MMO 2015 Season Preview: National League Central

World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

Milwaukee Brewers – 5th Place

Key additions: Adam Lind… I guess?

Key subtractions: Yovani Gallardo, Rickie Weeks, Zach Duke, and Tom Gorzelanny

I was down on the Brewers before last year, and it’s impossible to deny that they proved me wrong. They collapsed and blew their chances at a playoff spot though. I don’t see how they improved last year’s team, and how they will be able to shake away from that feeling. To me, they were lucky to be in the position they were last year. Adding Lind COULD make the offense more potent as he will be surrounded by Braun, Lucroy, Gomez and Aramis Ramirez.

I’m not totally sold on Jimmy Nelson in the rotation and it’s my understanding that he was the reason Gallardo got sent packing.

The closer nobody seems to want (I wonder why) K-Rod returns for another year in Milwaukee. Overall, he and Broxton should provide decent relief at the end of the games.

Basically I’m picking them here because I think this is the best division in the NL top-to-bottom and I am just not sold on their rotation after Matt Garza at all.

Cincinnati Reds – 4th Place

Key additions: Marlon Byrd

Key subtractions: Ryan Ludwick, Mat Latos & Alfredo Simon

Really, so much of this team’s success depends on how healthy Joey Votto is and whether or not he can carry the offense. Another factor will be whether Billy Hamilton lives up to his hype and gets on base enough to impact games the way we all know he can.

Adding Byrd should give Votto protection in the heart of the order, something that he hasn’t really had much of. The lineup is filled with a bunch of decent hitters, and a declining Brandon Phillips.

The rotation is without Mat Latos who to me, gave the Reds a very reliable 1-2 punch with Cueto. Now, they are putting their eggs in the Michael Leake and Homer Bailey basket. I’m not sure I like either more than Latos to be honest.

Bailey will start the year on the DL which means Raisel Iglesias will join Jason Marquis at the bottom of the rotation. For some reason, the Reds decided to move Tony Cingrani from the rotation to the bullpen so that Iglesias can get a crack at a starting job. That decision will prove to be a big one if Iglesias fails and Cingrani is then forced out of the bullpen and back into the rotation.

Everybody knows Aroldis Chapman is downright nasty. The Reds finally seem comfortable with the fact that Chapman is a top 5 Closer, and won’t be a starter. He’s pretty much all they have in the bullpen though, and he can’t do it all.

The best case scenario is the Reds were right and Cueto-Bailey-Leake are as good of a 1-3 punch as they thought, I’m just afraid it might not be as good as they think, and their bullpen will likely lead to several blown 6th or 7th inning leads.

Pittsburgh Pirates – 3rd Place

Key additions: A.J. Burnett, Jung-Ho Kang, Francisco Cervelli, Antonio Bastardo, Corey Hart, and Sean Rodriguez

Key subtractions: Russell Martin, Edinson Volquez, and Travis Snider

The Pirates are becoming one of those teams that you just should not count out, ever. But they never seem to have enough talent to be seriously considered in the World Series contender conversation.

The addition of Jung-Ho Kang is really intriguing. He won’t start the year as the starting SS, but I think he’ll get that job by the summer’s start. He is a sleeper candidate for sure.

Can Gregory Polanco be a starting RF’er on a playoff caliber team? Players like Starling Marte have taken Polanco under their wing this spring, and they want to make him the final piece of a very dangerous outfield. If Polanco lives up to his Baseball America hype, you could be looking at the best offensive outfield in the sport.

The rotation is pretty good, nothing earth shattering but enough quality arms with Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett leading the way to be a competitive team in this division.

Cole is coming off a 2014 campaign doomed by injury. How he bounces back in 2015 will be a major factor in whether the Pirates find their way into the playoff race again. The Pirates seem to be pegging Cole as the face of this franchise from the pitcher side of things, so now is his chance to start living up to that expectation.

The red flag with the rotation is that their 1-2 punch of Cole and Liriano has never (not a typo) pitched 200 innings in a season. It’s going to be hard to fight in this packed division if your two best pitchers cannot be relied on all year.

I’m not totally sold on the bullpen. But, to be honest Mark Melancon was doubted by me last year and he did a great job in 2014.

I think Pittsburgh needs a little help in the bullpen to make it through the summer and into the fall to break through this division. Still, this is an 84+ win team in a very tough division.

Chicago Cubs – 2nd Place

Key additions: Jon Lester, Miguel Montero, Dexter Fowler, Jason Hammel, David Ross, and Jason Motte

Key subtractions: Luis Valbuena, Justin Ruggiano, and Carlos Villanueva

The hype machine is in full effect when it comes to the Chicago Cubs. First of all, he isn’t mentioned above but to me the biggest addition for the Cubs was Manager Joe Maddon.

There isn’t a Manager in the sport who gets more out of his players than Maddon. Bringing him into Chicago was a clear warning shot to the rest of the NL that the Cubs fully intend on being a contender from this point forward.

Let me break some news for you though. This team is not going to win the World Series. They aren’t even built for a 2015 pennant yet. The Cubs intentions are to create a culture of winning so their young talent can push them over the top…next year. This team reminds me of the 2005 Mets.

This year will be Jorge Soler’s first full season in the big leagues, and in just a short time last year he looked like a significant middle of the order threat. Anthony Rizzo is going to hit in front of Soler, so basically, good luck NL pitchers.

There are some weak spots in this lineup. For example, I’m not sold on Chris Coghlan in LF and Mike Olt at 3B still has to prove he is a big leaguer. I’m not sure he is.

Miguel Montero brings a Yadier Molina-like vibe to the Cubs. He’s going to be a very valuable commodity for the Cubs in the field, and at the plate.

The rotation is obviously lead by Jon Lester. Lester is a big game pitcher in a city dying for a big game win. Jason Hammel returns to the Cubs after being traded away last year.

The sneakiest pitcher in this rotation though is Jake Arrieta. Arrieta was a top prospect for the Orioles who seemed to flame out. He posted an ERA over 5 with Baltimore over 3.5 years and 63 starts. Then he comes to Chicago in a barely noticeable July 2013 trade, and absolutely dominates in 2014.

25 Starts 10-5 2.53 ERA .989 WHIP 167K/41BB in 156.2 IP. Filthy.

If Arrieta continues that trend into 2015, then Jon Lester suddenly becomes the #2 pitcher on this staff and the Cubs are looking not just good, but scary good.

St. Louis Cardinals – 1st Place

Key additions: Jason Heyward, Jordan Walden, and Mark Reynolds

Key subtractions: Pat Neshek. Shelby Miller and Oscar Taveras (RIP). 

I think by now, if you count the Cardinals out then the joke is on you. They are the model franchise in this sport if you ask me. Seriously, what team goes through no true rebuilding phase since 2000 yet consistently pumps out young talent the way they do?

I’m going to say this right now, Jason Heyward is going to be an MVP candidate. I get why Atlanta traded him due to financial concerns, but gold glove power hitters don’t grow on trees. He’s only 25 years old, it’s not his fault he isn’t Mike Trout. I’d take Heyward over Harper though.

I know when the deal happened it seemed as though the Cardinals were getting a rental player. They are going to sign Heyward, mark my words. When Heyward experiences St. Louis baseball late in the year, and they realize giving him a 7 or 8 year deal is actually a great contract – he will be locked up.

The lineup simply does not have a hole in it. You can go across the entire diamond and say “yeah I’d take that guy on my team.” Doesn’t mean they are all the best player at their position, but they aren’t Jedd Gyorko either.

The rotation is lead once again by Adam Wainwright. As true of a veteran ace as you’ll find in baseball. They traded away Shelby Miller who never seemed to put together a consistent string of starts, but they are now plugging Carlos Martinez into the rotation in his spot. Martinez didn’t really do well as a reliever, at times he seemed unhittable and other times he seemed a little too Nathan Eovaldi for me. Knowing the Cardinals though, he’ll probably end up in the Cy Young conversation.

The bullpen is solid, and deep as well. Trevor Rosenthal may not be a household name in the Closer department, but he is very effective.

Overall, top to bottom – this is the best Opening Day roster in the National League.

NL Central MVP: Jason Heyward. I’m a believer not only in Heyward, but in the St. Louis effect.

NL Central Cy Young: I should pick Carlos Martinez for fun, but I am going to take the smart play here and grab Jon Lester since he is coming from the AL to the NL.

NL Central Sleeper: So many to choose from. Polanco & Soler could easily take this. Give me Jake Arrieta for the win. 

andrew mccutchen

XtreemIcon’s Picks

5th Place – Milwaukee Brewers

I really went back and forth here because I don’t much like the Reds or Cubs, either, but in the end Jessep is mostly right. This team will score a few runs but give up way more. The starting pitching is just not there. I’m not even counting on much out of Garza, who hasn’t had a season better than slightly-above-average since 2011. The bullpen is put together with spit, scotch tape and paperclips.  I just don’t see much from this team. Then again, that’s what most people said last season…

4th Place – Cincinnati Reds

The offense is about on par with the Brewers, but the Reds have the better front line pitcher and better closer. I also wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see not only Votto but also Jay Bruce bounce back and be threats in the middle of the lineup. Was anyone else surprised that Kevin Gregg was still in the league?

3rd Place – Chicago Cubs

There’s a lot of questions surrounding this team still and I don’t trust them to be that good, but I’d give them the nod above Milwaukee and Cincinnati because they’re young and full of potential and could be better. But right now, there’s just not enough of anything. Offensively, they’re thin. After Anthony Rizzo, who’s the threat? Castro has more power than most shortstops, but a .280/.320/.400 season with 17 home runs is still not a real offensive threat. Kris Bryant will slug all the home runs, but he still won’t hit for a high average or OBP. Fowler is decent at the top of the lineup, but there’s not one guy who can reasonably expect to hit .300 and I can only see Rizzo with an OBP above .350, so how many runs are they really going to score? Solid pitching in both the rotation and bullpen will make them a 78-80 win team and they could contend of they had one more hitter and one more starter. Maybe next year, if Baez and Soler progress.

2nd Place – St. Louis Cardinals

Wait, what? Look, I just think the Cards a little thin pitching-wise and Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, and Adam Wainwright aren’t getting any younger. That’s not to say they won’t be good, and I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if they did win the division. But I don’t see a clear-cut superstar on this team and I think the Pirates have the two best players in the division. The wild card here is Carlos Martinez, who has ace stuff, and I think the Cards need every last bit of it if they want to win the division. There’s no pitching depth, and not one backup that doesn’t scare you. This team needs 150 games out of their eight starters and 30 starts from five pitchers to be really good.

1st Place – Pittsburgh Pirates

Cutch gonna Cutch. The best offensive threat in the National League by a wide margin will be joined in his quest for another MVP by Starling Marte, who will break through as elite. And I know it’s asking a lot of über prospect Gregory Polanco, but I’d be pretty excited to see the first starting outfield in major league history with 20+ home runs and 20+ stolen bases from each. I might have to wait a year. There’s offense from every position in the infield, if you think Jordy Mercer is more 2013 Jordy and less 2014 Jordy, though it would be asking a lot of Josh Harrison to repeat. Neil Walker is the second-worst defensive second baseman in the league, and they lost a big piece in Russell Martin, so there are issues. But Martin is the only real loss while they gained some nice pieces to go along with breakthroughs of Marte and Polanco. They have a very deep bullpen and a good rotation, with Gerrit Cole ready to break out. If the team stays status quo, the Cards will win the division. But I see too much talent in Marte, Polanco and Cole to expect status quo.

NL Central MVP: Cutch. Gonna. Cutch.

NL Central Cy Young: Gerrit Cole. His first full season will be special.

NL Central Sleeper: Francisco Cervelli. Don’t ask me why.

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About Michael Branda 267 Articles

Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980’s teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he’s in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.