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.