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MLB Preview: NL Central

Jarret Bailey, Sports Writer

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With Spring training in full stride and Opening Day right around the corner, it’s time to start previewing the season to discuss what there is to expect in each of the six divisions.

We’ll start with arguably the most competitive division in baseball, the NL Central. Last year, the Cardinals took the Division crown, finishing with a 90-72 record, and not far behind them were the Pirates as they finished with a record of 88-74. The red birds have a strong roster, both offensively and defensively. Their big four on offense consists of the three “Matt Brothers” (Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, Matt Holiday) and Johnny Perolta. Last season the four combined for 64 Home Runs, 292 RBI, and, when averaged together, a .274 batting average–not to mention the 5 triples off the bat (and feet) of Matt Adams. On the mound, they have two of the best pitchers in the NL as well in Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn, who both had an ERA of less than 3.

Now, there’s no doubt that the Cardinals are a dangerous team, but the Pirates might just be better. They have arguably the best player in baseball playing centerfield in Andrew McCutchen, not to mention Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte in right and left field. This young trio may just be the best in baseball when it comes to strong outfield trios. That’s certainly not all, though. Neil Walker has emerged as one of the best Second Basemen in the MLB and Josh Harrison is a great option at 3rd and lead the team with a .315 batting average in 2014. Let’s not forget Pedro Alvarez who emerged alongside McCutchen as an All-Star. He’s got a strong bat and can hit the long ball in clutch spots when the Buccos need it most.  When it comes to pitching, A.J. Burnett returns to Pittsburgh after a one-year stint with the Phillies and adds a great arm to the young starting five for the Pirates who also consist of Francisco Liriano, Garrett Cole, Jeff Locke, and Vance Worley. The Pirates are looking to make a splash once again the NL, and I have them as my division favorite.

Now when it comes to the last three spots in the division, I like the Reds taking the third spot. They have a great Third Basemen with Todd Frazier, who hit 29 Home Runs and drove in 80 Runs last season, and an elite Second Basemen in Brandon Phillips. Joey Votto is a former NL MVP and he’s back at First Base. When you look at the Reds Depth Chart and scroll over the Pitching section, Johnny Cueto’s name certainly sticks out as he’ll be leading the Reds rotation once more this season.

In fourth, I’ve got the Brewers. Last season, Milwaukee started off slow, but started turning up the heat as the season started to wind down, but it wasn’t enough as they fell short of a playoff spot and finished in third in the Central. They still have that outfield duo of Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun, who combined for 42 Home Runs and 154 RBI last year. Khris Davis and Mark Reynolds also accounted for 22 Home Runs each last season. On the mound, Wily Peralta, who lead the team in wins and ended 2014 with a 17-11 record, will most likely be the number one ace in the Brewers rotation. Along with Peralta are Kyle Lohse, who was second on the team to Peralta with 13 wins, and Matt Garza who went 8-8, a mark that he will need to improve on if he expects to contribute heavily for the Brewers this year.

In the five spot, I have the Cubs rocking the basement this season. Even though I have them finishing last, the Cubs have a strong chance at being competitive with the Reds and Brewers. They have a few exciting players, including Anthony Rizzo, who hit 32 Home Runs last year, and the always exciting Shortstop Starlin Castro, who lead the team with a batting average of .292. The cubs did lose Luis Valbuena, who was second on the team with 16 Home Runs, as he is now in Houston with the Astros. With that said, the Cubs do have a lot of potential, especially at the Catcher Position with Welington Castillo, who hit 13 Home Runs last year in 110 games. On the mound, the Cubs are going to need big help and better contribution from Travis Wood, who went 8-13 with an ERA over 5 in 2014. If the Cubs are going to even have a chance at success, it’s got to be a total team effort.

Overall, this division seems to be just a two team show but has the chance to be extremely competitive.

 

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