Part two of Dylan and I going through each division. This is going to be tough for me because I'm a Chicago Cubs fan and I feel I'm going to get backlash for wherever I decide to place them in the rankings. I'm all for it though, so bring the heat at me. I can take it.
All joking aside, the N.L. Central is the division that is the most up in the air right now. I could see four out of the five teams winning the division. Sorry Pittsburgh, maybe next year. While there isn't necessarily a dominant team, there are four very good teams that will all be close in the standings. Let's get into my predictions for the N.L. Central.
National League Central Standings
1. Chicago Cubs 90-72
I can already see the hate coming. Before you use your twitter fingers to roast me, hear me out. There's no doubt in anyone's mind that the Chicago Cubs are the most talented team in this division. They have one of the better 1-4's in baseball, with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, and Willson Contreras/ Kyle Schwarber. They also added Glenbrook North High School grad Jason Kipnis and while he isn't the player he once was, he could still have a positive impact on the lineup. People have seen what this lineup can do. The key is consistency. If they're able to consistently put up 5-7 runs a game and limit strikeouts, their definitely a team that you don't want to face in October.
Pitching is a slight concern this year with Jon Lester aging and a fifth starting spot that's still up for grabs, but the Cubs do have a strong 1-2 punch in Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. If Darvish is able to continue his hot streak from after the All-Star break, he could contend for Cy Young. The bullpen could also be a concern because there is a lot of uncertainty with young pitchers. They did bring back Brandon Morrow on a low-risk contract and he could be the X-Factor. If he can get back to full health, he can be the consistent setup man for Craig Kimbrel. Cubs fans, this could be the year that they get back on top of the division.
2. Cincinnati Reds 88-74
The Cincinnati Reds could make a significant jump this year. They had a huge offseason, taking away key players from their division rivals. Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos, who had the best years of their careers, join an already loaded Reds lineup with Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez. Their goal this offseason was to secure another impact bat and they were able to get two. Mission accomplished.
Pitching was a major strength for the Reds last year. They were led by 27-year-old Dominican born Luis Castillo. He failed to make an impact his first two years but was able to put it all together in his third campaign. Castillo finished with a 15-8 record with a 3.40 ERA, good enough to make his first All-Star appearance. Sonny Gray was arguably even better, finishing with the fifth-best ERA in the Senior Circuit. They acquired Trevor Bauer midseason at the trade deadline. While he didn't pitch great, we know what he's capable of.
The Reds are going to be a popular sleeper pick this year and for good reason. If they can all perform up to their capabilities, they could definitely win the division and make a run in the playoffs.
3. St. Louis Cardinals 84-78
It was a disappointing offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals. They needed to get a bat to keep themselves in playoff contention Not only did they not sign or trade for a quality bat, but St. Louis also lost one of their better hitters in Marcell Ozuna. Their offense was their biggest issue and the fact that they didn't attack their biggest weakness is surprising.
Pitching shouldn't be an issue. Jack Flaherty should continue to build off his Cy Young caliber season and establish himself as a top ten pitcher in the game. They also made a very underrated move by acquiring LHP Matthew Liberatore from the Tampa Bay Rays. Although Liberatore likely won't be ready for a year or two, the former first-round pick has a very high upside, as he was one of the better high school pitchers in his class.
I think it's going to be a difficult year for the Cardinals because of their inability to put up runs. They could make a move before the deadline and should look into it as they're going to need more than they have right now.
4. Milwaukee Brewers 79-83
I go to school in Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to be exact. I'm going to get a lot of shit for this. Before I get into it, let me preface my comments by saying that Christian Yelich is the second-best player in baseball behind Mike Trout. He's one of the best hitters of this generation. There ya go Wisconsinites, you like that?
Ok, now onto why I have the Brewers so low. They lost multiple key pieces from last year's squad, including Moustakas and all-star catcher Yasmani Grandal. The people they have replacing them simply aren't as good as they were. So, the offense will most likely take a step or two back. Yelich is going to have to carry a majority of the load this year.
Milwaukee's pitching is meh. Josh Hader took a major step back last year and was even being brought up in trade rumors. If the Brewers aren't in contention by the deadline, look for teams to inquire about Hader's availability. They have good young pitchers in Brandon Woodruff and Brent Suter, but I don't think it'll be enough to help them out.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates 68-94
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh Pirates fans, it's going to be another difficult season in 2020. The team in recent years has traded away multiple bonafide studs, including the $324 million man Gerrit Cole, as well as Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, who are key members of the Tampa Bay Rays. Andrew McCutchen is long gone, the team hasn't been the same since 2015 and there really isn't much to look forward to.
One of the lone bright spots on the Pirates is Josh Bell. The 2019 All-Star put up the best statistical season of his career last year. He mashed 37 home runs, drove in 116 runs and accumulated an OPS. of .936. Hopefully, he can build on the momentum that he created last season. All-Star reliever Felipe Vasquez would be a potential bright spot, but he was suspended late last year due to charges of unlawful contact with a minor.
Long story short, Pittsburgh is going to be bad this year. They have a new GM and manager in Ben Cherington (who won a world series with the Boston Red Sox in 2013), and former Minnesota Twins bench coach Derek Shelton. Look for the Pirates to be sellers at the deadline, as they have a few pieces that could be valued by contenders, including Vasquez (if he's reinstated) and outfielder Starling Marte.