2016 MLB Preview: National League Central

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(Photo Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

2015:

  1. St. Louis Cardinals* 100-62
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates* 98-64
  3. Chicago Cubs* 97-65
  4. Milwaukee Brewers 68-94
  5. Cincinnati Reds 64-98

2016 Prediction:

  1. Pittsburgh Pirates* 95-67
  2. St. Louis Cardinals* 91-71
  3. Chicago Cubs 85-77
  4. Cincinnati Reds 71-91
  5. Milwaukee Brewers 70-92

I really do feel bad for the Pirates. They ran into Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta in the Wild Card Game each of the past two years and were one and done in the postseason as a result. I still believe that they were the best team in the National League a season ago and would have represented the National League in the Fall Classic had they gotten past the Cubs. But they will not have to worry about in 2016 as this will be year where they finally get over the hump and win this division. Gerrit Cole has emerged as an ace, but this will be the year he becomes one of the top echelon of pitchers in baseball and competes for a Cy Young Award. Andrew McCutchen will be Andrew McCutchen, but I see Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco taking that next step. This can well be an outfield with three of the best in all of baseball. Francisco Liriano is solid and I can see Jon Niese becoming close to a number 2 starter under the brilliance of Ray Searage. Francisco Cervelli has become one of the top catchers in baseball and really handles the pitching staff well. Mark Melancon is a top closer and has thrived in the ninth inning for the Pirates the last three seasons. There are not many complete baseball teams out there. This is one of them, and they will take the next step forward in 2016.

The Cardinals can never be counted out because they just always, and I mean always, seem to be in the mix. When Adam Wainwright went down last season, the team did not miss a beat and won 100 games. Their offense did struggle down the stretch and they did fade out of the postseason in the Division Series, and they did not add a big bat to their lineup. They are counting on guys like Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to continue to develop into solid all-around players, which this franchise has a knack for being successful at. Yadier Molina is coming off an injury and an argument can be made that he is the most valuable player in all of baseball in terms of what he means to this team. The rotation is still excellent with Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and you know what you are getting with Mike Leake. The bullpen is solid and this is a good defensive team as well. This is another “baseball team” and it will be difficult for them to be dethroned in this division, but I think the Pirates will be able to do so this year. Still, this is undoubtedly a postseason team in 2016.

I wrote about the Cubs here, but basically:

Woah Just Take it Easy Man

The bottom two teams in this division can go either way, but they have both taken strides in their respective rebuilding processes. I give a slight edge to the Reds because they still have Joey Votto, who had an amazing season last year that somehow most people do not know about, along with Billy Hamilton, Jay Bruce (for the time being), Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, and Devin Mesoraco. The pitching comes with plenty of question marks but also a lot of youth and upside. They did extremely well in their return for Johnny Cueto, and I believe that Cody Reed will be the best of the trio. While it remains a question whether Brandon Finnegan will be able to stick in the rotation or not, the Reds will give him every opportunity to do so. If he can’t, we know what he is capable of out of the bullpen. Jesse Winker, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, Jose Peraza, Keury Mella, and Rookie Davis are some other names that Reds fans should keep in mind for the near future.

The Brewers also have some nice looking young players, led by #6 overall prospect Orlando Arcia according to MLB.com. They also received Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana and Josh Hader from the Astros in the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade. The next wave for the Brewers will be led by 2015 first-rounder Trent Clark along with 2014 draftees Kodi Medeiros, Monte Harrison and Jacob Gatewood (the later two have legitimate question marks when it comes to their hit tools, but Milwaukee is not in a position to rush them). This will be a nice starting point for the Brewers as their farm system was not rated highly entering the 2015 campaign. Jonathan Lucroy has been a staple in this franchise for a long time, but his time in Milwaukee is likely nearing an end at some point in 2016. This is a difficult division and these two organization have gotten off to good starts in stockpiling young players to begin their rebuilds. With the three teams ahead of them set to be competitive for years to come, it was a necessary step for them at this point in time. It will likely be at least a few years before the Reds and Brewers are competitive again.

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