last year, the crappy weather around Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras was much earlier last year) prevented DB~ and I from going out and enjoying all of the great food and fun that Pittsburgh offers up to one in this city really celebrates Mardi Gras? Were we really going to go to Hofbrahaus, a German beer hall, for a French-themed holiday? I think the Aspinwall Grille was offering an all-you-can-eat Cajun buffet starting at 10 pm. That's convenient on a Tuesday.

So we stayed in that night and I made a quick version of some Cajun food plus some hurricanes to drink. It was OK, but a pale substitute. I resolved that this year would be different. My love of New Orleans would not be stopped.

DB~ and I decided that if we're going to throw a party, we're going to go big. DB~ is in charge of "ambiance" (Evite invitation, decorations, music, making sure all guests having good time), while I'm the "food and beverage coordinator" (food and beverage). The guest list was 18 people so I went with full-size recipes of some solid Cajun favorites of Seafood Gumbo, Jambalaya, and Corn Fritters. But I wasn't going to toss some kielbasa into some rice and call it a day, so I bought some andouille sausage. For the seafood gumbo, I wanted do something different so I bought crawfish to add into the shrimp. I've never worked with crawfish before, so I Googled how to twist the tail segment off from the head and then yank the 0.0002 ounces of meat out of the tail. Luckily I bought 40 of these so I had plenty of opportunities to practice.

No Mardi Gras party is complete without a King Cake, so if you want a French speciality cake...find a French baker. That's what I always say. Transplanted Frenchman, Jean-Marc Chatellier, is a renowned baker with a storefront in Millvale. The tradition with the King Cake is that a) it tastes awesome and b) you get to surprise one of the people eating it by inserting a plastic baby into one piece at random. Note: make sure you tell the people about the baby, because nothing brings a party down by having to do the Heimlich maneuver. If you get the baby in your piece of cake, you get great luck for the next year and the privledge of buying the cake next year at a Mardi Gras party.

But even with the Shrimp/Crawfish gumbo, Chicken/Sausage Jambalaya, Corn Fritters, and King Cake....something seemed missing. It needed a piece de resistance that would have people talking. And then it hit me. Or maybe more accurately...bit me. Not literally.


After we found it being sold at Market District Shadyside, we bought a 1 lb steak. I browned it in the skillet, then diced it into small chunks. I mixed it with a melted cream cheese, shredded cheese, onion, pepper, and Tabasco sauce and then put this into a puff pastry shell and baked it.

Of course I didn't tell anybody it was actually gator until they ate it. There were some twisted faces, semi-gags, but overall everyone agreed they thought they were eating chicken.

And in case you would like to make your own Hurricanes for the upcoming Fat Tuesday, here's the recipe that brought so many drunken smiles to our guests on Saturday night:
1-1/2 oz light rum
1-1/2 oz dark rum
2 oz orange juice
2 oz limeade
1/2 oz triple sec
1/2 oz grenadine

The grenadine is strictly for a touch more alcohol and the red tinge to the drink. You pour this mix over some crushed ice. One hurricane and you'll be feeling fine. Two and you can't operate heavy machinery. Three and you won't remember your name.

Laissez les bon temps rouler! (Let the good times roll for all of you that took Spanish in high school).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Medium-Term Look at the NL Central

Why the medium-term? Because in the short-term, we know the Pirates will probably suck. Again. But there is a glimmer of optimism on the horizon.

First, the Pirates are building a nice young core of players at the ML-level. The Core Four of Alvarez, McCutchen, Tabata, and Walker will hopefully continue to progress towards great things this year. James McDonald is a very interesting potential starter in the rotation; I'm still reserving some judgement on him until he puts a full season in Pittsburgh. Evan Meek is a closer-in-waiting, perhaps as soon as this year if Hanrahan is traded at the deadline.

But the Pirates need more than that, of course. In 2011, not a lot of impact pieces will be seeing significant time (barring an injury opening up a spot). Rudy Owens and Brian Morris should get a taste of the majors, but both are potential #3 starters at best.

2012 is when the next Talent Train should arrive at the station at PNC Park. Both Owens and Morris could be established in the rotation by then, Tony Sanchez may be your opening day starter at catcher, Andrew Lambo and Starling Marte may be manning RF, Chase d'Arnaud could be your starting SS, and Jeff Locke and Justin Wilson could be in the pitching mix as well.

2013 is the earliest potential year we could see phenom Jameson Taillon. Plus, if the Pirates select Anthony Rendon in this year's draft at spot 1-1, he could be your starting 3B by June 2013. Slow down now, my heart is all aflutter at this potential influx of talent.

But it won't matter much unless we compare the Pirates to their opponents in the NL Central.

Cincinnati -- The 2010 NL Central champs recently placed 4 players in the Baseball America Top 100 prospects. The Pirates had the 2nd most in the NL Central with 3 prospects. The Reds have a good young team with some cost-controlled or pre-arb years still. Their window of contention should be open until 2014 when a lot of their key players will start to get expensive or become free agent eligible. Their farm should be able to supply enough cost-controlled talent for the next few years.

St. Louis -- Talk about a team in flux. All-World player Pujols appears set to test free agency after 2011. Adam Wainwright, their current ace, is out for the year after getting TJ Surgery. Ace Emeritus Chris Carpenter's contract is up at the end of the year. Young star Colby Rasmus feuds with the manager and the veterans. It will be interesting to see what plays out with Pujols, as the Cards at this point may have less than a 50-50 shot of signing him. The Cards only had 2 prospects in BA's Top 100, although one of them is Shelby Miller who could be a potential #1 starter. This team could be in a reload mode after 2011.

Milwaukee -- The Brew Crew had the dubious distinction of being the only ML team to not have a single prospect in the BA Top 100. The Brewers used the scorched earth policy on their farm this offseason in an attempt to load the ML team up for one last run with Prince Fielder. Three key prospects were traded as part of the Greinke trade. Brett Lawrie was traded for Shaun Marcum to further bolster the rotation. The Brewers were left with just some scraps on the farm, but they could glean a middle of the rotation pitcher or two out of that mess. Milwaukee has control of Greinke and Marcum through 2012, so even if Fielder leaves they could try again next year. But if both of these guys leave via free agency after 2012....yikes.

Chicago -- Ahh...the Cubs. A great example of how spending $130M doesn't guarantee success. This mish-mashed group of veterans has some bad contracts coming off the books after this year, with the remainder (except for the Soriano albatross) leaving after 2012. The Cubs put 2 guys in the BA Top 100 and would have had more, but traded a few promising guys to get Matt Garza from the Rays. The Cubs have some good cost-controlled pieces coming up from the farm, but this team will probably start to reload thru free agency after 2011.

Houston -- Before this year, I would always project the Pirates to finish ahead of the Astros and then every year the Astros would surprise me (and a lot of other people) and exceed expectations. This year I projected them to have 77 wins and the Pirates 73 wins, so I'm not sure if I'm reverse jinxing them or if I actually believe it. The Astros have finally decided to start rebuilding by trading Oswalt and Berkman last year. The Carlos Lee contract will weigh this team down thru 2012, but they don't have any other superbad contracts besides him. The farm put 2 guys on the BA Top 100. They have some interesting cost-controlled talent, but not enough to take them as a serious contender any time before 2015. They should be the least of the Pirates' worries.

So the short answer is that I think the Pirates can realistically contend for the NL Central (typed with a straight face) in 2013. Get your playoff tickets now! Maybe you can hire one of those Wisconsin protesters that are camping outside the State House in 15 degree weather to be your surrogate for waiting in line.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

2011 Pirates and the NL Central by WAR

So last year around this time, I did a series of predictions for the 2010 season as it related to the Pirates. I got some right and some wrong. And then I got 1 really, really wrong. I predicted, using WAR, that the Pirates would win 76 games. I was only off by 19.

But like a true masochist, I'm back for more. Here's my position-by-position estimates for your 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates. Keep in mind that 2 WAR is considered to be a league average player and that these estimates account for both offense and defense for hitters.

C - Snyder/Jaramillo -- 1 WAR
1B - Overbay -- 1 WAR
2B - Walker -- 2 WAR
SS - Cedeno -- 1 WAR
3B - Alvarez -- 2.5 WAR
LF - Tabata -- 2.5 WAR
CF - McCutchen -- 4 WAR
RF - Jones/Diaz -- 1.5 WAR
Bench -- 0 WAR

Hitters total -- 15.5 WAR

SP1 - Maholm -- 2 WAR
SP2 - McDonald -- 1.5 WAR
SP3 - Ohlendorf -- 1.5 WAR
SP4 - Correia -- 1 WAR
SP5 - Morton/Lincoln -- 0.5 WAR
Bullpen -- 3 WAR

Pitchers total -- 9.5 WAR

Grand total -- Baseline (48) + Hitters (15.5) + Pitchers (9.5) = 73 wins
As you can see from all the 1 WAR's, the Pirates still have a lot of room for improvement on this team. Their pitching, especially, is in need of an above-average arm or three. Alvarez and Walker's WARs were held back by their projected sub-par defense. I would love to say that I sold them short at the end of the season.

I won't show the position-by-position for each team, but I did it in an Excel Spreadsheet. Here's how I predict the NL Central to look:
MIL -- 90.5 (91 wins)
CIN -- 89.5 (90 wins)
STL -- 86 wins
CHC -- 83 wins
HOU -- 77 wins
PGH -- 73 wins

This shows how devastating the Wainwright injury was for the Cards. It's probably a net swing of 4 wins from Wainwright to his replacement, which is the difference between challenging for the NL Central title and finishing in 3rd.

The Cubs will most likely disappoint and finish under .500 again this year, but they have the makings of a very nice pitching staff this year.

Cincinnati had the best projected group of hitters (28.5 WAR), which was even better than St. Louis's 26 WAR. Milwaukee was the only team projected to get 20+ WAR from both their hitters and pitchers (22.5, 20 respectively). Their front end rotation of Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum could be excellent.

I had hoped that 2010 would be the year that the Pirates would flirt with .500 and 2011 would be the year they break this cursed losing streak. At best, it seems like that prediction is delayed a year. Maybe 2012 will be the year that the streak is broken. Just in time for the end of the world, as per the Mayans. Kind of fitting.