We’re previewing each division as Opening Day is right around the corner. Spring Training is in full swing right now, and it’s only a few weeks from Major League Baseball getting underway. Here’s your chance to learn more about each team. Switching over to the National League now. Let’s take a closer look at the NL Central.
The Cincinnati Reds finished with the second best record in baseball last year as they won the NL Central by nine games over the Cardinals. The Reds actually were up 2-0 on the Giants in the playoffs before losing three straight games to the eventual World Series Champions. Houston was the laughing stock of the division, but they aren’t here to beat up on anymore. The Cubs lost 101 games last year as well. Can the Cardinals make another title run, or will it be the Reds at the top of the division again?
2013 National League Central Odds & Predictions (Odds from Bookmaker)
Odds to Win NL Central: -165
The 2012 regular season was a huge success for the Reds, but they have to be disappointed with the way the playoffs ended for them. Shin-Soo Choo was the Reds biggest pickup in the offseason, and he’ll give the team the solid leadoff hitter they have been looking for the last few years. Aroldis Chapman was dominant as a closer last year, but the Reds are turning him into a starter this season.
Joey Votto is the rock in the middle of the order, and he is as good of a pure hitter as anyone in baseball. Now that he’ll have better hitters in front of him, he will likely put up even bigger numbers this season. Jay Bruce has been streaky in his first few years in the big leagues, and the team would like to see him contribute more consistently. The starting rotation stayed remarkably healthy last year. Homer Bailey came into his own in the last couple months, and the Reds hope that can continue.
Team Strengths: Good Bullpen, Deep Lineup, Great infield defense
Team Weaknesses: Weak outfield defense, Lack of Speed
St. Louis Cardinals
Odds to Win NL Central: +235
The Cardinals have won the World Series twice in the past few years, and they have done it when people aren’t expecting it. Mike Matheny did a solid job keeping things together last year through lots of changes and injuries. A young nucleus is definitely forming in Jon Jay, Allen Craig, and David Freese. Craig’s emergence helped the team move on from Lance Berkman in the offseason, and Jay is quickly becoming a highly productive center fielder. Freese should get more and more consistent as he hits the prime of his career.
The middle of the infield is the clear weakness for St. Louis heading into this year. Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso will start at shortstop and second base. On the other hand, not many teams can boast of a middle of the order like the Cardinals have. The bullpen has gotten a bit better in the offseason. Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia are a solid one and two in the rotation.
Team Strengths: Great Middle of the Order, Rising Young Stars
Team Weaknesses: Bottom of the order, Questionable fourth and fifth starters in rotation
Odds to Win NL Central: +790
Milwaukee led the league in scoring with 776 runs in 2012. Still, they couldn’t get to the playoffs because of their inconsistent starting rotation and a terrible bullpen. Ryan Braun makes the middle of the lineup look tough. Aoki and Hart will be good for the top of the order, but Hart will miss some time with an injury early in the year. Mat Gamel’s injury (he’ll miss the season) was a major hit to the team’s chances.
The starting rotation has two studs at the top in Yovani Gallardo and Mike Fiers, but the rest of the rotation is a massive question mark. Can John Axford ever bounce back to his form from a couple years ago or is the closer spot going to be a problem again?
Team Strengths: Power hitters, Star Power
Team Weaknesses: Injury concerns, No depth in the starting rotation
Odds to Win NL Central: +1,150
The past couple years the Pirates have flirted with success and then fallen hard in the last couple months of the year. The Pirates were 19-39 in their last 58 games last year after contending for a playoff spot through August. Pittsburgh is clearly better than they used to be, but I’m not sure this team is truly a playoff contender. Andrew McCutchen is a beast, but the rest of this lineup isn’t going to scare anyone. Travis Snider and Starling Marte have to become consistent offensive threats for this team to put up enough runs to win.
The pitching staff isn’t dominating, but they aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be. The bullpen took a big hit when Joel Hanrahan left. He was a lock down closer for the team, and now that leaves a massive hole in the bullpen.
Team Strengths: Depth in the outfield, Huge star in McCutchen
Team Weaknesses: Bullpen, Bottom of rotation, Questionable bottom of the order
Odds to Win NL Central: +2,350
Are the Cubs ever going to win that World Series title? They’ll obviously win it someday, but that day doesn’t appear to be anytime soon. The Cubs lost 101 games last year, and they didn’t make many big moves in the offseason. Starlin Castro is a budding star and Anthony Rizzo looks to be on track to being a big hitter, but the rest of the lineup is as weak as any in baseball.
Chicago brought in Edwin Jackson, Carlos Villaneuva, Scott Baker, and Scott Feldman for the rotation this year. They’ll join Matt Garza to form the team’s five-man rotation. All of these guys have had injury issues, and I don’t see this being a big success for the Cubs. It’ll be another long year for the Cubbies.
Predicted Order of Finish-
1. Cincinnati Reds- Easily the most balanced of the NL Central teams. The Reds should win at least 90 games again this year.
2. St. Louis Cardinals- The Cardinals could make the playoffs, but they’ll need Adam Wainwright to pitch like an Ace all year.
3. Milwaukee Brewers- Too many question marks on this pitching staff to contend here.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates- They probably won’t be in contention as long this season.
5. Chicago Cubs- Don’t be shocked if they lose 100 games or more again this season.