The NL Central this year seems *generally* clear cut, but there should still be some intriguing battles in the standings. The Pirates and Reds will realistically be battling for the bottom of the division. The Cubs could prove a surprise in either direction. But in all likelihood, this will come down to the Brewers and the Cardinals. Who will take the division crown?
The Pirates are still a few years away from being a few years away, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to cheer for on this team. Mitch Keller has looked much improved this spring training, with his fastball jumping up to 99 MPH. If he can keep that throughout the season, he should be in for a good year. Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes should be the best players on offense. And Oneil Cruz should get called up sooner rather than later (since he was killing it in Spring Training before getting optioned). There’s a lot to be excited about concerning the Pirates’ future.
The Cubs more or less bottomed out last season, but they’ve made some intriguing moves that could result in a much better season than last. If Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel play like they did in 2021, this team could have a high ceiling. Adding Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly should boost the starting rotation as well.
The Reds seem to be prepping for a full on rebuild after trading Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez, and Sonny Gray. But they still have some solid to good players in Jonathan India, Luis Castillo, and Joey Votto, but I wouldn’t be surprised if either of the latter two gets traded this season. Votto has been a staple for the Reds for a long time, but he also deserves to be on a team with a chance at winning before he retires. We’ll see if that happens.
St. Louis Cardinals
Adding Albert Pujols to fill the DH spot might not move the needle practically, but that’s a hugely classy move for the organization. The team has a strong core with some younger guys waiting in the wings. The key to the team will be the play of whoever’s at shortstop the majority of the season. Paul DeJong has not looked great the past few seasons, but Edmundo Sosa could fill in for him admirably. He put up 3.2 WAR last year compared to DeJong’s 1.6. Regardless of who plays, I expect them to grab a playoff spot easily.
The Brewers starting rotation is one of the best in baseball, and I would say similarly about their bullpen. The key to this team is the offense, who added Andrew McCutchen and Hunter Renfroe this offseason. The team could still use a corner infielder, as Rowdy Telez and Jace Peterson don’t exactly inspire confidence, but they should be good enough to project this team to right around the 95 wins they had last season. Maybe even more if Christian Yellich can play like Christian Yellich again.
1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
Image Source : Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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