2013 MLB Predictions: NL Central
In this segment, I preview the National League Central.
1)---CINCINNATI REDS---Cincinnati won 97 games last year. How impressive was that? Well, that was good enough to win the division, and put them second, only to the Nationals, who had only one more, for the most wins in baseball. To make the win total even more impressive, they did it without their best hitter, and one of the best in the game, Joey Votto, who missed about one-third of the 2012 season.
The Reds added another solid piece in the offseason, acquiring outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, to go along with a line-up that already features Votto, Brandon Phillips, Ryan Ludwick, and Jay Bruce. It's an offense that has power and speed, with the ability to beat opponents in multiple ways.
Cincinnati is also a very good defensive team.
While the Reds may not have a Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez at the front end of their rotation, it's still deep, and talented. Johnny Cueto, Matt Latos, Bronson Arroyo, and Homer Bailey make up a solid, if unspectacular front four.
Cueto had a 2.78 ERA. last year, while Latos totaled a 3.48 ERA. If they pitch that well again, and I suspect they will, or close to it, the Reds should be a few games better in 2013, and eclipse 100 wins.
2)---ST. LOUIS CARDINALS---St. Louis won 88 games a season ago, and made the playoffs as a wild card team. This year, I'm not picking them to qualify for the playoffs, but I'm sure not counting them out.
The Cardinals feature a strong outfield, with Carlos Beltran, John Jay, and Matt Holliday, and one of the best catchers in the game, in Yadier Molina, but the infield is a question mark, especially at shortstop, where the Redbirds will be playing without the services of the injured Rafael Furcal.
St. Louis has a solid pitching rotation, with Adam Wainwright leading the way, but they're going to miss the 211 innings that Kyle Lohse gave them last year.
The Cardinals are a great franchise, so I wouldn't be surprised if they pieced things together and made the playoffs again in 2013. With that said, I expect them to drop off a couple/three games, meaning I have them at 85 wins, and a second place finish, behind the powerhouse Reds.
Remember what I said about the Cardinals being a great franchise? They are. And they're going to be good for a long time, as they have one of the top minor league systems in all of baseball. Prospects like outfielder Oscar Taveras, infielder Kolten Wong, and pitchers Shelby Miller (who will open the year as the #5 starter), Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, and Michael Wacha will help St. Louis make a lot more playoff appearances in the future.
3)---PITTSBURGH PIRATES---For the second year in a row, it looked liked Pittsburgh was going to finally eclipse the .500 mark for the first time since the 90's, but another late season swoon forced them to settle for a 79-83 record.
Centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is a superstar, and he has some protection around him, in third baseman Pedro Alvarez, second baseman Neil Walker, and first baseman Garrett Jones. If Sterling Marte proves he's ready, the Pittsburgh offense could be more than credible.
Pittsburgh doesn't have a true ace in their rotation. That will soon change, with the impending arrival of star pitching prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, but for now they'll have to settle with A.J. Burnett, James McDonald, and Wandy Rodriguez, who can all be solid, just not aces.
Best case scenario for the Pirates is that they improve by 8-10 games, something of which I think they're capable of, and make the playoffs. Worst case scenario for the Bucs is that they regress a little, and fall back to about 70 wins, something that I also think is realistic.
I'm going to slightly give the Pirates the benefit of the doubt, and pencil them in for 83 wins, a winning season, and a third place finish.
Besides, it would make me look smart, as I've been saying for four years that the Pirates would finally crack .500 in 2013.
If they don't, I'll be forced to walk the plank.
4)---MILWAUKEE BREWERS---This is a prediction I may ultimately regret making. I'm picking Milwaukee fourth, but with some pitching, they could be scary.
The offense is certainly not the problem. Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and Jonathan Lucroy make up a middle of the order that can match-up with anybody.
Even the pitching, while a question mark, can be better than expected, if Yovani Gallardo has a career year, and the recently signed Kyle Lohse pitches at his 2012 level.
Yes, I could regret picking Milwaukee fourth, but because of their questionable bullpen, lack of depth in the starting rotation, and possible PED issues for Braun, I'm going to have to begrudgingly say they win six fewer games this year, and finish with 77.
5)---CHICAGO CUBS---Chicago won 61 games last year, and I don't forecast much of an improvement in 2013.
The Cubs made a nice signing in the offseason, inking pitcher Edwin Jackson, which gives them a somewhat solid 1-2 punch, if you add Jeff Samardzija into the equation.
The problem is that there isn't much behind them, and there are bullpen issues.
The offense? Well, that's a definite issue. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo will be fun to watch, but this bunch won't score a lot of runs, leaving their pitchers, and fans, frustrated.
The Cubs did add Jim Deshaies to their broadcast team, which was a great get. Deshaies is knowledgeable and very funny. He found a way to keep fans entertained while broadcasting a bad team the last few years when he was doing Houston Astros' games. He'll be doing to same thing this year in Chicago.
Out of respect to Jose Cardenal, let's give the Cubs a 3-5 game improvement over last year. That still puts them in the high 90's loss column though.
Tomorrow, I'll preview the American and National League western divisions.