National League Central preview

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March 26, 2018 by squish

Written by Squish

Finally, baseball season is here. Now I can watch baseball all day while simultaneously playing MLB the show until my eyes pop out of my head. Although it’s been a fun few days, “the show” just isn’t the same.

I’ll admit, being a Cubs fan could skew my thoughts on this division…but I’m a realest and I can see the Brewers in the rear view with Christian Yelich (above) in the drivers seat. However, they’re still back there eating Cubbie dust. Not a lot has changed in this division…the rich got richer and the poor died.

Cincinnati Reds – 68-94 (5th)

Key additions: RHP Jared Hughes, CF Ben Revere, John Farrell (scout), Dick Williams (General manager)

Key losses: SS Zack Cozart

This team isn’t going to do anything, but Scooter Gennett had one of the most overlooked seasons I can ever remember. In 141 games he hit .295 with a .874 OPS, 27 yabos, 97 AreBeeEyes and 22 dosey doughs.

Now, 14 was his previous career high in ding dongs and his next best total is 9…but it’s clear the talent is there…I think?

There are a couple of young and exciting pitchers on this team, for better or worse. For better it’s Luis Castillo who has the ability to be an ace. For worse…that’s Amir Garrett.

Garrett needs consistency. After balling out in his first three starts last season, he ended the year with a 7.39 ERA, 7.39 FIP and a 1.60 whip over 14 starts. He allowed 23 longballs over 70 1/3 innings. No. Bueno.

Team MVP: Joey Votto

Votto (above) is ageless. He just had his age 33 season and had an OBP of .454 and an OPS of 1.023. Perspective? Miguel Cabrera posted .393/.956 and Albert Pujols had .330/.767 respectively in their age 33 seasons. Trade this man, get him a ring, skyline chili sucks.

Team X-Factor: Jesse Winker

If this team was smart they would get Winker in the everyday lineup. But, until then he will be splitting time with Duvall, Schebler and Hamilton.

2018 prediction: 71-91 (4th)

Chicago Cubs – 92-70 (1st)

Key additions: RHP Yu Darvish, RHP Brandon Morrow, RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP Steve Cishek, LHP Drew Smyly, Chili Davis (hitting coach), Jim Hickey (pitching coach), Brian Butterfield (third base coach)

Key losses: RHP Wade Davis, RHP Hector Rondon, RHP Jake Arrieta

I have news for major league ball clubs and their fans, this is Theo Epstein’s league and we’re all just living in it. Seriously. This guy broke two of the longest championship droughts in professional sports history, and he knows how to enjoy them.

Cosmetically, this team looks the same. All you have to do is take out Arrieta and throw in Yu Darvish(above)…Yu like that? What sets this team apart from the rest of the division is the pitching staff. Between Lester, Darvish, Quintana, Lackey and Chatwood you have a staff that is compiled of ones, twos and threes.

Jose Quintana will have a full season on the north side of Chicago this year. After moving up from the south side, the Colombian hurler saw improvement in FIP, WHIP, K/9 and K/W and I expect him to be just as effective with Wilson Contreras behind the dish calling games.

Were you surprised when I called Tyler Chatwood a number three starter? “Dude, no way. He had a 4.69 ERA last season and won 8 games.” I’ll do you one better, his ERA at Coors Field is over 6.00 in his career…but his road ERA is 3.49. Does that make him a three? Not necessarily, but I’m confident that this offense will allow him to pitch more comfortably and I believe in Theo finding that diamond in the rough pitcher and getting something out of him…Jake Arrieta.

Team needs: Less hype

I think this team is the best team in baseball top to bottom in all phases of the game. With all of the young talent and recent World Series fans and other teams have undoubtedly taken notice, but they underperformed last season. You would think that Joe Madden would be the perfect guy to manage these expectations, but the team struggled last year to live up to the hype. So, please, everyone hop off…or stay on…they’re winning it again regardless.

Team MVP: Kris Bryant

His dad went to UMass Lowell, and he’s not bad.

Team X-Factor: Ian Happ/Kyle Schwarber/Addison Russell/Wilson Contreras

This team needs consistency, not a flash in the pan. Contreras can be left off of this list because out of this list I find him the most reliable and the best catcher in the majors. The others? Schwarber needs to go back to mashing the ball. Yes, the defensive struggles will always be there, but with Rizzo and Contreras blocking the most logical spots for him you need to throw him in left…as long as he is hitting the ball, and when he is, it is so worth it.

Ian Happ, don’t do me like Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber have been doing me. Don’t burst onto the scene, kill it, and then die. This team is giving me trust issues.

2018 prediction: 98-64 (1st) 

Milwaukee Brewers – 86-76 (2nd)

Key additions: OF Lorenzo Cain, OF Christian Yelich, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, RHP Yovani Gallardo, RHP Wade Miley

Key losses: RHP Jared Hughes

Everything I put here is just filling space until I can talk about Christian Yelich. That’s because Yelich is THAT good, not because this team is bad…which they aren’t…at all.

There was a time where I was freaking out that this team could overthrow the Cubs for the division title, but they fell flat down the stretch. I’ll admit, I think I’ll be worrying just as much if not more than I was last season, especially after that Sandlot remake they did.

They added Lorenzo Cain to go with Yelich and Domingo Santana in the outfield that compliments a powerful infield with Travis “Mayor of Ding Dong City” Shaw (above) and Eric Thames/Ryan Braun manning the corners.

Scoring runs is great and all…but the pitching is a tad concerning for the Brew Crew. Cory Knebel leads a top 10 bullpen but with Jimmy Nelson on the shelf, Chase Anderson is the only viable starter to start the season with a cast of bums behind him.

Team needs: Starting pitching

This is a team that made a lot of splashes over the winter, so it was surprising not to see them go after Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb or any pitcher at all for that matter. As a Cubs fan I’m not mad though, this staff will be hittiable 80% of the time.

Team MVP: Christian Yelich

Here we go, Yelich’s move from Miami to Milwaukee is by far the biggest upgrade in terms of lefty bats changing ball parks. Miami ranks 29th in that department while Miller Park sits at number three. 30/30 season from Yelich.

Team X-Factor: The pitcher they add at the deadline

The Brewers are notorious for adding an ace at the deadline. C.C. Sabtahia…Zack Grienke…just to name a couple. This team needs one more than those teams did because they actually have a shot, I can’t believe I’m saying this, at a World Series.

2018 prediction: 90-72 (2nd) 

Pittsburgh Pirates – 75-87 (4th)

Key additions: OF Daniel Nava, OF Michael Saunders

Key losses: OF Andrew McCutchen, RHP Gerrit Cole

There isn’t a lot to talk about here. This team flat out stinks. However, if they’re going to start on a rebuild they need something to build around, and there are some guys that could give the Pirates a start.

Gregory Polanco needs to be that guy, that cog in the lineup that makes opponent pitchers fear every third inning. He hasn’t quite put his tools together yet which is alarming and makes you wonder if he ever will.

Having two young pitchers with promise doesn’t hurt a rebuild either. Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow (above) will have all eyes on them this season, particularly Glasnow who has had a roller coaster of a young career. In 62 IP to begin last season he posted a 7.69 ERA but after being sent down to AAA he spun a sub-two ERA and K’d 140 batters in only 93 and a third innings. EXCUSE ME?! The Pirates, their fans and myself are begging you to do that at the major league level…please.

Team MVP: Nobody deserves it

Team X-Factor: Starling Marte

If this team is going to build around a set few, Marte could be that veteran that helps them along. After getting busted for PEDs last season he saw his OPS drop .100 points, if he can provide leadership and a consistent but clean bat in this lineup, they could win a few more games.

2018 prediction: 61-101 (5th)

St. Louis Cardinals – 83-79 (3rd)

Key additions: OF Marcell Ozuna, RHP Luke Gregerson, RHP Miles Mikolas

Key losses: RHP Juan Nicasio, LHP Zach Duke, SS Aledmys Diaz

Everyone is talking about Marcell Ozuna (above), I will also but not until I ask you if you know who Miles Mikolas is? I’m not sure Miles even knows who he is as a pitcher. Are the Cards getting the Mikolas who posted a 2.18 eras over 400-plus innings the last three years in Japan or are they getting the guy who had an ERA over 5.00 in 10 major league starts?

The infield looks more than solid offensively with Carpenter, Wong, Dejong, Molina and Gyorko in the mix and if Mikolas can bolster a rotation led by Carlos Martinez and followed by Michael Wacha then this team could contend for the playoffs.

Team MVP: Marcell Ozuna

If you watched Marlins baseball last year to see Giancarlo Stanton hit bomb after bomb, odds are you saw one of the most overlooked players in the league, Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna hit .312 with a .924 OPS, 37 ding dongs with 124 ribeye steaks and 20 two-baggers. He’s not just a power guy, though. He added 191 hits and 93 runs. Can he duplicate that season? The Cardinals are banking on him to, as well as their X-Factor.

Team X-Factor: Tommy Pham

Pham, age 30, has struggled to stay on the field throughout his career. But seeing him in 530 PA last year while slashing .306/.411/.520 with a .931 OPS and a WAR over 6 makes the Cardinals excited to see how productive this outfield could be when you add Dexter Fowler to the mix.

Miles Mikolas also fits here, but Pham’s name is cooler…only by a little, though.

2018 prediction: 89-73 (3rd)

This has the possibility of being a three-team race. It’s the Cubs’ division to lose and if every team in central lives up to their potential, it’s good to know that Chicago still takes it. The only way they lose this is if they do it to themselves.

Tomorrow we begin with our American League previews with Adam Burt kicking it off with his takes on the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros and the American League West.

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