2019 MLB predictions preview: NL Central

As if this division wasn’t already tough to decide, the St. Louis Cardinals’ biggest acquisition makes them an easy favorite in the division. However, the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs have led this division for the past three years, and they won’t go out easily.

The Cubs and Brewers both made the playoffs last year, and it’s very likely they’ll make it again. So let’s look at all the transactions these teams have made and predict who wins the division! 

NL Central Preview
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha – 2013 NLDS Game 4, Cardinals at Pirates” by Colleen_S is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1. St. Louis Cardinals

  • 2018 Record – 88-74
  • Postseason result – Missed playoffs

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Acquired first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt in trade from D-backs for pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, infielder Andy Young, and a 2019 first-round round draft pick
  • Signed relief pitcher Andrew Miller (Indians)
  • Signed catcher Matt Wieters (Nationals, minor)

Off-season departures:

  • Pitcher Tyson Ross (Tigers)
  • Starting pitcher Luke Weaver (Goldschmidt trade)
  • Closer Bud Norris (Blue Jays, minor)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

In what may be the best division in baseball, the Cardinals are looking to build off of a strong finish in 2018 and will take over in the stacked NL Central in 2019.

The pitching staff is talented, they’re young, and they’re led by 18-game winner and sixth-place Cy Young finisher, Miles Mikolas. Carlos Martinez (27), Jack Flaherty (23), and Michael Wacha (27) are the young guns in the middle of the rotation and combined for 24 wins last year. Future ace Flaherty will have a Cy Young-caliber season, but the health of the rest of the staff (Wacha and Martinez) is worth monitoring. Is this the end for Adam Wainwright?

Andrew Miller had a “down year” in 2018, but at 33 years-old, still struck out 11.9 batters per nine innings. Miller is a perfect veteran addition to lead a talented, young bullpen and will be the set-up man for closer Jordan Hicks. Hicks must cut down his walk totals, and if he does, could become the next great closer with his 100+-mph fastball.

Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt at the top of the lineup is unfair for opposing pitching staffs. Their presence at the top of the lineup will mean big numbers for Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina. Dexter Fowler should have less pressure and have a bounce-back year, and youngster Harrison Bader could blossom into one of the best outfielders in the NL. The Cardinals have a deep bench with Jose Martinez (19 HR, 83 RBI), Jedd Gyorko (11 HR, 47 RBI), and Tyler O’Neill (9 HR). St. Louis committed the most errors in MLB last year and must clean up their defense in order to compete for an NL Central title, but adding Goldy may prove to be the best off-season move by any team.

The big question is, can the starting staff stay healthy enough to help carry an offense that is nearly a lock to produce, and can they clean up their team defense? Pitching and defense win championships, and if they can clean up those areas, this team is ready for a run.

  • Prediction: 97-65

 

NL Central Preview
“Christian Yelich” by Ian D’Andrea is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

2. Milwaukee Brewers

  • 2018 record –  96-67
  • Postseason result – Lost to Dodgers in seven games in NLCS

Off-season acquisitions: 

  • Signed catcher Yasmani Grandal (Dodgers)
  • Signed second baseman Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays, minor)

Off-season departures:

  • Starting pitcher Wade Miley (Astros)
  • Outfielder Curtis Granderson (Marlins)
  • Relief pitcher Joakim Soria (A’s)
  • Starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (free agent)
  • Second baseman Jonathan Schoop (Twins)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

The Brewers used a magical September to force a one-game winner-take-all game and defeat the Cubs to win the NL Central in 2018. Fueled by a video game-like run by Christian Yelich – who went on to win the MVP – the Brewers won the Central for the first time since 2011.

For 2019, the Crew will be able to rely on a lineup that, top to bottom, may be one of the best in the NL. Fueled by Lorenzo Cain at the top, Yelich and the rest of the Crew will be able to feast on NL pitching yet again. Yelich had a quiet 2018 postseason compared to his play over the final two months of the year, but the Brewers are built to score runs. Ryan Braun may not be an everyday player anymore, but the lifetime Brewer is still a threat whenever he’s in the lineup.

Reliever Josh Hader became a household name last year, propelling himself into one of the top weapons in the game coming out of the ‘pen. Hader and his 15.8 K/9 was feared by opposing managers, and that will continue for some time, as Hader is only 24-years old. Joined by revivals from flamethrowers Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress, the Brewers have cooked up the bullpen recipe needed for postseason success.

Starting pitching will be interesting to watch, as the Brewers overachieved in that department last year. Is Jhoulys Chacin the real deal, or was his career year just a fluke? And how big will the losses of starters Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley impact the staff? Hader may be a weapon, but if he gets overused and gets hurt, the Brewers lose a huge dimension of their team.

The big question for the Brewers won’t be their offense or loaded bullpen, but their starting pitching. Can the Brewers’ starters prove 2018 wasn’t a fluke and help propel the Crew one step further into October?

  • Prediction: 93-69

 

NL Central Preview
Cubs starter Jon Lester delivers a pitch during the first inning of #NLCS Game 5.” by Arturo Pardavila III is licensed under CC BY 2.0

3. Chicago Cubs

  • 2018 record – 95-68
  • Postseason result – Lost 1-0 to Colorado in Wild Card one-game playoff

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Signed infielder Daniel Descalso (D-backs)
  • Signed relief pitcher Brad Brach (Braves)
  • Signed relief pitcher Xavier Cedeno (Brewers, minor)

Off-season departures:

  • Second baseman Daniel Murphy (Rockies)
  • Relief pitcher Justin Wilson (Mets)
  • Relief pitcher Jesse Chavez (Rangers)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

The Cubs staggered down the stretch in 2018, plagued by a tired pitching staff and ineffective offense, unable to reach the NLCS for the first time under Joe Maddon.

Jon Lester – an 18-game winner in 2018 – is 35 and must continue to defy age as the ace of the pitching staff. Surrounded by Cole Hamels, the oft-injured Yu Darvish, and above average back-end starters Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs need to get back to 2016 numbers if they want to go anywhere this year.

The bullpen, who finished with an NL-best 3.35 ERA, performed well, but was tired at the end of the season. Closer Brandon Morrow returns from injury and gives the Cubs a top-tier option at closer after the Cubs went closer-by-committee much of last year. The big problem for the bullpen was walks, as they surrendered 273 free passes, fifth-most in MLB. The hiring of 37-year old Tommy Hottovy as pitching coach could help spark the entire staff, but he is now the third pitching coach in three years.

After faltering down the stretch, the Cubs fired hitting coach Chili Davis and hired Anthony Lapoche to hopefully add a spark to an offense that had the third-fewest RBI in MLB with runners in scoring position. Javy Baez is a superstar and finished runner-up in the MVP voting. Anthony Rizzo had another fantastic season after a miserably slow start, and Kris Bryant needs to return to MVP form after battling injuries most of the year. Super-utility player Ben Zobrist continues to defy age, having one of the best seasons of his career at age 37 and will remain a valuable piece to Joe Maddon’s roster chess game. Willson Contreras must be more consistent, but the Cubs did nothing to provide him with a veteran backup at catcher.

The big question for the Cubs is, will a third hitting and pitching coach in as many years affect what the Cubs have built? Is that the answer to propelling them back into World Series contention? Anymore, it’s World Series or bust for Cubs fans. 

  • Prediction: 90-72

 

NL Central Preview
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19)” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

4. Cincinnati Reds

  • 2018 record – 67-95
  • Postseason result – None

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Acquired outfielder Matt Kemp, outfielder Yasiel Puig, starting pitcher Alex Wood, and catcher Kyle Farmer from Dodgers for starting pitcher Homer Bailey and prospects
  • Acquired starting pitcher Tanner Roark in trade with Nationals
  • Acquired starting pitcher Sonny Gray in trade with Yankees
  • Signed relief pitcher Zach Duke (Mariners)

Off-season departures:

  • Starting pitcher Homer Bailey (trade with Dodgers)
  • Outfielder Billy Hamilton (Royals)
  • Starting pitcher Matt Harvey (Angels)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

Wow. What an off-season for the Reds. Trying to keep pace with the Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers, the Reds made a snowstorm of moves and acquired three starting pitchers and two all-star outfielders.

Wood, Roark, and Gray will now highlight the front-end of a rotation that includes promising youngster Luis Castillo, who led the Reds in innings last year. Alex Wood remains an injury risk, but top to bottom, the Reds rotation is now a formidable one. Pair a solid rotation with some very nice bullpen pieces in Michael Lorenzen (81 inn., 3.11 ERA), Jared Hughes (72 G, 1.94 ERA) and budding superstar closer Raisel Iglesias (30 SV, 2.38 ERA), and the Reds pitching staff could make some noise.

Joey Votto remains one of the best at getting on base in all of baseball, and he’s surrounded by holdover on-base fiends Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez, and Jose Peraza. Jesse Winkler will become a household name in 2019 with an opportunity to play a full season. Add in Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to a lineup already littered with talent, and the Reds will surprise people this season. The Reds will have to score runs to keep up with the rest of the NL Central, and they may have made all the right moves to do just that.

The big question for the Reds will be, can the new stable of starting pitching give them an opportunity to compete and not make every game a track meet? Scoring runs won’t be a problem, but consistent pitching may be. 

  • Prediction: 84-78

 

NL central Preview
Starling Marte” by Ian D’Andrea is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

  • 2018 record – 82-79
  • Postseason result – None

Off-season acquisitions:

  • Signed outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall (Indians)
  • Signed starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (Tigers, minor)
  • Signed outfielder Melky Cabrera (Indians)

Off-season departures:

  • Second baseman Josh Harrison (Tigers)
  • Shortstop Jordy Mercer (Tigers)

2019 PREVIEW / BIG QUESTION

The Pirates did little to improve a roster that was middle of the pack in 2018. In fact, they didn’t re-sign middle infielders Josh Harrison or Jordy Mercer, opting to replace the two longtime Pirates with a trio of youngsters in Erik Gonzalez, Kevin Newman, and Adam Frazier. Frazier will likely lead off and had mild success from that spot in 2018, but the Pirates lack firepower behind him, outside of Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson. The Pirates ranked 25th in home runs in 2018 with 157, and that number won’t get much better in 2019.

Chris Archer headlines a decent rotation, but Archer hasn’t displayed the same kind of dominance he showed while with the Rays. Jameson Tallion and Trevor Williams are decent middle-of-the-rotation arms, each finishing with sub-3.20 ERAs. Outside of those three, starting pitching is a big question mark for Pittsburgh, with Nick Kingham and Joe Musgrove rounding out the starting five. Closer Felipe Vasquez may be the best player on the Pirates, as he finished 2018 ranked sixth in MLB and third in the NL with 37 saves. If Pittsburgh falls out of contention, Vasquez, Tallion, Williams, and Archer could be hot names at the trade deadline.

The big question for the Pirates is…is it time to rebuild? Or will the team play carefree with little expectations and play spoiler in the loaded NL Central?

  • Prediction: 70-92

 

NL CENTRAL PREDICTIONS

  1. St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers (Wild Card, 93-69)
  3. Chicago Cubs (Wild Card, 90-72)
  4. Cincinnati Reds (84-78)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates (70-92)

*Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and ESPN

 

 

Advertisements

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s