2016 MLB : NL Central--Cubs Poised to Pounce but not to the World Series

The division maybe, but the World Series, nope!
The Chicago Cubs are both the sentimental and the odds-on favorite to win the World Series this year, but they get no such love from me. The Cubs will struggle to win the NL Central and I don’t  see them getting to the October Classic. I will pick them to win the Central, but you can flip-flop any of my top three.

Predicted order of finish: Cubs, Pirates, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds.

The Chicago Cubs have outstanding young players, the key word being “young.” Anthony Rizzo has established himself, but many  others—Fowler, Bryant, Russell, Schwarber need either to sustain or live up to their promise. Getting Ben Zobrist was a smart move, but Jason Heyward is a ne’er do well tease whom they vastly overpaid. If the Cubs prevail in the Central, pitching will prevent the Cubs from exorcising the Billy Goat curse. Jake Arrieta is the reigning Cy Young, but is he due for a Corey Kluber-like letdown? Then it’s Jon Lester—the ten-million dollar arm with a ten-cent brain—a declining John Lackey, and two serviceable but underwhelming arms (Hammel, Hendricks). This doesn’t spell championship to me.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, a so-called “small market” team (with a filthy rich owner) has let some talent walk, but I actually think the everyday lineup—Polanco, McCutchen, Marte, Kang, Cervelli—will keep pace with the Cubs, and don’t be surprised if Gerrit Cole takes away Arrieta’s Cy Young crown. If—and this is admittedly a big qualification—Liriano still has gas in the tank and guys like Locke, Niese, and Vogelsong return to normal form, the Pirates could out-pitch the Cubbies. And I’ll take the Bucs’ Melanchon over the Cubs’ Rondon as a closer.

The St. Louis Cardinals always seem to be in the chase even when you look at their lineup and wonder how. This time, though, injuries to Peralta and Molina, plus free agency loses leaves the Cards looking pretty thin once one gets past Matt Carpenter. Holliday needs to earn his contract and they will need career years from folks like Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, and Steve Piscotty, or this team’s offense will look like San Diego’s. There’s hope in the pitching staff if Adam Wainwright is sound, as Wacha, Leake, Garcia, and Carlos Martinez are very good. Watch Martinez; I think he’s poised for a breakout. The Cards are always well-managed, but they are among the year’s biggest question marks. First? Fourth? Either could happen.

Fourth is unlikely for the Cardinals simply because both the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds will be terrible—as in the potential to lose 100 games. I give the Brew Crew a slight bump in the standings simply because I think their best hitters---Lucroy, Braun, Hill—are more consistent than Reds’ streaky bashers Phillips, Votto, and Phillips. Which team finishes above the other could boil down to which 2015 disappointment improves: the Brewers’ Chris Carter or the Red’s Billy Hamilton. (Hey, Billy—you can’t steal bases if you can’t get on base.) Neither team has much pitching, though many see Milwaukee’s Wily Peralta as on-the-cusp of something special, and I don’t think Matt Garza will be as awful in 2016 as he was last year.

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