With the Milwaukee Brewers 2022 season set to start on Thursday, it is that time again to give my previews and predictions for each team in the NL Central. With Spring Training finished, the rosters for each team are essentially set and the players that each team have will be the ones they will roll with into the season.
For the second year in a row, the NL Central is projected to be one of, if not the worst division in baseball. This is the result of only having two teams that are actively trying to win.
Here is how I see things playing out for the Brewers this season along with predictions for the rest of the NL Central.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
FanGraphs projection: 69-93
PECOTA projection: 66-96
The Pirates are coming off a dreadful year in which they went 61-101 and had a total run differential of -224, which was second worst in the MLB only in front of the Baltimore Orioles.
To be frank, the Pirates will do little well this year. They are returning the majority of their makeshift roster from last year and did not make any attempt to improve their roster. That being said, there are still some things to look forward to as a Pirates fan.
To start, they do have a dark-horse MVP candidate in Bryan Reynolds. Reynolds had a phenomenal year in 2021, slashing .302/.390/.522 with 24 home runs. FanGraphs predicts that his success in 2021 will continue into 2022 as they project Reynolds to have a .843 OPS this year. The Pirates have reportedly already begun shopping Reynolds to potential contenders such as the San Diego Padres.
Outside of Reynolds, the Pirates will hope that Ke’Bryan Hayes can return to health and play his first full season in the big leagues. Additionally, MLB.com’s no. 26 prospect and FanGraphs’ no. 8 prospect, Oneil Cruz should play a significant portion of the season in the major leagues.
The Pirates won’t sniff the playoffs, but there are a few exciting young pieces to watch out for. Factoring in a Reynolds trade that seems inevitable, I am going to predict less wins for the Pirates than both FanGraphs and PECOTA. The Pirates will especially struggle for wins post-trade deadline.
Record Prediction: 64-98
4. Cincinnati Reds
FanGraphs projection: 75-87
PECOTA projection: 80-82
The Reds entered the All-Star break in 2021 only 4 games behind first place in the NL Central. They finished the year 12 games behind first. The Reds did not necessarily collapse, but merely played roughly .500 baseball for the second half of the season.
This year’s Reds team will look much different from last year’s. By dealing away Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez and letting Nick Castellanos walk in free agency, the Reds made it clear that they have no interest in competing this year. While they did add Tommy Pham, runs will be hard to come by in Cincinnati.
FanGraphs projects that the Reds will have 17.7 batting WAR this year, which would be 6th worst in the league. Look for much of the Reds offense to come from Jonathan India, who FanGraphs projects to have 3.8 of that 17.7 batting WAR.
Reds pitching should be middle of the pack, led by Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo, who salvaged his season with a 10 game stretch in the middle of the year in which he posted a 1.70 ERA. A name to keep an eye on is Hunter Greene, who is FanGraph’s no. 32 prospect and MLB.com’s no. 22 prospect. Greene is a 6’5 starting pitcher who can throw up to 104mph and is expected to make his MLB debut within the first few days of the season.
The Reds should not be close to being a playoff team, but there is still enough talent on their roster to not roll over and surrender every series.
Record Prediction: 74-88
3. Chicago Cubs
FanGraphs projection: 75-87
PECOTA projection: 73-89
The Cubs were tied for first place in the NL Central on June 24. What followed was a 11 game losing streak from June 25th to July 6th that catapulted the Cubs out of playoff contention and changed the course of the franchise. A couple weeks later, the Cubs started a new rebuild by trading franchise cornerstones Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez.
Those trades left a large hole in the middle of the Cubs lineup that will most likely not be filled. One potential fix could be the arrival of Japanese superstar Seiya Suzuki, who produced multiple seasons with an OPS over 1.000. It will be fascinating to see how his success in Japan translates to the MLB. The Cubs will also need more consistency from Ian Happ and Wilson Contreras if they want to have a chance at producing runs.
As for pitching, the big addition for the Cubs was Marcus Stroman, who both FanGraphs and PECOTA predict will have a high strikeout season. Stroman paired with Kyle Hendricks is not a bad one-two combo.
Out of the bullpen, a main story will be who can take the closer role after the trade of Craig Kimbrel? It may be a closer by committee, as the role could be shared between David Robertson, Rowan Wick, Mychal Givens, and Chris Martin.
The Cubs are a hard team to predict, especially considering their best projected player is coming straight from Japan, where a players’ level of success coming to the MLB has varied. All in all, FanGraphs’ projection of 75 wins seems about right.
Record Prediction: 75-87
2. St. Louis Cardinals
FanGraphs projection: 81-81
PECOTA projection: 80-82
The Cardinals finished the 2021 season 90-72, propelled by a 17 game win streak in September that helped St. Louis secure a wildcard birth. The Cardinals would go on to lose to the Dodgers in the Wild Card game.
In 2022 the Cardinals return the same core in hopes to return to the playoffs once again. Headlined by Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals once again bring one of the best infields in baseball. In the outfield, Harrison Bader is one of the best defensive players in the league. Tyler O’Neill is coming off by far the best year of his career, hitting 34 home runs with an OPS of .912. In short, the Cardinals will be able to put up runs.
The pitching is where things get a little shaky. Jack Flaherty is one of the best pitchers in baseball when healthy. The problem is that he just can’t seem to stay healthy. Miles Mikolas has had a steady decline over the past three years and is only getting older. The same goes to Adam Wainwright, who will turn 41 during the season. Steven Matz was a great pickup but it is unsure how the rest of the rotation will perform.
The bullpen is questionable as well. Alex Reyes enters the season on the IL, leaving more innings for unproven relievers. The only reliable option out of the bullpen is Giovanny Gallegos, but it is unclear how much the rest of the bullpen will be able to positively contribute.
I think that FanGraphs and PECTOA are too harsh on the Cardinals. I think that there is more talent here than an 80 win team. The offense should be able to carry an inconsistent pitching staff.
Record Prediction: 86-76
1. Milwaukee Brewers
FanGraphs projection: 88-74
PECOTA projection: 93-69
In 2021, the Milwaukee Brewers turned on the gas in May and never looked back, securing their first NL Central title since 2018. The offense flamed out against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, however.
So the big question this season is, can the Brewers offense give the pitching staff enough runs? That is the key to the season. The Brewers said goodbye to Avisaíl García and replaced him with Hunter Renfroe. Other than Renfroe, the Brewers only other significant additions to the offense was Andrew McCutchen, who should see a fair amount of time at DH.
The pitching staff, to put it simply, is one of the best in the league, led by the three headed monster of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta. The bullpen, headlined by Josh Hader and Devin Williams, has great depth. Also, keep an eye out for Aaron Ashby, who will most be used from the bullpen but should also get some starts as the year goes on.
The Milwaukee Brewers pitching and defense should be able to lead this team to another NL Central championship. Anything less would be considered a shortcoming this season. The Brewers should be able to dominate the Pirates, Reds, and Cubs and win most games against the Cardinals. Look for the Crew to put up 90+ wins in the regular season. Whether such success in the regular season can translate to playoff success is yet to be seen.
Record Prediction 94-68
The NL Central will not be the best division by any means, but it will still be entertaining to watch. In the end, the division should come down to the Cardinals and the Brewers. It should be fun to see how the Central shapes up over the coming months.