NL CENTRAL PREVIEW

By: Michael Beard 

St. Louis Cardinals

2015: 1st (100-62) 
Key additions: Jedd Gyorko(INF), Mike Leake(P), Brayan Pena(C), Seung Hwan Oh(P) 
(Roster) (Prospects) Although the Cardinals lost Jason Hayward and John Lackey to the Cubs, they are eyeing returns from Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Carlos Martinez, and Matt Adams. Waino, Molina, and Holliday are no spring chickens, but a full season from all of these All-Stars would help any club be a contender. The Cardinals added Gyorko to reduce some playing time for Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta, and Kolten Wong throughout the season. Peralta and Wong had a noticeable drop off in production after the All-Star break last year so this is a good acquisition by the Cardinals. The St Louis faithful however weren’t too happy that it came at the cost of trading a club favorite in Jon Jay, but that’s the business of baseball today. Now, add in highly touted players Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, and Tommy Pham and you have another solid roster for the Redbirds. We have seen what all these players are capable of, so the key to their success is going to be staying healthy in 2016 to be contenders. And let’s not forget,  Mike Matheny has lead his club to the postseason in each of his four years at the helm. (Transactions) 
Projection: 2nd (91-71) The Cardinals surpassed all regular season expectations last year, but it seems the Cubs have finally arrived and will edge out the Cards for the NL Central in 2016. My preseason pick for the NLCS is the Cardinals taking on the Cubs to go to the World Series. Now, anyone that knows me absolutely knows it pains me greatly to say that, but alas I’m a fan of the game, and I know a great ball club when I see it. Here’s to hoping my boys prove me wrong this year.
 

Pittsburgh Pirates 

2015: 2nd (98-64) 
Key Additions: Jon Niese(P), John Jaso(1B), Jason Rogers(1B), Ryan Vogelsong(P), Neftali Feliz(P) 
(Roster) (Prospects) The Pirates are coming off a yet again another stellar season in 2015. They had a busy offseason with the additions listed above to replace the losses of players such as Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Charlie Morton, and Vance Worley. In a move that stunned the Pirates players, they traded Neil Walker to the Mets for Jon Niese on December 9th. In the past two seasons the Pirates have had the unfortunate task of facing red hot Jake Arrieta(Cubs) last year and Madison Bumgarner(Giants) in 2014 to advance to the NLDS. They came up short in both winner take all play in games. The club is looking for Jung Ho Kang to come back healthy from his injury and build off of his success from last year, while Josh Harrison needs to find his stride from 2014 to help the club stay in the NL Central race. (Transactions) 
Projection: 3rd (87-75) Unfortunately for the Bucs, they are in the best division in baseball right now and the Cubs and Cardinals are looking to build off their successful seasons from last year. The Redbirds have big pieces to the puzzle returning from injuries and the Cubs have added some serious depth which will keep the Pirates from advancing to the playoffs in 2016.
 

Chicago Cubs 

2015: 3rd (97-65) 
Key Additions: Jason Heyward(OF), John Lackey(P), Ben Zobrist(2B) 
(Roster) (Prospects) The Cubs have shown the world that they have arrived and they aren’t backing down until they win it all. After a 2015 campaign that got them all the way to the NLCS, they look to their new faces to take them all the way home this year. The club signed big names to the likes of Jason Heyward, John Lackey, and Ben Zobrist this offseason. They also traded Starlin Castro to the Yankees for Adam Warren(P) and Brenden Ryan(2B). Last season the North Siders made quick work of the Pirates in a one game playoff before disposing of their rival, the St Louis Cardinals, three games to one in the NLDS. By all accounts, it would seem the Cubs are primed to finish what they started last season.  The club is relying on their crop of young talent as well as their veterans to win their first World Series since 1908. I’m not sure anyone outside of Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein knew how good this club would be this quick. (Transactions) 
Projection: 1st (98-64) As I stated earlier, I foresee the Cubs and Cardinalsplaying to go to the show. I’m picking the Cubs to beat the Cardinals and go to the World Series to take on the Houston Astros. The Cubs are my selection to win their first championship since 1908.
 

Milwaukee Brewers 

2015: 4th (68-94) 
Key Additions: Chris Carter(1B), Aaron Hill(2B), Chase Anderson(P) 
(Roster) (Prospects) When thinking of where the Brewers were at just a few short years ago in 2011, facing the St Louis Cardinals to go to the World Series, it’s tough to see where they are now. Their name has not been mentioned in a positive light since their Golden Boy, Ryan Braun, got caught using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s) in June of 2013. The club hasn’t seem to rebound as of yet. They traded away speedster Jean Segura to Arizona, Adam Lind to Seattle, Francisco Rodrigues to Detroit, Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston, and finally Aramis Ramirez to Pittsburgh. In most of these transactions they received prospects so they can rebuild with a younger core of players. The hope of Brewer nation, is to see some of these players bring them back to glory and eventually to win a World Series. (Transactions) 
Projection: 4th (74-88) Although the Brewers have a ton of young talent, they have yet to prove themselves on the Big League stage. This is going to be another rebuilding year for the Brewers. If the club hopes to have the success they long for, Ryan Braun needs to lead the young talent with an All-Star performance this year.
 

Cincinnati Reds 

2105 Last (64-98) 
Key Additions: Jose Peraza(2B), Rookie Davis(RHP) 
(Roster) (Prospects) The Cincinnati Reds have had a tough go of it the last couple of seasons. In 2015 they had injuries to the club that decimated their lineup, then the fire sale started and the club just never got it going. They lost big names like Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Johnny Cueto, Marlon Byrd, and finally Mike Leake(who now plays for the Cardinals) to either trades or free agency. The Reds do have some good news however. The club has Devin Mesoraco(hip), Homer Bailey(elbow), Zack Cozart(knee), and Billy Hamilton(knee), all returning from injury and will be ready for the start of the season. They still have their big bat in Joey Votto, who is my pick to finish number one on the club in batting average, homeruns, and RBI’s. I think we all know Hamilton has stolen bases locked up. (Transactions) 
Projections: Last (61-101) The club had a tough go of it last year and this year is not projected to be any better unfortunately for them. The loss of Frazier’s bat and three of their better pitchers is going to hurt. They are a good two years away form competing in the toughest division in baseball. Rebuilding is a part of the game, but rebuilding with zero prospects in the top 30 is going to be a daunting task in the NL Central.

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