With Spring Training underway and everybody in the baseball world excited for the upcoming season, over the next week or so N2K will look at, preview and predict the six divisions in the MLB. We started with the AL East, NL East and AL Central. Today we continue with the NL Central.
The National League Central is made up of the Chicago Cubs, the Cincinnati Reds, the Milwaukee Brewers, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 2015 NL Central was the most competitive division in all of the MLB, with three out of five teams making the postseason. The Cardinals were the top dog in the division and have been for a while but Pittsburgh’s new ways of playing the game and Chicago’s endless stream of prospects have them both knocking on their door. A few weeks back Baseball Prospectus released their full predictions for the 2016 regular season.
Now to N2K’s Preview
St. Louis Cardinals
This team in the backdrop of the Gateway Arch has been for all intents and purposes, a perennial World Series contender. A seemingly continuous run of playoff successes and coming off their third straight NL Central title is quite the resume for October. But sadly, postseason play doesn’t accept resumes, they accept results and in my opinion the Cardinals will not achieve those results this season. St. Louis lost their centerpiece, outfielder Jason Heyward to division rival, the Chicago Cubs and now find themselves on the outside looking in.
The Cardinals season is by no means a lost cause, any team with the pitching staff and bullpen that the Cards possess can make a dent in the playoffs. Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia will lead the rotation for St. Louis and all have the repertoire to produce all-star caliber statistics. Coupled with a bullpen containing Jordan Walden and Trevor Rosenthal, runs against should not be the issue. Runs for on the other hand, will be. Losing the power bat of Heyward will place a lot of pressure on current left-fielder Matt Holliday. Expect former TCU Horned Frog Matt Carpenter to continue his leadoff spot production and consistency, also look out for Kolten Wong to have a breakout year. Hopefully, for the sake of baseball fans everywhere, catcher Yadier Molina can stay healthy for the duration of the season because his arm strength behind the plate is a spectacle to admire.
The Reds will be a participant in the race that no team wants to be apart of, the race for the first overall pick. Therefore, the worst team in baseball for that year. Cincy does not have a great starting rotation and lost their bullpen when they traded flamethrower Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees.
I expect Joey Votto, Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton to play well in 2016 but not anybody else. Definitely keep you eyes out for outfield prospect Jesse Winker, pitching prospect Brandon Finnegan and pitching prospect Robert Stephenson to burst onto the scene this upcoming season. The play of Winker, Finnegan and Stephenson will be a sign of what is to come for Reds fans.
The Brewers, similar to the Reds are not predicted to have a good year. Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Kirk Nieuwenhuis will be doing the heavy lifting for this Milwaukee team during a rebuilding year. The number six prospect in the MLB, shortstop Orlando Arcia should be making his debut soon at the age of 21 and with the play of Arcia will go the morale of the Brewers. Arcia could spark his team into divisional hopefuls once he makes his impact but it is tough to predict those types of scenarios.
The Brewers Front Office has started to use analytics and been finding successful ways to integrate them into their organization, it would not surprise me if the Brewers have a better than anticipated season, shocking many analysts across the league.
The Cubs were one of the best teams in baseball last season and also one of the youngest. Not only did the Cubs resign guys like Dexter Fowler whose contract was expired, everybody on their extremely young and talented team got some much needed experience and more importantly postseason experience. On top of resigning their free agents and developing their youthful roster, they added Ben Zobrist, John Lackey and Jason Heyward. The Cubs are now the major favorite to take home the title thanks to their limitless lineup.
You can definitely expect Anthony Rizzo, 2015 NL Rookie of the Year winner Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to all have big seasons. I don’t really see any players due for a down year for this Chicago roster, but if I had to pick one it would be Jon Lester. Now 32 years old, Lester’s arsenal just isn’t what it used to be and it could cost his efficiency. Pessimistically, the Cubs win 86 games but optimistically, they could make a run at 116 win mark set by the 2001 Mariners. I’m not predicting a record setting year by the Cubs but it is certainly not out of the question.
I for one, really am impressed with the Pirates roster this season. Although it might not be littered with big names like the Cubbies, every position is filled by a player more than capable of shining there. The Pirates organization (led by General Manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle) is extremely intelligent and continuously on the cutting edge. The Pirates are a small market team, achieving big market outcomes thanks to the work of Huntington and Company. Enough about the minds behind it and now about the players apart of it.
The Buccos are led by a speedy outfield made up of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco who have shown the ability to turn bloop singles and gap doubles into outs. The outfield shifts frequently, sometimes even between every pitch to position themselves in the perfect area in order to record an out. With an infield headlined by Josh Harrison and Jung Ho Kang, the batting lineup of in the Steel City is well diversified with both power, and contact hitters. Kang is coming off of surgery and will return early in 2016 but once he does, I expect him to have an unforgettable season. Jung Ho will be a major factor this year and will help the Pirates get past the Wild Card game in the playoffs. Kang and the rest of the offense is backed by a star-studded bullpen including all-stars Mark Melancon, Neftali Feliz and Tony Watson. On top of Cy Young candidate Gerrit Cole and crafty lefty Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh should have no problem manufacturing wins. At the end of the day, the Pirates will make the playoffs and get past the Wild Card round. And for a team made for a seven game series, the sky’s the limit.
N2K’s NL Central Prediction
Chicago Cubs 103-59
Pittsburgh Pirates 93-69
Milwaukee Brewers 84-78
St. Louis Cardinals 83-79
Cincinnati Reds 65-97
Cover Photo via USA Today
Gifs via MLB.com
Image Predictions via Baseball Prospectus