MLB Preview & Predictions: NL Central

2017 National League Central Projected Standings:

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

Chicago Cubs:

The Cubs took the Cleveland Indians to seven games in the World Series last season and ultimately won the coveted championship.  It was the first time since 1908 that the team had won it all.  Besides the New York Mets, the Cubs probably have the best overall starting rotation in the MLB.  They were led by Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jake Arrieta.  Those three combined went 53-21 last year with an average ERA of 2.56.  Kris Bryant won the NL MVP with twenty-nine of the thirty first place votes and was the fourth player in history to win the MVP the year after winning the Rookie of the Year.  His partner in crime, Anthony Rizzo hit .292 with 32 homeruns and 109 RBI’s.  The team was also without one of their best players last season in Kyle Schwarber.  Although he did play in the World Series, they did miss his production just a tad.

This team is going to be great for a long time, not just this year and next, but for the next five to seven years.  All of their star players are young enough and have enough talent to carry this team when needed.  They have an average team age of 28.8 years old.  The team lost two major pieces in this off-season, losing Aroldis Chapman to free agency and Dexter Fowler, but replaced them with Wade Davis and Albert Almora Jr.  The outfield left to right is Ben Zobrist/Kyle Schwarber, Almora Jr., and then Jason Heyward in right.  The infield right to left is Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Kris Bryant.  Finally, behind the plate you have three potential catchers in Schwarber, Miguel Montero, and Wilson Contreras.  One player to watch this year will be Javier Baez.  He only hit .273 last season with a 3.4 WAR, but I’m looking for him to have a powerful year in this stacked Cubs team.

St. Louis Cardinals:

The Cardinals did not make the playoffs last year, I repeat, the Cardinals did not make the playoffs last year.  If you’re from St. Louis, you take pride in your Cardinals because they are one of the best.  They have been in the playoffs every year, until the past season, since 2010.  They won the World Series in 2011 and won five seasons before in 2006.  When I watched the postseason last year with my step-father (he’s a Cardinals fan), him and I were both shocked to just not see the Cardinals there.  With the addition of Dexter Fowler and a few key call-ups from the minors, this team is looking for vengeance.  On the downside of this however, they play the Cubs sixteen times this season, which means, those series against the Cubbies can make or break this season.

Twenty-two year old Alex Reyes pitched in twelve games last season, he went 4-1 in the five he started, and finished with a 1.57 ERA and fifty-two strikeouts.  This kid was looking fantastic, almost a holy grail offering to the Cardinals as the back end of their starting rotation has been lacking in the past few seasons.  Unfortunately, just a week ago he had Tommy John surgery and will be on the mend this season.  Head Coach Mike Matheny is trusting Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake, Lance Lynn, and Michael Wacha is his starting five.  In the infield right to left, you have a combination of Matt Adams/Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong at second, Aledmys Diaz at short, and Johnny Peralta at third.  With Fowler controlling center field, he will be paired up with Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to roam the outfield.  One player to watch this season will be Piscotty and how he performs compared to last year.  Entering his third season, St. Louis would like to keep the homerun production the same, but bump up the average just a slight bit.  He hit .273 last season and Piscotty has the potential to be a .295 or even .300+ hitter.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 

Personally, I can never figure out who the Pirates are as a team and frankly neither can they.  From 2013-2015 they finished second in the now seriously competitive NL Central and now finish below .500 and twenty-five games back from the team in first place.  They saw a huge dip in productivity from star player Andrew McCutchen, where he only hit .256 with a .336 OBP.  In 2013 when he won the NL MVP, he produced a 8.1 WAR, this year, -0.7.  They have great players on this team, but it’s a matter of executing the win and getting ahead early in the game instead of trying to come back in the seventh, eighth, or even ninth innings.

One of the major holes on this Pittsburgh team is their starting rotation.  Behind #1 Gerrit Cole, they don’t have much to show for.  He will be accompanied by Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, and Chad Kuhl.  Nova is an extremely streaky pitcher, having good runs within the season, or just having disastrous ones all together.  A developing story in the past couple months or so is Jung-Ho Kang and his DUI situation.  He is a stellar defender at third, along with a decent bat, and if he is punished by either the Pirates or the MLB, he will be missed by both.  One player to watch this season will be Josh Bell.  Bell is a first basemen that was called up late last year and showed that he can play.  He hit .273 in only forty-five games.

Milwaukee Brewers: 

Since 2008 the Brew Crew has only made it to the playoffs twice, in 2008 and 2011.  The teams’ past two seasons have both been under the .500 mark, but look to gain some ground with a young roster in the 2017 season.  Half of their roster contains massive holes and their pitching staff is no better.  Their starting five is comprised of Junior Guerra, Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta, and Matt Garza.  Garza, who has been with the team for the previous three seasons, has a total record of 20-30 with a 4.57 ERA.  Earlier in his career, he had looked like a solid two starter, but now can barely get by as a four or even five starter.

Jonathan Villar and Orlando Arcia are going to command a very young infield, along with an extremely young offense as a whole.  Villar hit .285 with nineteen homeruns last season in 156 games.  Arcia and Scooter Gennett split time at second last season, so that obviously limited Arcia’s numbers.  The outfield will be roamed by Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana, and Ryan Braun.  Braun elevated his stats this past season, hitting .305 with thirty homeruns and ninety-one RBI’s.  Surrounded by PED suspensions and speculations the past few seasons, it will be nice for Braun to take some charge and mentor this young team.  The one player to watch this season will be Braun and how he handles the leadership role, along with producing his constant high value numbers.

Cincinnati Reds: 

The Reds have finished their past three seasons under .500, which means that they are in the process of rebuilding.  They traded away one of their fan favorites in Brandon Phillips.  Phillips was a human highlight reel, making absolutely fabulous plays out in the field, roaming second base.  Cincinnati will sure miss his offensive ability too.  He hit .294 and .291 in the previous two seasons, producing both in the field and at the dish.  They also lost RF Jay Bruce via trade on August 1, to the New York Mets.  Although he was a very low average hitter, who struck out a decent amount, the team will miss is outstanding amount of power.

This team that is heading into 2017 is going to have a massive amount of holes.  Their entire pitching staff is weak, with the exception of a few good middle relief pitchers.  They have speedy Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall patrolling the outfield and lastly Joey Votto over at first base.  Votto has played all ten years of his career with Cincinnati, hitting for a career .313 average with a .425 OBP, which is absolutely ridiculous.  The man has led the league in walks four times, OBP five times, and has a 47.3 WAR over that span of time.  My one player that I will watch is going to be Billy Hamilton.  In his three major seasons with the Reds, he has recorded fifty-six, fifty-seven, and fifty-eight steals, in that order.  I want to see if he will reach sixty in one season and maybe hit the .300 mark in this upcoming season.

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