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MLB Preview: NL Central

Jarrett Bailey, Sports Writer

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March is here, Spring workouts have started for every team, and Spring Training games have begun. It’s official; baseball is back in full swing (no pun intended). With that being said, it’s time to begin my predictions of every MLB Division, starting with the NL Central.

  1. Cardinals: The red birds finished with the best record in the MLB last season, going 100-62, and are poised to do much of the same in 2016. If you want to define the soul of the Cardinals, just take a peek at their pitching staff. The Cardinals finished tops in all of baseball last season with a total ERA of 2.94, 62 saves, and allowed the fewest earned runs in the MLB with 478. Their starting rotation, lead by Adam Wainwright, is one of the best in baseball and are going to do great things this season. On the offensive, they are a solid team. They finished 14th in batting average, 12th in average, and were 9th in doubles. With big bats in their lineup like Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter, they should have another solid year. The one down side to the Cardinals is that they lost two of their best players from 2015 in Jason Heyward and John Lackey to the Cubs, which are two giant holes that will need to be filled. Nonetheless, the Cardinals are still among the league’s best and I expect another division title in 2016.
  2. Pirates: The Pirates, very similar to their arch rival Cardinals, are a team built on pitching. They have a Cy Young Caliber pitcher at the head of their rotation in Gerrit Cole, who finished 2015 3rd in the Majors in wins with 19, 7th with a 2.60 ERA, and was top 20 in both WHIP and strikeouts. The rotation did lose All-Star A.J Burnett to retirement, but still have Francisco Liriano and a solid rotation, plus another All-Star in closer Mark Melancon. One thing that the Pirates could use more of is run support in critical situations. Their batting lineup lost Second Baseman Neil Walker to the Mets in a trade, and they decided not to bring back Pedro Alvarez at First Base, which I see as being a smart move. Yes, Alvarez is a good power hitter, but his defense is terrible and his batting average was a meager .243 in 2015. What the Pirates do have is the best outfield trio in baseball. With Andrew McCutchen in Center with Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco at his flanks, the Bucos have an outfield that had a total average of .279 and two Gold Glove winners. Also, keep an eye out for Josh Harrison. The third baseman is poised to have a breakout year if he can stay healthy. All in all, the Bucs look to be in a good place and should be able to crack a playoff birth.
  3. Cubs: 2015 was the season that Cubs fans have been craving for quite sometime. Young bats and great pitching came together and gave the Cubs a run to the NL Championship Series. When I look at the Cubs roster, I see almost no weaknesses. Their starting rotation is impeccable, and at the helm of it all is 2015 NL Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta. Arrieta is a freak on the mound, as he finished last season with a record of 22-6 and a 1.77 ERA. When you look at the rest of their rotation, you also got big name guys like John Lackey, who they acquired from the Cardinals, and Jon Lester who round out a solid rotation for the Club. Their batting lineup got better this off-season, as they added Jason Heyward to a group that took the league by storm last season. They may just have the best infield in all of baseball with names like Anthony Rizzo at first (31 HR, 101 RBI), Kris Bryant at third (26 HR, 99 RBI), and their middle infield composed of Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist. The Cubs are going to have a great season. I see them cracking one of the Wildcard spots, but wouldn’t be surprised if they stole the division.
  4. Reds: After finishing 2015 at 64-98 and losing their best pitcher in Johnny Cueto, it doesn’t look like a very promising season for the Reds. They are really going to have to rely on their hitting to carry them this season. The top man in their rotation is Anthony DeSclafani, who went just 9-13 with a 4.05 ERA. Every pitcher in their starting rotation has 2 years or less of MLB experience, so this is going to be an experimental year for Cincinnati. With that said, it’s going to come down to their bats to really shoulder the load this season, and they have the batters capable of doing that. Joey Votto at first has been the leader of this team for quite sometime, and his bat alone can help keep them in games. He finished with a .314 average last year to go along with 29 HRs and 80 RBI, and will need to do much of the same and a little more to help this team. Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, and Eugenio Suarez round out the rest of the solid infield, and with Jay Bruce in left field, this lineup is a dangerous squad. But, batting alone doesn’t win games. I think the Reds improve on their record from 2015, but not enough to make a run at a playoff spot.
  5. Brewers: Milwaukee is a team that has a lot of young and up and coming talent that will be good in the future, but will take a year or two to mold into a playoff caliber team. One guy that a lot of experts have their eye on is Domingo Santana in centerfield. Santana accumulated a .238 average with 8 HRs and 26 RBI in 52 games last season. With the experience of last year under his belt, the 23 year old Dominican should have a breakout year. Ryan Braun in right field has been the face of the franchise for quite sometime now, and is still capable of 20-30 homers in a season and giving good production. The biggest flaw for the Brew Crew is their pitching. Their rotation had a combined record of 34-47 with an ERA of 4.39. Those statistics aren’t going to win many games, especially when you play in the NL Central. This year will be a year of building talent and getting better for the Brewers, so I’m not expecting anything special.
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