Welcome to my preview of the NL Central where we have probably the most competitive division in the National League coupled with the team with the most headlines over the Winter in the Chicago Cubs.
As the dust settled after the World Series, the dust began to fly in Chicago as the Wrigley renovations finally got under way. Both the stadium and the team are in the middle of a makeover. Meanwhile, in more tragic circumstances, the Cardinals mourned the loss of top prospect Oscar Tavarez who was tragically killed in a car crash.
The runners and riders in the NL Central are as follows:-
Ok, lets get a few things straight here, the Cubs are better but not the World Beaters that everyone says they are and I would doubt that they are the 88 win team or the 2015 World Champions as everyone and Back to the Future II says that they are.
They have made a splash and improved their team. They started by bringing in a canny manager in Joe Maddon. Maddon is an optimist and a motivator and when you have a squad as young as the Cubs, you need someone like Maddon to manage them.
They also decided to spend some cash and brought in the 2nd top Free Agent in Jon Lester (who essentially replaces Samardzijia from last year’s rotation). They also brought back Jason Hammel to the rotation and picked up Phil Coke to “Strengthen” the pen. Those of you who have been reading my ramblings know that I don’t rate Coke and nothing pleases me more to see one of the worst pitchers in one of the worst pens arrive in Chicago to play for the Cubs.
The Cubs also strengthened at catcher by bringing in Miguel Montero and in the outfield by bringing in Dexter Fowler.
The big controversy at the moment is not bringing up Kris Bryant (and also Javier Baez) who both start in AAA Iowa. This is business sense by the Cubs who for sending the pair down to play in AAA for a couple of weeks, get another year on both’s contract before it hits arbitration.
So for all those squealing about the Cubs great youth, their young infield is sitting in Iowa at the moment and they are stuck with watching Mike Olt and Chris Coughlin until Baez and Bryant are called up.
Spiggle’s Prediction – With the huge distraction over Bryant and a building site in the background, coupled with the Back to the Future II rubbish, there are a lot of distractions for the Cubs this season. The good news is that they’ll do better than last year, the bad news is that they won’t win anything. I reckon they’ll finish 4th in the division going around .500 with 81 wins.
The Reds have declined and are rubbish is pretty much all I need to write. You want more? You want me to explain this? Ok, here goes.
Their rotation is Johnny Cueto and some guys. If not for Clayton Kershaw being on a different planet to every other pitcher, Johnny Cueto would have probably won the CY Young. This year he is on the last year of his contract and will want to cash in. This is where I tell you that Reds will win about about 25 games from his starts. The rest of the rotation reads Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani, Homer Bailey and Anthony DiSclafiano. They then have a bunch of random arms like Burke Badenhop and Jumbo Diaz in the pen and the amazing closer in Aroldis Chapman. So in summary, they have an ace, a lockdown closer and 10 other randoms which is just not good enough to compete in this tough division.
Hitting-wise they are better. They have the excellent Devon Mascorano as catcher who is probably one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. They back him up with speedy Billy Hamilton at the top of the order and Joey Votto and Jay Bruce with the power. Its actually a decent lineup, unfortunately its let down by some poor pitching.
Spiggle’s Prediction:- Unless they pick up some arms, its the Red Card for the Reds who will probably finish 5th and sell off Cueto at the trade deadline.
A lot of people are down on the Brewers, I’m not. I see a lot of positives in their roster and a team that could do well and be an outside bet for the Wild Card.
They have a decent rotation headed up by Kyle Lohse and ably supported by Matt Garza and Wily E Peralta. Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson are very serviceable 4th and 5th strting pitchers. The strength of the Brewers is their pen. They not only boast K-Rod as closer, they have Will Smith as set-up who was outstanding last season along with support from Jonathan Broxton and the excellent Lefty Neil Cotts.
Lineup wise, they boast Lucroy at catcher who is not only a smashing hitter, he’s also one of the best pitch-framers in the game. They do have a solid lineup with Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, Ryan Braun and Jean Segura all with good solid bats.
Spiggle’s Prediction – I’m talking myself into liking this team and I’m going for them to finish 2nd in the division and win a Wild Card spot.
Ok, the Pirates have done well the last couple of years, this year, I reckon they’ll regress. I’m hearing the shock and horror around the forum. Surely I can’t be serious, they have McCutcheon, they have Harrison, they have Cole and Liriano.
So What. I don’t like their make up. I’m not keen on Worley and Burnett in their rotation, I think losing Martin is huge for them. I also think their pen is weak and there is not much beyond Melancon and Bastardo. I also think they are too right-handed with not enough left handed hitters in their line-up.
They lost Russell Martin, Ike Davis and Travis Snyder from their line up and that is a lot of power to lose. They also lost Edinson Volquez from the rotation who was lights out last year.
They have a decent lineup with McCutcheon, Harrison and Alvarez but when it comes down to it, there is not enough strength at the left hand side of the plate to convince me.
Spiggle’s Prediction – Regression time. 3rd place for the Pirates. The Brewers and Cards have more about them than the Bucs. There are too many holes for me to like them, they’ll still finish about the Cubs, but I don’t see them in the play offs.
St Louis Cardinals
On a sombre note here, one of the saddest things in the off-season was the tragic death of Oscar Taveras. Oscar was projected to become one of the best players in baseball and had the potential to be a Hall of Famer. Unfortunately his career got cut short and I would like to take this opportunity to remember the talent that was Oscar Taveras.
The Cardinals have a smashing group of players and have few weakenesses. They go into the season with an outstanding rotation led by Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn and they are ably backed up by John Lackey, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez. They back up the rotation with a lights out pen with Matt Belisle, Randy Choate and Seth Maness setting up the lethal Trevor Rosenthal as closer.
With Taveras gone, they filled his position with a trade to the Braves for the excellent Jason Heyward which strengthens their hitting lineup. They may not have the best lineup in the world, but there is enough there with the likes of Kolten Wong, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Adams and Yadier Molina all being very capable and able bats.
They also have some good prospects ready to come up with the likes of Stephen Piscotty in AAA ready to be called up if needed.
Spiggle’s Prediction – You have to like the Cardinals to repeat. They have a very good rotation, excellent pen and some smashing defence to back it up. I like them to win this divison and I reckon they could even go as far as the ALCS.
Thanks for reading this blog and I’ll follow this up with my final blog on the NL West and the World Champion San Francisco Giants.