Since the Cubs have made some significant moves, I’ve been following the off-season fairly close and decided typing up a short post on my thoughts on the NL Central teams as they currently stand would be fun. Obviously, I picked that division since it’s the one the Cubs are in, which is all that matters. I’m doing it in a worst to best order as that seemed the most logical (plus we all know who is at top, and let’s avoid that for a bit shall we). Let’s do it!
Honestly, I’m not sure what Cincinnati is doing. When they traded Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, it looked like they might be starting a rebuild, but then traded for Marlon Byrd with one year left on his contract. That seems like a ‘Go for it now’ kind of move, but the other trade doesn’t make much sense in that regard. This will be an interesting year for Reds fans. Still with Cueto, Phillips, and Votto they could be surprisingly average and I would put them slightly ahead of the Brewers.
When I started writing this, I couldn’t think of much the Brewers had done this off-season, and it turns out there was a reason for that: They really didn’t do much. The only trade of significance was sending Gallardo to Texas, but there was no major league players in return so the help for this year is questionable. Ryan Braun might return to his previous form after dealing with injuries last season, but it’s not something I would count on. Not to mention Lucroy just went down with an injury, and if he is out a large amount of time the losses could really pile up. I fall into the camp that believes the insane start they had last season was more of a fluke than reality, so 77 wins seems about right. Assuming everyone stays healthy that is.
I never thought I’d be excited over a middle of the pack predicted finish for the Cubs, but after the last couple of years, it looks nice. Theo and company have added Joe Maddon as the manager, signed Jon Lester, re-vamped the catching situation with Miguel Montero and David Ross, and traded for Dexter Fowler to help patrol the outfield. It’s been an active offseason for the Cubs to say the least. Where they actually finish in the division will depend hugely on how well the young players such as Baez, Soler, Bryant, and others preform, which is why everyone should keep their expectations under control. If all the things break right for them (highly unlikely) they could finish well above this, but they could also finish slightly below this if the young players struggle. A middle of the pack finish is a good prediction, as they stand to do better than last year and this isn’t far above it. No matter what though, it’s going to be an interesting season.
The Pirates didn’t do a ton this off-season either, but have made the post season the last two seasons in a row, and I suspect a third trip is in order short of some disastrous outcome (Or the Cubs sneaking past them!). They lost Russell Martin to free agency, and didn’t add a catcher, so that could weaken them a bit. They added Corey Hart and Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang which will help offset some of that production loss, but it’s no guarantee. They also brought back A.J. Burnett, and while he is a bit of an unknown variable, if he returns to his previous form he’ll be more than adequate to take the mound every 5th game. Plus they have McCutchen, and good lord is that guy impressive. I’d look for Buctober to come again this fall.
What can I say about the Cardinals? They’re good. They have average or better players at almost every position, and the depth to overcome injuries. The only weak spot might be their rotation, but that’s only if they start to show their age and regress, and that’s a long shot. Even if that happens they’ll probably just pick up a pitcher who has been struggling or isn’t that great, and he’ll become a Cy Young candidate. The Cardinals know how to work that voodoo magic. They picked up Jason Heyward to offset the loss of Oscar Taveras (both a really tragic and avoidable accident) and made a few other minor moves that I can’t remember. They were first last year and will more than likely be first again this year. I really hate that they are this good.
So what is the takeaway from all of this? The Reds and Brewers are going to be mediocre at best, the Cubs are a huge wild card with serious upside, the Pirates will hold their own, and the Cardinals will be good as usual. As a Cubs a fan I want to believe they will win the division as Rizzo has predicted, but it’s more likely that the young guys will have their ups and downs, and the Cubs will hopefully be competing for a Wild Card spot come September. I don’t mean that as a bad thing either, it’s FANTASTIC.
No matter what the season holds though, I can’t wait for baseball to be back and the 70° weather it brings with it. Let’s go Cubs!
P.S. I just remembered the Cardinals signed Carlos Villanueva who was a good long man reliever for the Cubs. Damn it, Cardinals.