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Thursday, April 02, 2015

2015 MLB Previews: NL Central

Onto the tightly packed NL Central, where just about every team feels like they have a shot this year. The Cards seem to be perennial favorites each year, the Brewers are banking on a return to form by Ryan Braun and the Cubbies and Pirates are the up-and coming young teams with huge expectations. Here's how we see the Central breaking down over the next 6 months:


1st Place, St. Louis Cardinals

3B Matt Carpentar
RF Jayson Heyward
LF Matt Holliday
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
2B Kolton Wong
SS Johnny Peralta
CF Jon Jay

RH Adam Wainwright
RH Lance Lynn
RH John Lackey
RH Michael Wacha
RH Carlos Martinez
SU: RH Jordan Walden
CL: RH Trevor Rosenthal

Key Reserves: 1B/3B/LF Mark Reynolds, OF Peter Bourjos

The Cards made a nice move getting younger in the outfield by bringing in Jayson Heyward for peanuts from Atlanta, and people are expecting a huge, all-star year out of Kolton Wong who many fell is a legit 5-tool guy. That lineup has tremendous depth, everyone in that order can take you deep, can work a count and can put the ball in play and get on base, making them a rough assignment for opposing SP's. Their rotation is sound, but extremely thin. If something were to happen to Wainwright or Lynn, then they could be in some serious trouble. Bullpen is nice though, with young star closer Trevor Rosenthal and former closer Walden working the 8th. They too have a nice bench with the combination of some power (Reynolds) and speed/defense (Bourjos). As boring as it is to keep on picking them year in and year out as the division champs, I have to roll with them again in 2015, again, barring some catastrophic injuries to that rotation.

2nd Place, Milwaukee Brewers

2B Scooter Gennett
C Jonathan Lucroy
CF Carlos Gomez
RF Ryan Braun
3B Aramis Ramirez
1B Adam Lind
LF Kris Davis
SS Jean Segura

RH Kyle Lohse
RH Matt Garza
RH Wily Peralta
RH Mike Fiers
RH Jimmy Nelson
SU: Jonathan Broxton
CL: Francisco Rodriguez

Key Reserves: OF Gerrardo Parra, OF Logan Schafer

Once again the Brewers have a lineup, granted Ryan Braun can shake that nagging thumb issue and produce more up to his capabilities this year, that is going to be incredibly fun to watch and could sniff the 800-run plateau in 2015. Just to give you an idea, they have a 25 year-old stud who hit over .300 (for most of the year) with 40+ steals and a dozen jacks just two seasons back hitting in the 8th spot, a guy who'd be a #1-2 hitter in 85% of lineups out there. Braun and Segura bouncing back are both huge, as is a healthy year out of Aramis Ramirez, but they have enough depth that runs shouldn't be a problem even if a few guys have off years at the plate. They have four guys that can easily be all-stars in that order for crying out loud (Braun, Lucroy, Segura, Gomez), they're gonna score. The issue comes into play with the pitching staff, however, where they lack a true ace, and their rotation ran into some health issues last season. Garza has been notoriously injury prone and Mike Fiers has yet to pitch a full season in the rotation during his three years in the big leagues.  So long as K-Rod and Brox both hold up though, you better not be trailing them after the 7th as that bullpen isn't great but strong at the end. If they stay healthy, they're deeper than the Pirates with more experience and could challenge the Cards again, but that may be asking a lot of this bunch. We'll just have to wait and see.

3rd Place, Pittsburgh Pirates

3B Josh Harrison
RF Gregory Polanco
CF Andrew McCutchen
2B Neil Walker
LF Starling Marte
1B Pedro Alvarez
SS Jordy Mercer
C Francisco Cervilli

LH Francisco Liriano
RH Gerrit Cole
RH A.J. Burnett
RH Charlie Morton
LH Jeff Locke
SU: LH Tony Watson
CL: RH Mark Melancon

Key Reserves: 1B/OF Corey Hart, IF Sean Rodriguez

The Pirates have some crazy talented young studs that are fun to watch, led by Andrew McCutchen, but also my personal favorite Josh Harrison, Starling Marte, and the one they think could be as good as all of them, 23 year-old Gregory Polanco. I mean, I really like that young outfield they put together, all those guys could be all-stars this year. Plus Harrison is probably one of the most under-talked about, underrated player after he basically carried the Pirates on his back for many parts of 2014. Their lineup took what I think will be a bigger hit than many think though in losing Russell Martin. They needed that right-handed production towards the bottom of the order, so they have that to make up for. Also, their staff is aging, besides young stud Gerrit Cole, and Burnett doesn't appear to have too much left in the tank going off his spring and end of 2014. Liriano is not an ace either, maybe a #2 on a good staff or #3 on a championship one, but certainly no ace with those sort of inconsistencies. All in all though, that lineup has immense talent, and if they do their thing an the pitching can be good enough, then they'll be right there with Atlanta, Miami, Milwaukee, San Diego, LA or SF for those two Wild Card spots.

4th Place, Cincinnati Reds

CF Billy Hamilton
2B Brandon Phillips
1B Joey Votto
3B Todd Frazier
RF Jay Bruce
LF Marlyn Byrd
C Devin Mesoraco
SS Zach Cozart

RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Homer Bailey*
RHP Mike Leake
RHP Jason Marquis
RHP Anthony DeSclafani
SU: RH Tony Cingrani/LH Sean Marshall*
CL: Aroldis Chapman
*Marshall has no ETA for 2015 debut, Reds hopeful by June

Key Reserves: UT Skip Schumaker, OF Jason Bourgeois

5th Place, Chicago Cubs

CF Dexter Fowler
LF Chris Coghlan
1B Anthony Rizzo
SS Starlin Castro
RF Jorge Soler
C Miguel Montero
3B Mike Ott/Kris Bryant*
2B Arismendy Alcantara/Javier Baez*
*Both Bryant and Baez expected up by May and could be the keys for Cubs 2015 season

LHP Jon Lester
RHP Jake Arrieta
RHP Jason Hammel
LHP Travis Wood
RHP Kyle Kendricks/ RH Edwin Jackson
SU: RH Pedro Strop
CL: RH Hector Rondon

Key Reserves: OF Ryan Sweeney, IF Tommy La Stalla

The Cubbies are many peoples pick for the "Cinderella" team of the NL this year, but I think they're one year away from being serious powerhouses. Once Kris Bryant and Baez arrive for good and are producing, that lineup is going to be sick, and that rotation has a strong front-3, and depth at the back-end. Strop and Rondon are close to as tough as it gets in the 8th and 9th although there are some question marks outside of those guys in this pen. To me though, it's really on Bryant and Baez. If they're as advertised, this club could compete this year. Although Lester has had a forgettable spring, he's going to be the true ace Chicago hasn't had since Carlos Zambrano was good. They're just too young, in-experienced and shallow to really have a shot this year. A couple of right moves though could change that. I do, however, expect them to get better over the year, and add for 2016 when they could be NL favorites.

The Giants Baseball Blog


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