2018 MLB NL Central Preview

Cubs fans could celebrate, but the Pirates could surprise. Photo by Phil Roeder via flickr/cropped/some rights reserved by the photographer

1 Cubbies swing for the fences

How can the Cubs improve on last year’s performance? I don’t know that adding pitcher Yu Darvish will help. But he will fill in nicely in place of Jake Arrieta. The team has got to figure out what to do with Kyle Schwarber. He’s Rob Deer 2.0: 30 homers but too many outs.

Addison Russell has the power you pray for at shortstop but I don’t know if he will ever become disciplined enough in his approach at the plate to be elite. Same goes for second baseman Javier Baez. If they could there’s no way they wouldn’t be runaway World Series favorites every year with Anthony Russo and Kris Bryant at the corners.

The pitching will hold up this year, but can they keep replacing their starting pitching with talent in the future?

Projection: 95 wins

2 Old guys key to Cards season

I really hate watching Yadier Molina play and I don’t know why, but the guy can take over a game from behind home plate or standing on it. If he has a big year, that takes pressure off of others. Jose Martinez came out of nowhere to hit .300 and 14 homers last year. Got to hope a guy like that has a nice stretch considering he was 28 when he finally broke through with a full-time gig. Matt Carpenter always gets a lot of run, but you look at the numbers and I think he under-performs for a first baseman.

On the hill, Carlos Martinez looks like he has some serious upside. Michael Wacha is pretty solid. Luke Weaver had a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio last year. But, Adam Wainright missed time last year and I’m not convinced he’s okay, and I don’t know who their fifth starter will end up being. And the top two guys in the bullpen to close games for them are gone or injured. So, that’s a worry, but if you can’t find a closer on a staff of a dozen pitchers, you have bigger problems.

All told, enough to hold off the Brewers…maybe.

Projection 86 wins

3 Milwaukee playoff brew?

I like this team and they scare the hell out of me all at the same time. I like at least that they like their chances enough to get outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. Yelich is a career .290 hitter with some power developing in his sixth year and Cain’s just one of those guys who does everything you need.

Ryan Braun isn’t what he was, and we won’t even go down that rabbit hole of what that was. Orlando Arcia gets to more balls than anyone else and has more errors at shortstop than anyone else. I guess you live with that.

On the mound, Chase Anderson could be the next big thing. He had a great second half of the season last year and could become the team’s ace. Zach Davies was the guy last year, but his walks and hits per innings pitched is a little high for my tastes. He’s definitely a good number-two and Milwaukee could test someone if they get to the playoffs. The rest of the rotation could be solid or they could be water on a grease fire. Brent Suter? That guy is already a crafty lefty and he’s barely had a season of work. I also don’t know if he could break glass if he hit a window. If they can get to closer Corey Knebel, they should win some games. That guy throws mid 90’s and doesn’t give up base runners.

Projection:  83 wins

4 Spoiler alert: the Bucs

Yes, Pittsburgh got rid of outfielder Andrew McCutcheon and pitcher Gerrit Cole but they kept a lot of solid players. Center fielder Starling Marte, first baseman Josh Bell, second baseman Josh Harrison and left fielder Corey Dickerson are all pretty darn good and sometimes the loss of a guy like McCutcheon allows everyone else to step up.

I don’t know who’s throwing the ball across home plate, though, and that’s a problem. Jameson Taillon maybe is a number-one starter and then Trevor Williams and four other guys as the four? Maybe a couple of them have career years and help out the offense. This team could surprise a lot of people. Heck they may even break .500.

Projection: 81 wins

5 Red skies at night, uh oh…

How does a team with center fielder in Billy Hamilton who can steal 50 bases, a left fielder in Adam Duvall who can hit 30 homers and drive in 100 and first baseman/perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto finish fifth in anything? Hint: 300 strikeouts between the first two. Hamilton had four home runs last year. Why in the hell is he striking out 130 times?

Oh, and don’t forget forgettable pitching. Homer Bailey has a great name for a ball player but an arsenal of pitches to be a fifth starter, maybe a fourth. But he’s their second-best after Luis Castillo. Maybe Trevor Mahle is your third? Then it’s a collection of long relievers until you get to the closer, Raisel Iglesias, who’s really good, but who isn’t worth anything if the Reds don’t have a lead.

Projection 74 wins

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