With Baseball officially kicking off on Sunday, it’s time to take a stab at predicting the success and downfalls of each division in the majors. We look at the NL Central, where there may be a changing of the guard and one team left out of the playoff picture from last season.
1. Chicago Cubs – After winning 97 games the Cubs managed to have one of the better winters. With all of its players young and having emerged, Chicago acquired John Lackey, Jason Heyward, welcomed back Dexter Fowler and added Ben Zobrist. If you can find a flaw, it may be in the bullpen, but Chicago boasts a top three starting core of: Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Lackey. With Jorge Soler and Javier Baez not even guaranteed consistent playing time, the Cubs are the deepest team in the majors and will likely finish with its best record.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates- For winners of 98 games last season, the Pirates are not getting much respect. Lacking a flashy move in free agency, Pittsburgh still managed to improve its rotation by acquiring Jonathan Niese, David Freese, John Jaso and Neftali Feliz. None of these guys will light the world on fire but could add enough dynamic for Pittsburgh to win just enough to make the playoffs. Another year of development from Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and health from Andrew Mccutchen and the Pirates easily have the best outfield in the National League, along with a solid infield. Lead by Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, the Pirates have a legitimate 1-2 punch in the rotation and should do enough to win a wildcard spot.
3. St Louis Cardinals – It’s blasphemy to count them out, but consider this more or a process of elimination. St. Louis faces its most adversity since 2012 when it made the playoffs but won only 88 games in the process. Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina are aging and injury prone and the Cardinals are already on its third string shortstop in newcomer, Jedd Gyorko. Adam Wainwright is likely to bounce back because that’s what Cardinals pitchers do and Mike Leake and Carlos Martinez form legitimate depth behind Michael Wacha in the rotation. Still, Leake is not an elite arm and Jaime Garcia is likely to get injured. St. Louis always has players who can step up like Stephen Piscotty or Randal Grichuk, but the Cards have a middle of the road farm system after all of its call ups and it may have too many injury prone players to catch two of the best teams in the league.
4. Milwaukee Brewers – Poor Milwaukee has to share a division with the best trio in the majors of any division. It didn’t do itself any favors by trading Khris Davis and letting Yovani Gallardo walk for a draft pick, but the Brewers are in a rebuild of sorts and know this isn’t the time to try to compete. Look for Jonathan Lucroy to be moved at some point this season and at least rumors of Ryan Braun‘s departure.
5. Cinncinnati Reds – Nothing to see here, the Reds are in a rebuild and are more likely to part with Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips than to do anything to bring talent back to Cincy for 2016. Raisel Iglesias is a promising young arm, and Joey Votto is still looming, but the Reds are in no position to contend and will not be for at least a couple of years.
*Denotes Wildcard Selection