Here is the 5th part of my MLB Divisional Previews, with the NL Central. This will be a brief overview of their off season and what expectations to have for teams as well as what tier I see them in. I have 6 tiers; Favorites, Contenders, Playoff Teams, In the Hunt, Mediocre, and Bottom Feeders.
Chicago Cubs – Mediocre
There will be a lot of new faces donning the Cubs uniforms this season as they added 9 players via FA, mostly veteran depth pieces but also bringing in some guys that could be around for a long time. With all that, they failed to retain a longtime Cub who was there for the 2016 World Series title in Willson Contreras, to the in division rival Cardinals. The biggest name added to the roster being Dansby Swanson coming off a career year with career bests in AVG, WRC+, RBI, and GP. Along with Swanson, former MVP Cody Bellinger was brought in on a 1 year prove it deal as he looks to get his career back on track to where it was pre COVID. Jameson Tallion was brought in after a year of up and downs with the Yankees last season to be the #2 guy next to Stroman, to a rotation that could end up being kind of sneaky rounded out with Steele, Smyly, and Wesneski. There are some guys to like in the lineup with the 2 free agency additions I talked about, as well as guys like Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ. I like the moves the Cubs made in the off season, bringing in a bonafide stud and a guy who’s shown what he can be when he’s on a low risk high reward deal. I feel that Chicago is trending in the right direction, especially when PCA and Brennan Davis get to the show to have guys around them in a couple years to be ready to compete. However, that time isn’t now and I like the Cubs to finish 3rd in the division.
Cincinnati Reds – Bottom Feeder
Cincinnati did just about nothing in the off season to get better or worse. It’s very clear that they have no real desire to win and are opting to develop the younger talent so that when they’re ready, the team can go out and get the big names to push the team over the top. Wil Myers was the biggest name that was brought in, a guy who was a former top prospect and never really panned out but has had his good years, most recently in the shortened 2020 season. I’m excited to see Spencer Steer in his first full season at the MLB level, after a small 28 game sample size last season. Tyler Stephenson is back and healthy and after playing just 50 games last season. Lodolo and Greene got their first taste of the majors last season and showed flashes as they look to build off of it and become what many thought of them. Overall, this isn’t a good team but they do have some guys worth watching and paying attention to, but lack talent in a lot of areas which has them coming in last in the division for me.
Milwaukee Brewers – In the Hunt
2 top prospects will be relied on to contribute early on into their careers in Brice Turang and Garrett Mitchell, as the Brewers look to find themselves back in the playoffs after missing them completely last season. Milwaukee wasn’t very active in the free agency market, but managed to bring in some guys that should be significant to their season in Braian Anderson and a reunion with Wade Miley. They were active in the trade market, sending away Kolten Wong in exchange for Jesse Winker and Abraham Toro, 2 guys that will have roles on the team; Winker’s being the DH. William Contreras was also acquired in a 3 team deal with the Braves and Athletics, where they gave up their #8 prospect in exchange for Contreras, who will be a significant upgrade at the catching spot for Milwaukee. The rotation is maybe the best in baseball, boasting a 3 headed monster of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta. The bullpen is a bit of a question mark outside of Devin Williams, a guy who was moved to the closer role after the team traded away Josh Hader. The lineup has so many questions for me that I’m not sure what to expect. I wouldn’t be surprised if Yelich bounced back to his MVP form and the Brewers finish top 10 in offense, nor would I be shocked if they finish in the bottom 10. Their season will ultimately come down to the end of the season and how well the offense plays as they will battle with the Cardinals for the division, a bout I have them losing and finishing 2nd in the division.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Bottom Feeder
The thing I look forward to the most during the Pirates season is where Bryan Reynolds ends up. Reynolds has been a guy in trade talks the last 2 seasons and has ended up staying around. Another thing I’m interested in is Roansy Contreras first full year in the bigs, as in just 95 IP last season he looked pretty solid for a rookie. Mitch Keller looked significantly better last season than he did in 2021 and is trending upward. Oniel Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes are 2 youthful guys that both have shown promise, Hayes more with the glove as he just needs to develop more offensively. Similar to the Reds, there are some young guys that will be worth watching, but a lack of general talent holds them back to 4th in the division for me.
St Louis Cardinals – Playoff Team
Bringing in Willson Contreras was the only thing the Cardinals did in the off season, which will help them improve and fill the void of future HOF Yadier Molina, who retired at the end of last season along with Albert Pujols. Top prospect Jordan Walker was announced to make the team likely as the DH as he’s been blowing up MiLB the last 2 seasons. The lineup has plenty of depth but is clearly headlined by Nolan Arenado and reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt. The pitching is the area of concern for me as a rotation led by Mikolas/Flaherty/Wainwright when healthy, is worrisome as all the other contenders in the NL have a true ace, or multiple come playoff time to rely on while STL doesn’t have that. The bullpen is one of the best in baseball, with Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos being the 2 guys to lead the way but also the depth of Jordan Hicks and Andre Pallante are some plus arms. This team is a starter or two away at the deadline away from being a true contender in the NL as I think right now they just won’t out pitch any of those upper echelon of squads, but will be the best in the Central as I expect them to win the division.
That will wrap up the 5th part of my Divisional Previews, next up will be the NL West. Feel free to comment at the end and let me know your own thoughts about any of the teams in the NL Central!