NL Central Preview
For years, the NL Central has been one of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball. At least two teams have made the postseason in five of the last seven seasons. Expect another tight race this year, as the division is yet again full of talented players and teams. Here’s how the NL Central is expected to pan out this upcoming season:
Chicago Cubs (92-70)
The Chicago Cubs are still one of the most talented teams in baseball. The Cubs had the best team batting average and scored the fourth-most runs in the National League last season, despite off-years from third-baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras.
With a team ERA of 3.65 last season, the third best in baseball, the pitching should be dominant once again this season. The combination of Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana should give Chicago one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball.
Expect the Cubs to be able to top the rest of their stacked division with their depth and experience.
Milwaukee Brewers (89-73)
For the first time in seven years, the Milwaukee Brewers won their division and made the playoffs last season, winning 96 games. Milwaukee was an offensive powerhouse last season, having the second most home runs and the most stolen bases in the National League. NL MVP Christian Yelich boasted the best batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging in the NL at .326, .598 and 1.000, respectively. Yelich, Jesus Aguilar and Travis Shaw all hit over 30 home runs.
The Brewers will mostly be the same team this season, with catcher Yasmani Grandal being their only addition during the offseason. The bullpen should be just as dominant as last season when they had an NL-best 3.47 ERA. The starting pitching should be solid just like it was last season.
Expect the Brewers to be in a dogfight with Chicago for the division crown all season, but the star power and depth of the Cubs roster should move the Brewers down to a wild-card spot.
St. Louis Cardinals (88-74)
The Cardinals made big moves this winter to get themselves back into the playoff race. The Cards traded for all-star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who has hit at least 30 home runs in four of his last six seasons. The signing of closer Andrew Miller should bolster the bullpen that had a below-average 4.38 ERA last season.
With these additions and an already-solid starting rotation, St. Louis has the potential to be contenders this season. Unfortunately for them, they will probably end up fighting for the final wild-card spot rather than for the division, thanks to the powerhouses of the Cubs and the Brewers.
Cincinnati Reds (78-84)
The Reds have made a surprising push to contend this season. Adding Sonny Gray, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark should strengthen a starting rotation that had the second-worst ERA in the NL last season. Additions of outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig could make for a formidable offense.
The Reds are simply one of the “middle” teams that could make a run and earn a playoff spot or struggle to find a rhythm and come in dead last in the division and not many would be shocked with either outcome.
Pittsburgh Pirates (72-90)
The Pirates would probably finish second or third in most other divisions, but every other team in their own division is simply better than them. A solid rotation featuring Chris Archer, Jameson Taillon, and Trevor Williams should be very good this season, but a questionable bullpen and a young offense that’s still developing probably will not be enough to place better than last in the star-studded NL Central.
Jack McCune is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.