As Spring Training rolls on and Opening Day gets closer, the Milwaukee Brewers are preparing themselves for what should be a battle in the NL Central. At this point in the year, most teams are done making substantial moves, so we have a good idea of each team’s talent.
The NL Central is projected — and for good reason — to be the worst division in all of baseball. The good news is that one team will seize the moment and win the NL Central, sending them to the playoffs. Let’s take a dive into each NL Central team for this coming year. These are my projected standings and records.
5. The Pittsburgh Pirates
The key to who wins the NL Central may be who can beat up on the Pirates the most. The Pirates are the only team in the NL Central without a chance of winning the division. The Pirates will be very, very bad.
The Pirates have little hitting or pitching. The bullpen is a mess. And the Pirates’ projected starting outfield of Bryan Reynolds, Anthony Alford, and Gregory Polanco is projected to put up a combined -0.1 WAR. Pittsburgh hitters are projected to deliver the third-fewest WAR in the league, and their pitching is projected to put up the second-fewest WAR in the league. Each NL Central team will be given the “gift” of playing the Pirates 19 times this year.
One of the only bright spots for the Pirates this year is 24-year-old Ke’Bryan Hayes. Hayes is ranked by MLB.com as the 9th best prospect in the league this year. Hayes played in 24 games last year and was absolutely sensational. Looking at a full year of playing time at the major league level, I think that Hayes will break out and be an all-star level player and will become one of the best third basemen in the league within a matter of years.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, their other top prospects are not expected to debut until 2022 or 2023, so outside of Hayes, there is not much to get excited about. It will be a tough year to be a Pirates fan.
Record Prediction: 63-99
4. The Cincinnati Reds
The Reds offense last year could not help its stellar pitching. After the departure of Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, the offense will need to rebound even more. I expect Eugenio Suárez, Nick Castellanos, and former Brewer Mike Moustakas will all have better years than they did in the shortened 2020 season.
Even after the departure of Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati has a really solid pitching core of Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. I also think former top 100 prospect Tyler Mahle will have a really strong year. The bullpen could get a little dicey, however. There is Amir Garrett and Michael Lorenzen, but after that, there is not too much talent in the bullpen, and even then, Lorenzen wants to be used as a starter more than a reliever.
The Reds have the hitting talent and a couple of good pitching pieces, but whether or not they can put it all together is yet to be seen.
Record Prediction: 76-86
3. The Chicago Cubs
The 2021 Chicago Cubs might be the last year that the 2016 World Series core is together. After the season ends, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Wilson Contreras will all be free agents.
Depending on how the year goes, the Cubs could potentially be sellers at the deadline if things are not going well. Bringing in Joc Pederson was a nice addition, but I am not sure if the hitting core will be able to hold up the sketchy pitching.
After trading ace Yu Darvish to San Diego, the pitching staff will revolve around Kyle Hendricks. Beyond Hendricks, there are a lot of question marks in both the rotation and the bullpen. The bullpen is headlined by Craig Kimbrel and Andrew Chafin. After that, there is not a whole lot left.
I think it is time for the Cubs to accept a rebuild and trade away some of their core at the trade deadline. Their pitching is not good enough to get to the post-season.
Record Prediction: 79-83
2. The St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are going to be an overall solid team. They don’t have any real weaknesses, but nothing about the Cardinals will make you say they are definitely a playoff team. The big move of the offseason was trading for Nolan Arenado. Outside of that, the Cardinals essentially stayed put.
The Cardinals already had some quality infield pieces, including Yadier Molina, Paul Goldschmidt, and Paul DeJong. Adding Arenado into the mix raises this team’s ceiling substantially. The pitching should be pretty good, with ace Jack Flaherty (my dark horse to win the NL Cy Young Award) followed up by Kwang Hyun Kim, Carlos Martínez, Miles Mikolas, and Adam Wainwright. It is a solid rotation.
The bullpen should be fine, lead by Giovanni Gallegos, Andrew Miller, Jordan Hicks, and Alex Reyes. Nothing about the Cardinals is eye-popping, but they will be solid in all facets. The Arenado trade was a great move, but I am still not sold on Arenado as a hitter outside of hitter-friendly Coors Field. Over the course of his career, Arenado’s OPS at home was 0.985, while on the road, it was 0.793. That is quite a difference. Arenado is a fantastic defender, but I doubt the trade will move the needle enough to win the NL Central.
Record Prediction: 83-79
1. The Milwaukee Brewers
Coming in the first spot of my NL Central prediction is the Milwaukee Brewers. Much like Cincinnati last year, the Brewers’ offense let down its stellar pitching. The bats of Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura, Avisail Garcia, and Omar Narvaez never really got going. The Brewers expect these players to have bounce-back years offensively, especially Yelich, who fans hope will return back to MVP form.
The good news is that the Milwaukee Brewers had no key departures other than Ryan Braun, and they are adding back Lorenzo Cain after missing last season. With its starting center fielder back and some new faces to help the club, the Brewers should be a better version of itself. Milwaukee brought in Kolten Wong and Jackie Bradley Jr. to bolster the defense and help aid what is already an impressive pitching staff.
The rotation will be headlined by Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. The Milwaukee Brewers bullpen is one of the best in the league. It features Josh Hader, Devin Williams, and many other young arms that impressed for short stints last year.
The Milwaukee Brewers have the highest ceiling and the highest floor in the Central, as their pitching is the most consistent pitching in the division, and the lineup has the fewest question marks. The Crew may not be great, but they are good enough to win an extremely weak NL Central.
Record Prediction: 85-77
Given the strength of the division this year (or the lack of it), any team that is not the Pirates could realistically win the division. There is a lot of room for surprises over a full 162 game season, so it could come down to whichever team gets hot at the right time and propels itself into playoff contention.
Regardless of how the NL Central shapes out, it is certain that it will be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. What do you think of these predictions? Who am I underrating or overrating?