NL Central: Queen City Sings We are the Champions

Finally something to smile about?

The Central Division of both leagues is up for grabs. Mythical “small market” budgets (except for Chicago) discourage owners from spending–as if someone rich enough to own an MLB team can’t afford their toys. The good news is that the NL Central might be the most competitive league in baseball. On paper, any one of four teams could win it.

I am playing a hunch and picking the Cincinnati Reds to end years of frustration and bring some joy to the Queen City. The Reds have a talent for picking up small pieces and breathing new life into the disgruntled. On paper, this is a very good staff: Bauer, (Sonny) Gray, Miley, and (Luis) Castillo. The Achilles’ heel is relief pitching. Strop as the closer? Don’t be surprised if Lorenzen wrests that away in a Queen City minute. Votto, rejuvenated Freddy Galvis, and Moustakas anchor a strong infield. Castellanos was a great outfield addition. Winker is another OF lock and beyond those two, who knows? Casali is an underrated catcher.

The dark horse, as usual, is the St. Louis Cardinals. Flaherty, (Dakota) Hudson, and the ageless Adam Wainwright are foundations of a good staff, especially if Mikolas rebounds. (Carlos) Martinez is the closer and the Cards hope (Andrew) Miller has something left. (Yadier) Molina might be the best catcher in baseball and an infield of Goldschmidt and Wong is a good foundation. DeJong had better pick it up, though, or Edman will be the shortstop. The only outfield household name is Fowler and he’s not as good as advertised.

Where, you might wonder, are the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers? Each is good enough to win, but both will have to overcome hurdles. The Cubs pitching is a combination of old (Lester), under-performing (Quintana, Kyle Hendricks), or damaged (Darvish, Kimbrel). There is youth on the way, but that can blow hot or cold. The roster is fearsome–Rizzo, (Javy) Baez, (Willson) Contreas, Schwarber, and Bryant–but the latter two are disgruntled. Would anyone be surprised if Souza takes Heyward’s job? Perhaps new manager David Ross can settle things down; if not, the trade van will be parked outside Wrigley Field.

The Brewers have one of the best outfields in baseball: Cain, Braun, Yelich. There’s a reason why so many teams wanted to pluck closer Hader from the Brew Crew. (Brett) Anderson and Woodruff are decent hurlers and Narvaez a decent receiver. Everything else is up in the air. Milwaukee picked up a bunch of replacements–Holt, Gyorko, Lauer, Lindblom, Smoak–and none scream out “slam dunk.” Smoak is now the NL’s answer to Chris KKKK Davis.

No use talking about the Pirates. I’d say they are rebuilding, but they would have had to have been built once before for that term to apply.

Predicted Order of Finish:
1.    Cincinnati
2.    St. Louis
3.    Chicago
4.    Milwaukee
5.    Pittsburgh

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