MLB Season Preivew – NL Central
I don’t know if anyone outside of Cincy and Pittsburgh will pick against the Cards to win this division yet again. They’re just simply the model franchise right now, with not only a great team on the field, but always 3 or 4 good prospects on the way. But Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have built something pretty nice and will at least challenge the Cards. The Brew crew and the Cubs look locked into the bottom of the division for the time being.
I hit on most of it off the top but again, this team is the model franchise. How do you go from a legend like Tony LaRussa to a rookie manager like Mike Matheny and not skip a beat?! I know the manager doesn’t have a big impact on the game, but that’s ridiculous. This team is simply primed once again to head to the playoffs and challenge for another World Series title.
Pitching: They don’t have a quality starter on the horizon…because their kids are already on the staff and look great. Wainwright is a stud, Wacha looks like he will become a stud, and then you have Shelby Miller. Miller came into last season as mine and many other people’s pick as NL ROY, had a 15-9 season with a 3.06 ERA and was basically forgotten because Wacha was so good! I love the power arms the Reds have, but this is the best staff in the division. And with Rosenthal, Carolos Martinez, and Jason Motte due back by the end of May, the bullpen might be even better than the staff
Hitting: Did anyone even notice that they lost Albert Pujols 2 years ago? What an amazing decision for the franchise that was! If Oscar Tavares isn’t a starter on opening day, it won’t be long until he is. How do the 2 teams in last year’s World Series each have a top 5 prospect?! Unreal. But this lineup is just really well constructed. Matt Carpenter leading off is real solid. Holliday, Adams, and Craig give them a lot of power in the middle of the lineup, and Molina has become a real solid bat no matter where they slot him. Great lineup 1-8.
Defense: Other than Molina, they don’t look as solid as the team that had a .988 fielding percentage and only committed 75 errors. Tavares would help the OF a lot but where do they put him? Bourjos they obviously wanted for a reason, and you don’t want to take Holliday or Craig’s bats out of the lineup. It is a little head scratching that Peralta was brought in to start at SS as he is far from good defensively, but tough to question the Cards front office. I’m sure they’ll look to upgrade.
2. Cincinnati Reds
3 times in 4 seasons this team has made the playoffs. Albeit last year was just the wildcard game, but still a pretty good accomplishment for a franchise who prior to the 2010 season hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1995, yet the enter 2014 with Brian Price taking over for Dusty Baker as manager. I do think that with the right breaks they can steal the division from the Cards.
Pitching: As I said before I love that they have power arms in the rotation. Latos, Bailey, Cueto, and last year left hander Tony Cingrani emerged (120 K’s in just 104.2 IP). And they have yet ANOTHER big arm on the way perhaps by next season named Robert Stephenson who has ace potential. But they’re already beat up. Cueto still isn’t fully healthy after missing most of last season, Bailey injured his groin, and Latos had knee surgery in February and may start the season on the DL. As will star closer Aroldis Chapman after taking that line drive off his face in spring training. There is no timeline for his return, and it’ll likely mean J.J. Hoover takes over as closer for now.
Hitting: Rookie Billy Hamilton is a big key for this team. If he can have an OBP of .310-.330 then it’ll be huge with his incredible speed on the bases. And he’ll have some big bats to drive him in. Phillips, Votto, and Bruce all have pretty big power, and a guy like Todd Frazier has provided some nice power for them as well. I seem to like this lineup more than most do, as I believe it’s pretty balanced.
Defense: They’re really solid in the field, as last year they finished 6th in the majors with a .988 fielding percentage and committed just 76 errors. Hamilton can cover a ton of ground in CF, although he doesn’t have the arm that Shin-Soo Choo had. Former Expo (say that while I can) Brandon Phillips is the star of this team defensively as he won his 4th gold glove last season.
Some experts are expecting them to take a step back. That is entirely possible. But I think this club is going to build off the momentum of last season and be neck and neck with the Reds all year. They might not improve, but I believe they’ll be in the wildcard hunt. They have a lot of talented players who aren’t even close to their ceiling.
Pitching: The huge key here is Liriano. Was last season just one last great season for a guy who at one time looked like he would be among the elite in baseball? Or has he got his career back on track? If he gives them 16 wins and a 3.02 ERA again then they look good. Otherwise they’ll need Gerrit Cole to really step up which is a lot to ask from a 23 year old. The rest of the staff is pretty questionable though, and what they really could use is Jameson Tallion emerging. The bullpen was awesome last season. Jason Grilli is a damn good closer, and Mark Melancon was lights out.
Hitting: Obviously they’re led by NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, and it wouldn’t shock me if he was even better. He is more than capable of a 30/30 season. Sterling Marte has the tools to be a great lead off man but he has to improve his OBP. Prospect Gregory Polanco is close and might be on the opening day roster. He is a 5 tool OF who Pirate fans are really excited about. Overall they have a lot of power 1-6, and some pretty good speed with the aforementioned McCutchen and Marte. They’ll need to be better than last season, but the talent is there to do it.
Defense: Despite having a stud in CF with McCutchen (gold glove winner in 2012), there pretty literally was no “D” in Pittsburgh last season. The OF as a whole can cover a ton of ground, but the IF is pretty sketchy. Neil Walker came up as a catcher, Alvarez has a great bat but isn’t real smooth in the field, and Jordy Mercer is a work in progress at SS. Russell Martin is solid behind the plate, but overall they can make life pretty tough on their pitching staff.
Man I love this symbol. I mean on this particular one they needed to shed the name of the club, but that is one of the best symbols in all of sports. Ironically one of the worst things in sports is Ryan Braun and all eyes will be on him entering this season. He’s had a great spring, but if he doesn’t produce at an elite level, Brewers fans will want him gone after last season’s mess.
Pitching: Yovani Gallardo does have some pretty great stuff. But which guy will they get? He was pretty bad in the first half last season, and great in the second half. When he’s on, he’s a top of the rotation guy. Kyle Lohse is a solid guy and might be their most consistent guy. Ironic since the reason they got him so cheap was because he was so inconsistent during his career. Not that Matt Garza is…but I like Garza for them as their number 3 guy. Much like Gallardo, when he’s on he’s awesome. I don’t want that from my number 1, but my number 3 can be that way. The bullpen has been overhauled after a terrible 2013.
Hitting: Again the question has to be asked of which Braun will we see? If he can get back to his MVP type numbers….and do it CLEAN….then all will be forgiven not just in Wisconsin but in that clubhouse as well. He is the key to this team getting back to the top of the division. You know what Carlos Gomez is going to give them, Aramis Ramirez is still a solid bat when healthy, and Jonathan Lucroy provides a lot of pop for a catcher. They desperately need to upgrade at 1st though. Lyle Overbay? That didn’t work for the Jays in 2006, and it sure as hell isn’t going to work for Milwaukee 8 years later.
Defense: Well Carlos Gomez won the gold glove last season and it could be the first of many for him. Ramirez was at one time pretty great defensively and perhaps doesn’t have a gold glove only because Scott Rolen was in his way in the NL all those years. But they ranked last year as one of the worst defensive clubs in baseball committing an NL worst 114 errors and .981 fielding percentage. This must be cleaned up.
The rebuild continues on the North side of Chicago as some of the patience seems to be wearing thin with Theo Epstein. But they need to stick with it. The guy is brilliant, he just needs time to get the pieces in place. Once they are, they’ll land free agents and become a contender once again, and baseball is so much better when the Cubs are a contender.
Pitching: Samardzija gives them a lot of innings and a lot of K’s, but he gets rocked too much which is why they tried to move him this off season. Travis Wood was a lot more reliable posting a very nice 3.11 ERA. But it’s not pretty not just on the staff but what is coming. None of their top prospects are pitchers. And the pen might be worse than the staff, so it could be a long year for Cubs pitching.
Hitting: Can Anthony Rizzo take that next step and get his BA up to the .260-.270 range? Will Starlin Castro simply grow up and start playing up to his massive potential? If those things happen the lineup could be in decent shape. But if those things don’t happen I don’t know where they’ll get more offense from. Nate Schierholtz is a solid bat but I can’t see him exceeding last year’s performance. Too many “if’s” in this lineup to expect big things from them.
Defense: With such a young team it should come as no surprise that they aren’t very good in the field. Better than the Brewers, and pretty even with the Pirates, but that’s not an accomplishment. Castro could be a gold glover, but again he needs to grow up especially with prospect Javier Baez coming for his job.
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