NL Central Preview: Can Anybody Catch the Cards?

The smartest thing to do over the last few years has been to pencil in the St. Louis Cardinals as the best team in the NL Central and then just throw the rest of the teams in a hat.

But, times are changing and the Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to take this division over. You throw that story line, along with the Votto-lead Reds with a new manager and you could possibly have a three team race for the division.

In your comments, we’d love to hear your predicted standings, your AL West MVP, AL West Best Pitcher, and AL West Top Sleeper.

5th Place: Milwaukee Brewers

There really isn’t much to get excited about if you’re a Brewers fan in 2014.

I guess if you’re the type of fan that allows players to move on from their mistakes, you’re excited about Ryan Braun returning and hopefully performing cleanly and proving (to himself?) that he is still an MVP type player?

MJS MJS brewers15, nws, sears, 6

He’s surrounded by a lineup that can be labeled as “not so special.” I’m not high on Carlos Gomez, and I think he will start to take a dip in offensive production.

Their starting pitching could save them from last place, but I am banking on the Cubs being a tad better than we all probably expect.

Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo were a real good 1-3 about four years ago. Now? I’m not so sure. They all would likely be #3 type starters on playoff contending teams. They aren’t bad, they just don’t scare me at all.

Overall, the team to me just doesn’t have the talent or depth to compete in this division.

4th Place: Chicago Cubs

It would be great if the Cubs could return to competitive baseball, I know a bunch of Mets fans who cannot stand the Cubs – I’m not one of them. As long as it’s not at the Mets expense, I enjoy when this team is good.

The future is bright, but 2014 is not the future.

Anthony Rizzo will have a huge spotlight on him this year as everybody tries to figure out if he was overhyped early on, or if he can really be a game changer for this franchise.

I don’t think the rotation is as good as Milwaukee’s, and to be honest – I’m not sure the offense is either. I’m pegging them 4th place because they are a young team with talent (as opposed to Houston just being a young team), and I just think they might be able to play over their heads a bit.

3rd Place: Pittsburgh Pirates

Most likely an unpopular pick, but listen – I just cannot buy this team two years straight as presently constructed.

I don’t think they are very good at 1B (Gaby Sanchez?), SS (Jordy Mercer I think?), and their rotation to me is shaky at best.

Last year, they were fortunate enough to get a career bounce back from A.J. Burnett & Francisco Liriano. I cannot reasonably suggest that I think Liriano will duplicate his 2013 campaign, and I also don’t even see who might replace Burnett in the rotation in terms of performance.

Because I do not trust Cole yet, they need Liriano to be an ace, and I don’t think he can be.

I want to find a reason for the Pirates to be successful in 2014. Andrew McCutchen obviously is a big plus, and there’s no denying that. I just get the sense that this team had its miracle year, and now we come back to reality.

I look at it like this, if I was trying to pick one of the best 8 teams in baseball from scratch – would I take anybody from their offense or rotation? Honestly, I’d take McCutchen and then have to be convinced on guys like Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez, but that’s it.

2nd Place: Cincinnati Reds

Joey Votto is looking to return to the MVP conversation, and I think if this team is in the mix for a playoff spot – he will be.

joey vottoI just don’t think they will be too be honest.

To me, the Reds time was the last two years. Now, players like Brandon Phillips are approaching the end of their time in Cincinnati perhaps, and with a new manager it may be time to re-tool the team. But, they may have one more run in them if Votto can return to form.

Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Homer Bailey can be a very good 1-3, but they seem to struggle in big games (especially Cueto).

Most baseball fans are eager to see what Billy Hamilton can do in a full year, and I cannot blame them.

At the end of the day though, I think this team has been right where they needed to be the last few years and they couldn’t close the deal. Time is running out, and 2014 may be their last chance to make a big dent in the National League.

1st Place: St. Louis Cardinals

They are just a cut above everybody else in this division not only on the field, but off the field as well.

Last fall it’s almost as if they found a future ace by accident, at least it felt that way. Michael Wacha is going to be the #1 guy behind Adam Wainwright, but that will be temporary. They are easily the best 1-2 punch in this division, and they are followed by guys like Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller who most teams would love to have in their rotation.

Their lineup is so good too. Lead by the best on field leader in the game today (Yadier Molina), the Cardinals will post a lineup that on paper has no holes at all.

The addition of Jhonny Peralta at SS will be a huge plus for this team, in spite of his past mistakes – he is a solid SS.

peter bourjos angels

I am real curious to see what Peter Bourjos does for the Cardinals. Call me crazy, but I think he gives Cardinals fans memories of Jim Edmonds in the field, but with less power at the plate.

They are just a complete team and I really cannot sit here and give you reasons why anybody else will win this division – because I don’t think anybody else can.

NL Central MVP: Joey Votto, Cincinnati – I was tempted to go with Yadier Molina, but the truth is, if the Reds are in the mix this year, I think Votto has returned to form.

NL Central Cy Young: Michael Wacha, St. Louis – I am excited to see what this kid will do with a full year.

NL Central Sleeper: Welington Castillo, Chicago – He actually had a pretty solid 2013 – I just don’t think anybody really noticed. I am looking for an .800+ OPS type year from him.

XtreemIcon’s Picks

This will be easy. I agree with the standings. I have nothing to add in that regard. But there are a few points I’d like to touch on:

I think the Brewers do have things to be excited about. Jean Segura is one of the most exciting young players in baseball and Jonathan Lucroy is one of the more underrated catchers in baseball. The back end of the rotation, Marco Estrada and Willy Peralta both have a lot of talent, but need to take that next step. Über prospect Tyler Thornburg will make the team out of the bullpen, but has great starter potential and will be the next man up if one of the initial starting five goes down to injury or poor performance. Also, their second baseman’s name is Scooter. That’s a win.

I think the Cubs have better and deeper pitching than the Brewers and Rizzo will in fact reach his potential. He is poised for a big season and Junior Lake has tons of potential. If Rizzo and Lake don’t reach their potential and Jeff Samardzjia isn’t the best pitcher between the two teams, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Brewers finish fourth. I just think it’s the Cubs’ position to lose.

Jessep was close with the Pirates, I just quibble with two things. The first is needing Liriano to be an ace. They don’t. They have Gerrit Cole, and he’s a certified beast. Liriano may get the Opening Day start and may be listed as the team’s ace on the depth chart, but Cole will anchor that rotation. Liriano just has to be good. The second is Staling Marte. I think Jessep overlooked him when listing McCutchen as the only position player to get excited about. The Pirates will contend, but fall just short of the playoffs.

The Reds are a very tenuous second place prediction. Mat Latos will not be ready for the start of the season, but shouldn’t be out long. Closer Aroldis Champman scared us all half to death after a comebacker brained him, but shouldn’t be out past May. Brandon Phillips is on the decline. There’s questions about whether or not Hamilton will get on base enough for his speed to be a real threat. That all said, they still have the best player in the division in Votto and an all around solid team. The best addition, however, could possibly be Bryan Price simply because he’s not Dusty Baker. While I don’t think Baker cost the team the seven wins they finished behind St. Louis for the division last season, I do think they could have made up the four games they finished behind Pittsburgh for the first Wild Card spot and had home field for that game, and who knows what could have happened then. Batting Zack Cosart and his .284 OBP second as often as he did killed the offense (look no further than Votto’s RBI total). If Price has even a clue about constructing a lineup, this team should be able to score plenty of runs.

The Cardinals are the best team in the NL. I just have to disagree with Jessep on Wacha. I’d say it would be a sophomore slump, but really, I just don’t think he’s all that great. He’ll be OK. Probably decent. People will call it a slump, but I think that’s just who he is. I also have to ask Jessep if we’re talking about the same Peter Bourjos. The guy I’m talking about, the guy who came from Anaheim, can’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Stellar defense, no question, but the personification of a one-tool player. A fourth outfielder extraordinaire. He’s going to be the guy Oscar Taveras replaces when he gets his legs back underneath him after a poorly timed injury in 2013. If Taveras is delayed in the minors even one day longer than he should be in favor of Bourjos “needing” to play, it would be a tremendous fail on the part of Mike Matheny.

Come on, Jessep. Edmonds is a hall of famer.

NL Central MVP: Votto. He’s the best player in the division, and the Reds are a sub-.500 team without him.

NL Central Cy Young: Gerrit Cole. Wainwright is still probably better at this early point in Cole’s career, but I don’t think he has the elite stuff he had in his heyday. He’ll likely be a top pitcher again, but I’m going to go out on the limb here.

NL Central Sleeper: Devin Mesoraco. He had really, really good minor league numbers, but it hasn’t translated to the majors yet. He’ll likely start the season on the DL, but if he can catch 130 games this season, he’s going to surprise. He has immense talent on both sides of the ball, but was squandered on the bench in 2013 (there’s that managerial genius by Baker again). In Baker’s defense, Mesoraco never really distinguished himself during the few starts he did get, but Mets fans know with Juan Lagares how difficult it is to develop a rhythm starting only sporadically. Difference is, Lagares eventually got the everyday gig. Mesoraco never did. Have I mentioned Baker killed his team in 2013?


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.