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TPOP’s NL Central Preview

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 10.22.47 PMLet’s play ball! With Opening Day upon us later today, it’s time for another NL Central Preview, this time from the TPOP staff. Thanks to Tom Hoffman, Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli for helping out.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

Tom Hoffman:

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.

Steve DiMiceli:

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.

Kevin Creagh:

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.

BEST ROTATION

Steve – The Cardinals have an excellent mix veterans and youth. They have can potentially shut an opponent down 1-4 if their top guns are healthy.
Kevin – No rotation in the NL Central is Nats-esque, but I prefer the Cubs top 3 of Lester-Arrieta-Hammel over any other top 3 in the division

BEST LINEUP

Kevin – The Cardinals will one year not be a numbingly efficient lineup with good players from 1-8. This is not that year yet. The addition of Heyward lengthens the lineup.
Tom – Yeah, it seems like a homer pick, but let me explain why I think it’s the Pirates. This team posted top 7 numbers in the MLB for OBP (3rd), SLG (7th), and AVG (5th), all tops in the NL Central last year. Marte should put together a more consistent year as should Polanco and even with regression from Josh Harrison and the catcher platoon, Pedro ?s upside could have the Pirates primed for an potent offense.
Steve – When I consider depth, I have to pick the Pirates. Not many teams have as many capable bats on the bench let alone in AAA. In terms of everyday lineups, I met pick a couple of other clubs, but no team is set for the rigors of a 162 games schedule like the Bucs.

DIVISION MVP

Kevin – It’s easy to say Andrew McCutchen, but I’m a little worried about if his knee injury will linger. So that said, I’m going with the Brewers’ catcher, Jonathan Lucroy.
Steve – Andrew McCutchen. Even if the nagging injuries linger into the season, he’s still the best player in the division.
Tom – Is there really any point in picking against ?Cutch ? With the haircut just think how many more stolen bases he ?ll have! In all seriousness, he is the most complete player in the NL Central right now, though my dark horse candidate is Starling Marte.

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.

Kevin – The biggest contract may belong to Lester, but I’m going with Gerrit Cole. It’s his time to breakout and lead this rotation to 200+ innings and some down-ballot Cy Young votes.

DIVISION ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (NOT NAMED KRIS BRYANT)

Kevin – In the non-Kris Bryant category, I’ll go with Bryant’s teammate, OF Jorge Soler. He’s like Starling Marte, but with less speed. As for Bryant, who I do think will win the overall NL Rookie of the Year, he’ll be up by the end of April at the latest. There’s an element of Pedro Alvarez to him, thanks to the high K rate and questions about staying at 3B long-term, but his hit tool is much better than Alvarez’s and his power is a 1/2 grade higher.
Steve – With Bryant starting the season in AAA, you have to think Jorge Soler is the front runner for NL ROY.
Tom – I hate being part of the trend (or that he was off limts), but Kris Bryant just looks so good. There are others you can make arguments for, but Bryant just seems ready to be a serious contributor on the major league level.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATES

Brewers

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

Cardinals

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.

Cubs

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

Pirates

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

Reds

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.

 

BREAKDOWN/REGRESSION CANDIDATES

Brewers

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.

Cardinals

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.

Cubs

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

Pirates

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.

Reds

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

Steve is a naturalized yinzer hailing originally from just north of Allentown, PA. He came to Pittsburgh to attend Duquesne University and decided to stick around after graduation. Steve is best known for his contributions to Duquesne hoops community as the owner of the Duquesne Dukes forum on Yuku and as the former editor of We Wear the Ring on the Fansided network. He is an avid Pirates fan, home cook and policy nerd. He is the co-founder of the Point of Pittsburgh. Easily irritated by people who misuse the word regress.

2 Comments on TPOP’s NL Central Preview

  1. On Frazier as a breakdown candidate: He is the MASTER of the GAP homer. Dunno how many times I’ve seen that jackhole get fooled, finish a swing one-handed, and wind up with a homerun anyway.

    As long as he’s playing in that park he’s going to look a lot better than he really is. Can’t stand that [email protected]#$#er or that park.

    • Kevin Creagh // April 7, 2015 at 7:34 PM //

      Todd Frazier is so bland and unassuming. I’ve never heard of anyone harboring such disdain for such a milquetoast player.

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