PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. St. Louis Cardinals (90-72)– It ?s hard to pick against the St. Louis Cardinals, they always seem to rise to the top. With a healthy Yadier Molina, Michael Wacha, and adding Jason Heyward, I like their chances to repeat.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74) – They have the confidence of a division champ, but I don ?t see this team as strong as the one they brought north last year. Of course, if Marte continues his late season tear, Polanco can figure it out, and Pedro gets a brain transplant, this could be a dangerous team.
3. Milwaukee Brewers (84-78) – A lot of people are picking the Brewers to finish last in the Central, yet this is basically the same team that had the best record in baseball at the halfway mark. A more consistent season can be expected as its difficult to lose 22 of 31 with as talented a lineup as they have.
4. Chicago Cubs (81-81) – Everyone is excited about the Cubs. They did add Maddon, who is great at getting the most from young talent, but Jon Lester is less than a 1 WAR replacement over Samardzija. Kris Bryant, though impressive, is going to be prone to rookie struggles just like Polanco in 2014. This team will be improved, but not by more than 8 games.
5. Cincinnati Reds (76-86) – I believe the Reds repeat last year’s performance at 76 wins. Votto ?s contract is too burdensome to allow them to keep their free agent starters and their replacements are not on par. This offense has the potential to make them legitimate candidates, but the starting 5 just don ?t have it for me.
1. Pittsburgh Pirates (92 – 70) – The Pirates are just getting rolling. The only questions are with the rotation, but they should have the depth to straighten it out.
2. St Louis Cardinals (91 – 71) – The race for the NL Central is going to be a blast this year and it should come down to the last weekend. I’ll use the D word again here. I’m not sure the Cards have quite the same depth as Pittsburgh and I think that’s the difference of a 162 games season.
3. Chicago Cubs (82 – 80) – The Cubs looked stacked on paper but I think they’re a year away from maxing out their potential and truly competing. I also have concerns about them until their offense heavy system starts pumping out arms.
4. Milwaukee Brewers (79-83) – The Brewers have enough bats that will play at Miller Park, but will they have the pitching? They don’t have a true #1 and might not even have a high end #2. They do have a set of #3’s but without lock down pitching, I just don’t know how well they’ll play on the road.
5. Cincinnati Reds (75 – 87) – The Reds will be the best last place team in baseball if that’s any consolation to them. I think they’re an ok team, but they have the most question marks in the lineup, the rotation and on the bench.
1. St Louis Cardinals (95-67) – Until proven otherwise, they’re as consistent a winning franchise (from majors to minors) as there is in baseball.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates (90-72) – The Pirates made just enough moves this offseason to be a wild card contender, but not enough to displace the Cards as a Division winner.
3. Chicago Cubs (83-79) – This team is going to be a handful in 2016, but I think this year will experience some growing pains. Still a couple pieces short for me.
4. Milwaukee Brewers (77-85) – Their window has closed, Braun is a shell of himself, and the pitching rotation is pretty awful.
5. Cincinnati Reds (76-86) – This team is stuck between rebuilding and reloading, but I feel a lot of that is external pressure to put a competitive team on the field to sell 2015 All-Star Game tickets. Could be a fire sale in July.
DIVISION’S TOP PITCHER
Tom – Blah blah blah Jon Lester. The top pitcher in the NL Central is Adam Wainwright, hands down. His combined 12.4 WAR in 2013-14 are the third highest for all pitchers in baseball. Cueto had a great year last year, but Wainwright is tops in the division.
Steve – Adam Wainwright. Despite Jon Lester’s paycheck and Gerrit Cole’s upside, I don’t think there is a pitcher in the Central I’d prefer to Wainwright.
DIVISION ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (NOT NAMED KRIS BRYANT)
Steve – Adam Lind. Miller Park could be just what the doctor ordered for him.
Kevin – Jean Segura. I think a lot of Segura’s issues last year were due to the death of his infant son, so he may be ready to establish himself this year
Tom – Jason Heyward. I think Heyward flourishes in the NL Central. 25 years old, entering his physical prime, one of the best Defensive WAR ?s in baseball to his credit and a lot more protection in the St. Louis lineup then he had in Atlanta, I think Jason Heyward puts together a great 20/20 HR/SB year, with a better average to match his excellent glove skills.
Kevin – Kolten Wong. I think he’s going to be a solid 2B for the Cardinals and act as a 2nd leadoff man for them.
Steve – Michael Wacha. He’s gotten big opportunities in big situations, but I think he puts himself into the Cy Young conversation for the first time.
Steve – Starlin Castro. He’s been the best player on some bad teams, but at only 25, I think he has another level.
Kevin – Anthony Rizzo. He’ll establish himself as the top 1B in the National League this year
Steve – Tony Sanchez. The only thing standing between he and a starting catching gig was his arm. If that issue is behind him, he could finally reach his potential.
Kevin – Starling Marte. There’s one more gear, at least, to his game. An 18 HR/35 SB is well within reach
Kevin – Uhhhh…man. This is a tough one as players like Mesoraco and Frazier already broke out. Their only pitcher of note is Cueto and he’s a Cy Young candidate already. I’m taking Mesoraco, but honestly I think this is a bad team that’s going to be broken up after the All-Star Game is held in Cincy.
Steve – Jay Bruce. Not a breakout as much as a bounce back.
Kevin – Ryan Braun. He hasn’t been the same since his duo of a thumb injury and lack of PED’s. I think he’ll continue to regress this year.
Steve – Jonathan Broxton. I could go in a lot of directions here, but I’m going to go with
Powers Broxton. His peripherals are on the decline and I suspect the real performance will follow.
Kevin – Matt Holliday. Holliday has been downsliding for a while, but I think this is the year that there is a noticeable inflection point downward
Steve – Yadier Molina. Molina might have “the best shape of his career” after 30 bounce back season, but he may have also started the slow, inevitable decline.
Kevin – Jake Arrieta. I really like him, but he may backslide a little from his fantastic peripherals of 2014
Steve – Javier Baez. Even at 22, I think Baez could have his probably not going to happen for him season
Tom – Josh Harrison. He reached dizzying heights in 2014, I think he remains an above average MLBer, I just don ?t see him repeating his .315/.347/.490 line and 5.3 WAR from last year.
Kevin – Josh Harrison. I think the magic pixie dust wears off and he’s merely a “very good” player
Steve – Charlie Morton. He’s managed to bounce back after every major surgery, but I think 2015 is when the injury bug bites start to sting.
Steve – Billy Hamilton. Speed doesn’t slump, but it doesn’t get you a 3.7 fWAR every season either.
Kevin – Todd Frazier. He’s a player without standout tools, but he managed a huge season last year. I think that he’ll slide back a little