The Obstructed NL Central Preview

If there is one division from top to bottom that is must-see TV in 2019, this may be it. Five teams will be very competitive in the division where a team, or may be two will be sitting under .500 when all is said and done as opposed to other divisions they could be over .500 and a threat to win the division.

The teams (save one really) upgraded in most aspects and have October visions. So, who will walk away atop the NL Central?

Last year the Brewers, on the account of Christian Yelich in part, won the NL Central on a one-game playoff over the Cubs and then took a run to the NLCS and lost in a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Dodgers. The Cubs, with all the talent and potential on the team, lost out to the Brewers and then lost their Wild Card tilt to the Rockies. The Cardinals after replacing Mike Matheny, went on a torrid pace that finished strong for them. Pittsburgh, after many thought they had mailed in the towel with moves before the season, actually finished above .500 and did more than give teams fits. And Cincinnati, despite the record, showed they can rake with anybody. So what will the season look for these five teams?

Goldschmidt puts the Cardinals ahead of the rest of the NL Central now.

(1) ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Last year: 88-74

KEY ADDITIONS: 1B-Paul Goldschmidt (Trade-Arizona), C-Matt Wieters (FA-Washington), OF Drew Robinson (Trade-Texas), P-Andrew Miller (FA-Cleveland)

KEY LOSSES: P-Luke Weaver (Trade-Arizona), C-Carson Kelly (Trade-Arizona), 1B-Matt Adams (FA-Washington), P-Tyson Ross (FA-Detroit), P-Bud Norris (Toronto)

If this was any other year, the Paul Goldschmidt trade would have been the big off-season news story. But with contract extensions and free agent signings, it gets a tad overlooked, but this is a huge move for the Cardinals. Goldschmidt adds pop to a lineup with Matt Carpenter who was red hot in the second half and Marcell Ozuna, who had a respectable year after such a slow start. But it is going to be Goldschmidt’s new teammates on the infield, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, and Jedd Gyorko that will have to be more consistent. The Cardinals rotation has to be the most underrated rotation in the Majors. Miles Mikolas had a Cy Young caliber year last year and Jack Flaherty was solid. If Michael Wacha can step up and Adam Wainright have any amount of consistency, the Cardinals will be a tough out in the NL without question. The bullpen loses Bud Norris but gained Andrew Miller so it is a key addition. So the Cardinals look to be far stronger than they were in 2018. And that is why I have them leading the NL Central. MY PREDICTION: 95-67

Yelich had a historic stretch for Milwaukee in September

(2) MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Last year: 96-67 (defeated Colorado in NLDS, lost to Los Angeles Dodgers in NLCS)

KEY ADDITIONS: C-Yasmani Grandal (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), OF-Ben Gamel (Trade-Seattle), P-Alex Claudio (Trade-Texas), P-Alex Wilson (FA)

KEY LOSSES: OF-Domingo Santana (Trade-Seattle), 2B-Jonathan Schoop (FA-Minnesota), OF-Curtis Granderson (FA-Miami), P-Gio Gonzalez (FA-New York Yankees), P-Wade Miley (FA-Houston), P-Xavier Cedeno (FA-Chicago Cubs), P-Jordan Lyles (FA-Pittsburgh), P-Dan Jennings (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-Joakim Soria (FA-Oakland). OF-Keon Broxton (Trade-New York Mets)

The Brewers were so close to getting to their first World Series in 36 years losing in 7 to the Dodgers. But despite the heartache, it was still a memorable run for Milwaukee, notably for Christian Yelich who just turned it up ten notches in the second half of the season to win the MVP. Yelich is in a solid lineup that had a big first half from Jesus Aguilar, and also the likes of Travis Shaw, Lorenzo Cain, and Ryan Braun (granted Braun isn’t the MVP caliber player he once was, but still hit 20 HR). They now add more of a solidified backstop in Yasmani Grandal. However, what plagues the Brewers again for the last few years is the starting pitching is lacking a true ace. Milwaukee let Wade Miley go and opted not to bring back Gio Gonzalez, who was excellent for the Brew Crew after his trade from Washington. They are throwing Chase Anderson in the bullpen as well so, there are major questions with the Brewers, as they are hoping Jhoulys Chacin, Freddy Peralta, and Zach Davies can step up. That’s a bit of a task there, which is also a key factor of why I don’t believe in the Brewers to repeat in the Central, despite having a pretty solid lineup through and through and an excellent bullpen. MY PREDICTION: 91-71

Suarez and the Reds could have one of the toughest lineups in all of baseball.

(3) CINCINNATI REDS

Last year: 67-95

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Yasiel Puig (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), OF-Matt Kemp (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), SS-Jose Iglesias (FA-Detroit), C-Kyle Farmer (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), C-Derek Dietrich (FA-Miami), P-Sonny Gray (Trade-New York Yankees), P-Alex Wood (Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Tanner Roark (Trade-Washington) P-Zach Duke (FA-Seattle)

KEY LOSSES: OF-Billy Hamilton (FA-Kansas City), P-Matt Harvey (Los Angeles Angels), P-Homer Bailey (Trade)

Cincinnati picked a year to make some moves. They added pop to the outfield with getting Dodgers stars Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. And just think adding them to the Great American Ballpark? Yikes. But what was more interesting was the Reds upgrading their rotation of getting Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, and Sonny Gray. Gray, if in the right situation, can be a true front-end starter that really could shut down some opposing offenses. Wood has shown he can be a front end guy as well as we have seen in Los Angeles and even at times in Atlanta. Roark is reliable, though goes through consistency issues. They all can help out the young fireballer Luis Castillo so I really am thinking the Reds will have an excellent season. The Reds bullpen is a slight issue but Raisel Iglesias can be a lights out guy while having veteran leadership helps. I think with a more formidable rotation will also keep the Reds bullpen more rested and in better situations. MY PREDICTION: 85-77

Rizzo, when driven, is one of the top hitters in baseball

(4) CHICAGO CUBS

Last year: 95-68 (Lost to Colorado in Wild Card)

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Daniel Descalso (FA-Arizona), P-Brad Brach (FA-Atlanta), P-Tony Barnette (FA-Texas), P-Xavier Cedeno (FA-Milwaukee)

KEY LOSSES: C-Bobby Wilson (FA-Detroit), 2B-Daniel Murphy (FA-Colorado), P-Jesse Chavez (FA-Texas), P-Jorge de la Rosa (FA), P-Jaime Garcia (Retired), P-Justin Wilson (FA-New York Mets), P-Drew Smyly (Trade-Texas), IF-Tommy La Stella (Trade-Los Angeles Angels)

Don’t. Just don’t. Everybody is going to scream at why I am downplaying the Cubs in 2019 or “dissing” them. Yes, Chicago is VERY talented in the lineup 1-9 with the likes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, etc. But the minute you get past them or they start to miss time with injuries, the depth issues really start to show now. And worse, the Cubs farm system, which was lights out just a few years ago, is in the bottom portion of farm systems now. The rotation of the Cubs is very veteran, but oddly very streaky for a veteran group. You can see Jon Lester one outing look like the Cy Young frontrunner he was in Boston and then the next outing look like a pitcher for home run derby. You can say the same thing for Darvish, Quintana, and to a lesser extent Cole Hamels. But for how much that group has been paid, they better get better results than being a middle-of-the-road squad. The bullpen is similar to the rotation. Some stretches they are tough to hit off of. Other times, it’s a struggle. That has to change and in a division now with having to face the likes of Goldschmidt, Yelich, Puig, etc. the Cubs can’t afford any consistency issues. The biggest issue for the Cubs and honestly, it has plagued the Northsiders since their World Series win is that drive, passion, attitude they had in 2016 has gone AWOL the last two seasons. Odd given how much of a veteran presence they have. It has even been looked on by Astros players who before the last season said “we do not want to Cubs it up on our title defense” (I know those weren’t the words and I’m paraphrasing. Boston I also has mentioned something similar to it this season. It seems like when the Cubs go in a funk, the drive isn’t there. When the Cubs are winning, all is well, but after a while it gets too easy for them again. Cubs players are upset that some publications have them marked third or fourth in the division. If it is the case, great. But when you are needing an outside factor to “motivate” you, it isn’t a good thing really. MY PREDICTION: 84-78

Marte is one of the few offensive leaders the Pirates have

(5) PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Last year: 82-79

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Lonnie Chisenhall (FA-Cleveland) SS-Erik Gonzalez (Trade-Cleveland) OF-Melky Cabrera (FA-Cleveland), P-Francisco Liriano (FA-Detroit)

KEY LOSSES: SS-Jordy Mercer (FA-Detroit), IF-Josh Harrison (FA-Detroit)

Pittsburgh made a big move before last year’s trade deadline getting Chris Archer. Surprisingly top prospect Austin Meadows went in that deal. Add on the likes of Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams, you have a formidable front end of the rotation. Coupled with a good young closer in Felipe Vazquez, and you are going to have difficulty getting much in the way of runs. Of course, if you look at Pittsburgh’s lineup compared to the rest of the division, they are a step behind the others. Starling Marte is a great player, but hasn’t really gotten to that next level as a hitter. Adam Frazier can be a player for the Pirates as well. However, if Pittsburgh wants to be a serious threat, Corey Dickerson and Josh Bell need to be better than they produced last year. And Gregory Polanco needs to get better as well. So in regards to the Pirates lineup, it is very thin compared and that is why they will struggle to get footing in the super-competitive NL Central. MY PREDICTION: 75-87

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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