The National League Central has always been an odd division. Save for the Cardinals, the other teams that make up the division go through highs and lows. This year, save for the Cubs, the rest of the division is somewhat clouded in between the highs and lows. The Brewers made some surprising moves in the off-season as they re-tooled their outfield, but failed their chance at improving their rotation that is desperately need of an improvement. The Cardinals made a key move, but had really sent a few other pieces elsewhere and they too you have to wonder if their rotation didn’t get the improvement needed. The Reds are hoping their young arms and bats will take a step up and surprise a few teams as their improvements were made from within. And the Pirates, nobody knows if they are coming and going after saying “bye” to two of their key pieces of the franchise since 2013. So overall, it is going to be the most interesting division in all of baseball in 2017, at least to me. Let’s begin.
1ST PLACE: CHICAGO CUBS
2017: 92-70 (1st place, defeated Washington in NLDS, lost to Los Angeles Dodgers in NLCS)
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: P-Yu Darvish (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Tyler Chatwood (FA-Colorado), P-Brandon Morrow (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Steve Cishek (FA-Tampa Bay), P-Drew Smyly (FA-Seattle), C-Chris Gimenez (FA-Minnesota); SUBTRACTS: C-Alex Avila (FA-Arizona), C-Rene Rivera (FA-Los Angeles Angels), OF-Jon Jay (FA-Kansas City), P-Wade Davis (FA-Colorado), P-Koji Uehara (FA-Japan), P-Justin Grimm (released), P-Hector Rondon (FA-Houston)
OUTLOOK: The 2017 Cubs definitely had a World Series hangover, though I think some of that had to involve some experience issues among the young stars they have of Bryant, Baez, and Contreras, so it is very understandable from that aspect. However, what doomed the Cubs in 2017 was what netted their first World Championship in 108 years was the pitching. The group of Arrieta, Lackey, Lester, Hammel, and Hendricks were either gone (Hammel), injured (Lackey), and/or underachieved (Arrieta, Lester). They were outdueled by the Dodgers in the NLCS last year so the Cubs knew what they had to do was improve the rotation. After a trade that brought Jose Quintana from the Southside, they picked up Yu Darvish to replace Arrieta and Tyler Chatwood to replace Lackey. The bullpen was also addressed as the Cubs let go of Wade Davis and picked up Brandon Morrow to close out games while adding Steve Cishek to replace Hector Rondon. So, the Cubs made the improvements needed on the pitching front and if all goes well with the hitting, there was no major need for improvements as Chicago may have one of the most well-balanced lineups in the Majors. But after the Cubs 2017 season, a re-focus for the youngsters is probably the key here as they should win the NL Central.
MY PROJECTION: 96-66 (Cubs should have their heads cleared after last season)
2ND PLACE: MILWAUKEE BREWERS
2017: 86-76, 2nd place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Christian Yelich (Trade-Miami), OF-Lorenzo Cain (FA-Kansas City), P-Jhoulys Chacin (FA-San Diego), P-Matt Albers (FA-Washington), P-Boone Logan (FA-Cleveland), P-JJ Hoover (FA-Arizona), P-Yovanni Gallardo (FA-Seattle); SUBTRACTS: 2B-Neil Walker (FA-New York Yankees), P-Anthony Swarzak (FA-New York Mets), OF-Lewis Brinson (Trade-Miami), P-Jared Hughes (FA-Cincinnati)
OUTLOOK: The Brewers in 2017 surprised many by leading the NL Central for a good portion of the season thanks to the Cubs 1st half woes. However, Milwaukee failed to act on improving their starting rotation after the deadline when Chase Anderson went down. With it the Brewers fell behind Chicago and came up short for a Wild Card. With a solid lineup and a deep one, many were stunned that the Brewers invested heavily in signing Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. While both are great in the outfield, it was stunning as the Brewers still didn’t address their need for starting pitching, failing in getting Darvish and Arrieta. Now, Milwaukee SHOULD compete with the lineup they have in 2018 and while Jimmy Nelson should return in June to help the rotation, the Brewers cannot go through the season with the rotation they have. I would expect Milwaukee to kick the tires on a pitcher like Michael Fulmer or Chris Archer at the deadline if they are to contend. If they do get that needed starter to go with a re-vamped bullpen, then the Brewers can be playing October baseball.
MY PROJECTION: 89-73 (Milwaukee WILL get another front-end starter at the deadline)
3RD PLACE: ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
2017: 83-79, 3rd Place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Marcell Ozuna (Trade-Miami), P-Miles Mikolas (FA-Japan), P-Luke Gregerson (FA-Houston), P-Dominic Leone (Trade-Toronto), P-Bud Norris (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-Jason Motte (FA-Atlanta); SUBTRACTS: P-Lance Lynn (FA-Minnesota), P-Zach Duke (FA-Minnesota), P-Juan Nicasio (FA-Seattle), P-Seung-Hwan Oh (FA-Toronto), P-Trevor Rosenthal (released), SS-Aledmys Diaz (Trade-Toronto), OF-Stephen Piscotty (Trade-Oakland), OF-Randall Grichuk (Trade-Toronto);
OUTLOOK: For the first time in a long time, nothing is really certain in St. Louis in a while. The Cardinals made a splash getting slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna from Miami and they made moves to improve the bullpen, but questions still abound on the Cardinals pitching as well as some questions of certain spots if Tommy Pham can repeat his performance from 2017 or Paul DeJong can still show he is worth the extension and if Matt Carpenter can rebound from a strange 2017 season. So right now, there may be more questions than answers in St. Louis especially with the rotation as they are either battling injuries and inconsistencies while letting Lance Lynn walk. It may be something to ponder, but there could be a possibility the Cardinals could get near the trade deadline as sellers because they just don’t have the pitching like they’ve had in the past.
MY PROJECTION: 78-84 (not sold on the Cardinals pitching….at all)
4TH PLACE: CINCINNATI REDS:
2017: 68-94, 5th place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: IF-Cliff Pennington (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-David Hernandez (FA-Arizona), P-Jared Hughes (FA-Milwaukee), P-Oliver Perez (FA-Washington); SUBTRACTS: SS-Zack Cozart (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-Scott Feldman (FA), P-Drew Storen (FA)
OUTLOOK: The Reds have resided near the bottom of the NL in part because of the pitching. We know they can hit, thanks to being in a very pitcher friendly ballpark, but the rotation has been a mess ever since Johnny Cueto was there. The Reds do have some hope coming in the likes of Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle so there are some bright spots coming. The offense will still be strong with Joey Votto leading the way along with Eugenio Suarez, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler while the Reds hope rookie Jesse Winker comes into his own this year. It could be a fun year in Cincinnati, even if the Reds aren’t in contention.
MY PROJECTION: 75-87 (Reds will be in a lot of games, but watch out in 2019)
5TH PLACE: PITTSBURGH PIRATES
2017: 75-87, 4th place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Corey Dickerson (Trade-Tampa Bay), 3B-Colin Moran (Trade-Houston), OF-Bryce Brentz (Trade-Boston), P-Joe Musgrove (Trade-Houston), P-Michael Feliz (Trade-Houston), P-Josh Smoker (Trade-New York Mets), SUBTRACTS: P-Gerrit Cole (Trade-Houston), OF-Andrew McCutchen (Trade-San Francisco), P-Daniel Hudson (Trade-Tampa Bay), C-Chris Stewart (FA-Atlanta), 1B/OF-John Jaso (Retired), P-Joaquin Benoit (FA-Washington)
OUTLOOK: It’s never a good look when you trade two of your cornerstones of your franchise before and after you come out and say that you were still expecting to contend for the season. But that’s what the Pirates did in trading Cole and McCutchen. Granted, Cole hasn’t been the ace many had hoped in Pittsburgh and McCutchen hasn’t really been off-the charts either, but he has still been a solid piece. It also had Pirates players wondering such as Josh Harrison as to where the team was going. Yes, the Pirates have a good outfield even with McCutchen gone in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, but both of them need to step up big while Corey Dickerson is an admirable replacement. But the infield aside from Josh Bell right now is a major work in progress. The rotation with no Cole has also got to step up with Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, and Chad Kuhl having to be relied on as well as Joe Musgrove. So there are plenty of holes and a high demand for these players to step up, which I don’t think Pittsburgh can in 2018.
MY PROJECTION: 68-94 (Pittsburgh may have to entertain some other pieces right now because this Pirates team is very thin).
That’s it this week.
Next week is the AL Central
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat