Andrew Dunn-Bauman is back from Spring Training in Arizona and here is his weekly Brewers Blog
NL Central Preview by Andrew Dunn-Bauman
We’re less than a week from Opening Day at Miller Park, so it’s only right that it’s still below freezing. Nevertheless the countdown is getting serious, so with one final preview before the first pitch of 2014, here’s how I see the NL Central shaking out this season:
St Louis Cardinals (2014 prediction: 100-62)
The Cardinals are once again the team to beat in the NL Central, and with good reason. Adam Wainwright heads what is arguably the best rotation in the MLB. The Redbirds have six viable starters, (five to start the year with Jaime Garcia likely on the DL) and all of them posted ERA’s under four last season. The homegrown pitching depth on this club is uncanny, and extends to the bullpen as well. The Cards have a bunch of young, flame-throwing relievers headlined by closer Trevor Rosenthal, which means facing any portion of this Cardinal staff is a daunting task. Throw in the fact that Yadier Molina is calling the signals behind the dish, and facing this staff quickly becomes an absolute nightmare.
Offensively, the Cards have a solid lineup as well; one that Brewer pitching has struggled with in recent years. While they lost Carlos Beltran this offseason, the signing of Jhonny Peralta in the will provide a boost in production from the shortstop position, which has been inconsistent for the Cardinals recently. And of course, no one wants to face Matt Holliday. Barring an injury-plagued season, the NL Central is there for the Cardinals’ taking.
Cincinnati Reds (89-73)
The Reds won 90 games last season, and I expect them to come close to that total this year. The big loss for Cincinnati this offseason was their leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo to the Texas Rangers. Choo had a .423 on-base percentage for the Reds last year, and his production will be tough to replace at the top of the lineup. But center fielder Billy Hamilton could make waves as the Reds’ new leadoff man, bringing electric speed to the top of the lineup.
Johnny Cueto is the household name on the starting staff, but Mat Latos and youngster Tony Cingrani are above-average pitchers as well, and the lineup is still formidable, with the likes of Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. Closer Aroldis Chapman took a scary line-drive just above his eye in Spring Training, but reports are saying he could return as soon as late April, and his 100-plus MPH fastball effectively shortens the game to eight innings for the Reds. All in all this club should be competing for a Wild Card spot come September.
Milwaukee Brewers (87-75)
The Brewers are undoubtedly an improved squad this season. Having Ryan Braun for the full season can only benefit the club, and the hope is that a healthy Aramis Ramirez behind him will lead to a potent 3-4 combo for the duration of 2014. Khris Davis in left field is not quite proven yet at the MLB level, but brings another powerful bat to the lineup. The Crew returns a gold-glover in Carlos Gomez, and Jean Segura figures to be a real bright spot again at short, both offensively and defensively.
With the addition of Matt Garza, the starting staff looks truly solid from spots one to five to start the season, which is different from years past in Milwaukee. The bullpen looks to be solid as well, with the most notable addition being rookie Wei-Chung Wang, who made the jump from rookie ball in the Pirates organization last year, to the MLB in 2014. I have the Brewers as the most-improved team in the NL Central this year, earning 13 more victories than the 2013 campaign. Health is always a concern over the course of such a long season, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, I see them in the heat of a Wildcard race.
Pittsburgh Pirates (84-78)
This Pirates roster is largely the same as the one that won an impressive 94 games last season, but with one major piece missing; AJ Burnett. Burnett was a fixture in the Bucs’ 2013 campaign that saw the team snap its 20-year-long playoff drought. As a replacement for him, Pittsburgh signed free agent Edison Volquez, who posted a 5.71 ERA in 2013.
Burnett’s absence will be cost this Pirates teams some wins this season. On top of that, it’s questionable to assume that this club can repeat their magical season of 2013. There are three young arms in the Pirates starting rotation that are the key to the Bucs’ chances. They don’t quite rival the talent of the Cardinals’ young arms, but if they all pitch effectively, they can carry this team towards another successful season. Andrew McCutchen will shine in all facets once again, but I see a season just shy of miraculous this season in Pittsburgh.