NL Central: Not Buying Into Cubs Hype

Cubs and...
The Cubs were so active in the off-season that folks on the North Side dare to mention "World Series." If it happens in the Windy City, it will take place and on the South Side, not the North.

...this don't match!
Why the Cubs Will be the Division Disappointment: Because they'll be better, but they won't be great. Jon Lester will be an ace, Jake Arrieta will be decent, and the rest will pitch like the Cubs. I fail to see the Jason Hammel hype. Then there's Travis (Don't-call-me-Kerry) Wood. Closer Rondón never has.
            The Cubs need Kris Bryant to be ready at third because the alternatives are ugly. Second isn't looking so hot either. Castro is a fixture at short, Fowler is good in the outfield, and Soler might be. Rizzo has a big bat, but half the guys he knocked in last year were himself. The Cubs will rise or fall on youthful potential and haven't we heard that before?

So Will the Cardinals Repeat? They just might. Wainwright, Lynn, and Wacha (if healthy) are awfully good. I'm not a big John Lackey fan, but he's the best # 4 in the division. Adams, Wong, Peralta, and Matt Carpenter are a mighty fine infield, Yadier Molina is a superb catcher, and there's nothing shabby about a Holliday, Jay, and Heywood outfield. The Cards are always well coached, make judicious signings, and perpetually get mileage out of someone surprising. One worrisome spot: heart-attack closer Trevor Rosenthal.

What about the Pirates? Gerit Cole is going to be a star, but do Liriano and Burnett have anything left? Will Locke and Worley ever justify the scouting reports? Nice infield—Alvarez, Walker, Mercer, Harrison–and an even better outfield (Marte, McCutchen, Polanco). As for catching, you can start the Frankie Cervelli DL Watch any time after April 1. But he won't be the reason if the Bucs fall back. It starts and ends on the mound.

Mystery Meat: Damned if I can fathom why the Reds are so perpetually mediocre. Cueto, Bailey, and Leake have serious arms, yet the latter two manage to snooze more than cruise. Who wouldn't want a lineup with Votto, Phillips, Frazier, Bruce, Bryd, and the wing-footed Hamilton? Chapman is the only legitimate closer in the division.

1. Cardinals: This team leaves the hype to others and takes care of business where it matters: on the field of play.
2. Reds: If not second, last. There's just too much talent on this squad for it to be 10 games under .500 like last year. Put another way, if this team falters out the gate, Dusty Baker will be the first managerial casualty and they'll clean house in the Queen City. Neither would be a bad idea.
3. Pirates: Love the everyday lineup, but I simply don't see the pitching duplicating last year's numbers. Remember–they were only six games up in the winning column in 2014, so even a small slip could be fatal.
4. Cubs: This is what South Side hope will look like and only Jon Lester keeps the Baby Bears from once again gathering mold in the cellar.
5. Brewers: The Brew Crew isn't awful—just not good enough. If anyone can make the pitching better, catcher Jonathan Lucroy is the man. Alas, he's not Superman; the mound is Garza, Lohse, Peralta, and prayer. Ramirez at third, the inconsistent Lind at first, and nothing in-between…. Braun is not a stud without steroids.  Still, I won't be surprised if the Brewers make this prediction look bad.

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