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Thursday, March 20, 2014

2014 Season Previews: NL Central

Yesterday, we broke down the NL East as we see it unfolding over the next 6 months. Today, we'll take a glance at the Central.

1st Place, St. Louis Cardinals

Lineup
3B Matt Carpentar
2B Kolton Wong
LF Matt Holliday
RF Allen Craig
C Yadier Molina
1B Matt Adams
SS Jhonny Peralta
CF Peter Bourjos
 
Rotation
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Michael Wacha
RHP Shelby Miller
RHP Lance Lynn
LHP Jaime Garcia
SU: RH Carlos Martinez
CL: Trevor Rosenthal

The Cardinals have done a pretty good job at keeping a stronghold on the NL Central over the last 7-8 years and 2014 looks like it will be no different. No matter who the Cards seem to lose, they always end up finding a replacement and that's a sign of a very good organization. Their lineup doesn't really have that one big superstar like they did when Pujols was around, but it's extremely deep with guys who are tough outs nonetheless. I'm curious to see what Matt Adams does with a full-time gig after hitting 17 big flies in just over 300 plate appearances last summer. The Cards are counting on him making up for lost production from departed outfielder Carlos Beltran. The Cards have a near perfect mix of veteran guys who still get the job done and young up-and-coming talent that has already proven itself at this level sprinkled throughout their roster. Wainwright is one of the more underrated aces in the game, but there hasn't been many other arms as successful as he's been not only before the injury, but especially since. Their bullpen is sound too, led by new young closer Trevor Rosenthal (a guy who I think can become a top-5 closer), but they definitely need Jason Motte to make a strong return in order for them to reach their full potential. They're definitely not the flashiest team in the league, but they always find ways to win and are one of the most well-rounded teams in all of baseball.

2nd Place, Cincinnati Reds  (NL Wild Card)

Lineup
CF Billy Hamilton
2B Brandon Phillips
1B Joey Votto
RF Jay Bruce
LF Ryan Ludwick
3B Todd Frazier
C Devin Mesoroco
SS Zach Cozart

Rotation
RHP Mat Latos
RHP Homer Bailey
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Mike Leake
RHP Tony Cingrani
SU: RH Jonathan Broxton
CL: LH Aroldis Chapman*

The Reds lost a big component to last years team when Shin-Soo Choo signed with the Rangers over the winter, but Cinci is hoping that bright young speedster Billy Hamilton is ready to take center field and run with it. If last season and this springs small sample size is any indication, he certainly is. They still have Votto and Bruce holding down the middle of their order, and with Phillips and Hamilton at the top, the Reds are as good as anyone 1-4, and their bottom half isn't too shabby either. Although they don't really have a true ace (Cueto was on his way before injuries the last 2 seasons), they have one of the deepest rotations in the game. Just to give you an idea, Cingrani went 7-4 with a 2.77 ERA and 120 K's in 104 innings in 18 starts in his rookie season, and he's slated in the fifth spot. If Cueto can stay healthy for 30 starts, and that they can overcome going through at least 1/3 of their season without ace closer Aroldis Chapman (who suffered those brutal facial fractures after taking a Salvador Perez come-backer to the face), they're going to be right in the thick of things come September. Of course, if Cueto goes down like he did last year, and Chapman doesn't come back in a timely fashion, the Brewers and Pirates could be on their heels.
*Chapman out at least 2 months with facial injuries

3rd Place, Milwaukee Brewers

Lineup
SS Jean Segura
2B Scooter Gennett
RF Ryan Braun
3B Aramis Ramirez
CF Chris Gomez
C Jonathan Lucroy
LF Khris Davis
1B Juan Francisco

Rotation
RHP Yovani Gallardo
RHP Matt Garza
RHP Kyle Lohse
RHP Marco Estrada
RHP Wily Peralta
SU: RH Francisco Rodriguez
CL: RH Jim Henderson

I think the Brewers are going to be real players in the central this season and make a legitimate run at a NL Wild Card spot if they keep their core healthy. There probably aren't a lot of people picking them above the Pirates, but I even considered them over Cincinnati. I think they're one of the more talented teams in the league. Of course, they'll need Ryan Braun to be the pre-2013 version of himself, Jean Segura to hit more like he did in the first half of last season than he did after the all-star break and finally, Yovani Gallardo to pitch up to his capabilities and show last season was a mirage. The good thing for them is all three of those needs have a more than realistic chance at happening and are expected. I really like this lineup, as they have as much speed and power throughout as any starting lineup in either league. There bench is lining up to be decent with Mark Reynolds and Rickie Weeks likely leading the way, and their bullpen looks good with K-Rod and Jim Henderson shutting the door on teams. I think the addition of Matt Garza really helps put that rotation back on the map, as it gives them much more depth. They, to me, are very similarly built to the Reds, and whichever of these two teams can stay the healthiest most likely ends up giving St. Louis the biggest run for the division. Again though, for them to be at their best, Braun has to return to his MVP-like ways and Gallardo to 15+ win, sub-4 ERA form.

4th Place, Pittsburgh Pirates

Lineup
LF Starling Marte
2B Neil Walker
CF Andrew McCutchen
3B Pedro Alvarez
1B Gaby Sanchez
C Russell Martin
RF Jose Tabata
SS Jordy Mercer

Rotation
LHP Francisco Liriano
RHP Gerrit Cole
LHP Wandy Rodriguiz
RHP Charlie Morton
RHP Edinson Volquez
SU: RH Mark Melancon
CL: RH Jason Grilli

The Pirates lost some guys this winter and didn't do a very good job at replacing them. The biggest departure was ace A.J. Burnett, who made clear his preference to stay in Pittsburgh, but for some reason Neal Huntington and Co. couldn't get it done and wound up with Edinson Volquez as the replacement. That's a huge loss, as it makes Liriano the default ace. Their bullpen, especially the back half with Melancon and Grilli are tough to beat, but their starting lineup, outside of Marte and McCutchen, is not too impressive. If Pedro Alvarez can cut back on the strikeouts and add a 50 points to his batting average, he could be one of the best third basemen in the league with his power (he showed his ability when he's on in the NLDS last season). The rotation, like the lineup, has a couple of big time arms like Liriano and Cole, but other than those two, they're very beatable (a big reason why Burnett should have returned). They're probably a hair over .500, but not much, and most likely won't reach the playoffs for a second year in a row, though an addition or two could get them there. One guy still on the market, and someone they should highly consider is Kendrys Morales, who could take over first base and really help the middle of the order.

5th Place, Chicago Cubs

Lineup
SS Starlin Castro
3B Luis Valbuena
1B Anthony Rizzo
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Wellington Castillo
LF Junior Lake
CF Justin Ruggiano
2B Darwin Barney

Rotation
RHP Jeff Samardzija
LHP Travis Wood
RHP Edwin Jackson
RHP Jake Arrieta
RHP Jason Hammel
SU: RH Pedro Strop
CL: RH Jose Veras

The Cubbies are not a threat to compete in 2014, but they aren't too far away from being real factors again with the youth movement that's about to hit the North side. They have a handful of some of the top prospects in the game, including young middle infielder Javier Baez, who's been one of the best hitters in the Cactus League this spring and looks like as close to a sure thing as there is. They have numerous others that are good bets to be impact players at the next level, weather it takes a few seasons or so is still to be determined but things will change for the Cubs soon enough. As for this year, they don't have much talent throughout. They need Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo to rebound in a major way, and will be expecting big things from youngsters Castillo and Lake in the middle of that order as well. The rotation is weak, and the bullpen may be weaker. The future is bright, but the immediate future isn't, as the Cubs are lining up to be one of the worst teams in the NL in 2014.
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1 Comments:

  • At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I dont know, i think the Brewers are done, and the Reds losing Cho hurts. I'd put Pitt. 2nd, Cinci third, Milwaukee 4th. But I agree this is the hardest divions to pick after St. Louis.

     

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