The season is upon us and we can all look forward to another great season. Now what can we expect from the NL Central? Last year we saw the Cardinals return to the Fall Classic only to lose to the Red Sox. The Reds and Pirates also had great successes last year taking both of the National League’s Wild Cards. The Brewers were caught up in a whole lot of drama with Ryan Braun last season but were still able to finish ahead of the Cubs who were, well, the Cubs. Expect a great 2014 from start to finish from the NL Central.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Record: 97-65
Projected 2014 Record: 94-68
The Cardinals have always been the classic homegrown team. They don’t empty their pockets in free agency every single year like the Yankees or Dodgers. The majority of their team comes straight up from within the organization, which is the reason why they were able to remain stable after losing Albert Pujols. Although they have lost David Freese and Carlos Beltran this offseason they have gained Jhonny Peralta, Mark Ellis and the Peter Bourjos. Perhaps the only real weakness for the Cards is speed. They still retain the same star-studded rotation whose health will be the key for this team. They will have no problem at all reclaiming the NL Central Title in 2014, and maybe even making a playoff run.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 Record: 94-68
Projected 2014 Record: 90-72
After years of irrelevance, the Pirates rose from the ashes last year to claim one of the NL’s wild cards, ultimately defeat the Reds in the one-game playoff and push the Cardinals to the limit in the NLDS. The Pirates look to push even further this year. They lost A.J. Burnett to the Phillies, but they did acquire Edinson Volquez. The Pirates have arguably the best bullpen in the league right now. If they can get some increased production in the batting order from someone not named Andrew McCutchen. Cutch will no doubt be an MVP candidate again this year, but he definitely will need some help. If someone like Pedro Alvarez or Gaby Sanchez can be consistent this season the Pirates definitely have the potential to do something this postseason.
3. Cincinnati Reds
2013 Record: 90-72
Projected 2014 Record: 87-75
The Reds look for another good season this year. They will be retaining almost the same lineup plus the addition of Skip Schumaker. The Reds do have some great depth with a couple of solid hitters like Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier. Plus you can’t exactly forget about the star power of Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto. The Reds are also bringing back a young, strong rotation headed by Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos in addition to their great bullpen. This will be a successful year for Cincinnati, but don’t be surprised if, like last year, they can’t make it past the Pirates come playoff time.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
2013 Record: 74-88
2014 Projected Record: 70-92
With the entire Ryan Braun fiasco finished, Brewers fans can finally focus on baseball again. Too bad their team isn’t too fun to watch at the moment. The top three in the rotation in Gallardo, Lohse and Estrada show promise, but it simply won’t cut it in this division that features three playoff-capable teams. The middle of the batting order for the Brewers is solid, but with a below-par bullpen and simply do not have the depth that they need to compete. Luckily for Milwaukee they do have some young prospects developing like Jean Segura, but it appears that they will stay at the bottom of the NL Central for the duration of 2014.
5. Chicago Cubs
2013 Record: 66-96
2014 Projected Record: 63-99
Despite all the changes around them, one fact remains for Chicago: the Cubs are still the Cubs. I may not be the type to blame mediocrity on a billy goat, but I have witnessed the Cubs stay irrelevant for years. The chances for another playoff run or even playoff berth for Chicago this season appear to be about the same as the chances that A-Rod will play a game. On the bright side, Cubs fans can expect to see increased production from young stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. However I would still advise them to refrain from getting their hopes up at all.
In terms of the entire division, however look for another 3-team race this season. It seems as though the Cardinals are the clear favorite in the NL Central, but do not be shocked if the Reds or Pirates pull it off with a late push. Just like every year, the key for all teams is health. And if the Cardinals do win the title, expect a late playoff run, possibly returning to the World Series.
Image Source: Top Sports Report