2015 MLB Preview: National League Central

2015 MLB Preview: National League Central

Last time around, I told you what to expect from the American League Central. And today I’m following it up with their counterparts in the National League. You might not agree with my predictions at first… But by the time I’m done, you may be looking at these teams in a whole new light…even if you’re a diehard fan.

Here’s what you can expect from the National League Central in 2015:

  1. Pittsburgh Pirates
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Milwaukee Brewers
  4. Chicago Cubs
  5. Cincinnati Reds

This is the year that the Cardinals begin their descent.

The pitching is promising. Adam Wainwright is still an ace. Michael Wacha is an emerging star. John Lackey is a reliable veteran. Trevor Rosenthal is a solid closer—if he can keep his control problems in check this season.

The issue with the Cardinals is their aging offense. After the unfortunate death of their top outfield prospect, Oscar Taveras, in a car accident this offseason, they filled his spot in right field by trading for Jason Heyward, who will be a free agent at the end of this year.

Matt Holliday is coming off a productive season. But his numbers have been steadily trending downward over the last three years…and his defense in left field has taken a major hit with age. They do have some talented young hitters with Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, and Matt Carpenter. But the key to their lineup will be catcher Yadier Molina.

Having missed time last season with a thumb injury, Molina didn’t look like the same player at the plate. He posted his first average under .300 and his first slugging percentage under .460 since 2010. Having played in over 135 games in the five-year span from 2009-2013, Molina showed his first signs of wearing down last season. At age 33, it makes you wonder how much is left in his tank. Molina has been the unofficial captain of this team for nearly ten years. And their competitive years may just depend on his level of production.

I see a .500 record, but not much more than that.

The Pirates will finally have their opportunity to run away with the division. They have a solid core in their lineup with Josh Harrison, Gregory Polanco, Andrew McCutchen, and Neil Walker setting the table for a gritty offense. So they won’t blow you away… But this is a young, talented team that plays the game hard every time out… Much like the Cardinals of recent memory and the Twins of the 2000’s.

Don’t count them out. They’ll likely end up with the second best record in the National League this season.

The Milwaukee Brewers are a confusing team.

They have a great deal of talent in their rotation with veterans Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza atop the staff…and strong young arms in Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson. Not to mention a strong offense in Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, and newcomer Adam Lind. But somehow they don’t contend.

On paper, they should be a winning team. But watching them you can see their flaws in their defense and a lack of cohesion offensively. They won’t walk often. They’re a swinging team for sure. This likely forces them into their own outs. Maybe they can live up to their talent level this year with a healthy, suspension-free Ryan Braun for the first time in two years. The added thump that Lind brings should also help balance the lineup.

But they’ll likely still find a way to finish just shy of a winning record.

The Cubs, however, are a team that made a major makeover in the offseason. Having the top prospect in all of baseball with third baseman Kris Bryant wasn’t enough for Theo Epstein. He went out and traded for Dexter Fowler to man center field and turned to Miguel Montero to mentor a young pitching staff—and hopefully revitalize his offensive production at Wrigley Field. They re-signed Jason Hammel after a mid-season trade to the A’s, and landed an ace for the staff in left-hander Jon Lester.

Their recent drafts and international signings have their top prospects oozing with tremendous power abilities. In other words, this team will be a force to reckon with very soon…but not quite yet.

For 2015, they could flourish and win 85 games. Or they could fall a bit flat and end up with 70 wins and a losing record. The bottom line is that very interesting things are happening at Wrigley regardless of their record. They’re a team you want to keep your eye on. And if you blink… You could miss their jump to contention.

The Cincinnati Reds are an organization with tons of talent and absolutely no idea what to do with it.

Billy Hamilton may very well be the best base stealer in baseball. Aroldis Champman is probably the hardest-throwing pitcher in baseball, a left-hander with a fastball in the 105 MPH range. Devin Mesoraco was one of the best offensive catchers in all of baseball last season. Todd Frazier was a breakout star in 2014. Johnny Cueto is electric every time he’s on the mound.

Yet despite all of this, the club lost 86 games last season. And they could very well lose even more than that this season. Cueto and Mike Leake are set to become free agents after this season. And the one starter they were able to lock up long-term, Homer Bailey, spent the offseason recovering from forearm surgery. Joey Votto has also been a massive disappointment for the franchise, struggling to stay on the field—and to be productive when he does play—over the last two seasons.

And you can’t forget about the issues they’ve had within their own clubhouse… Brandon Phillips created tension by mocking his teammates and criticizing the front office. It’s a shame to see the talent go to waste… But the Reds will likely play spoilers at best in this race.

Pack your bags… Next time we’re headed out west. I’ll be revealing everything you need to know about the volatile American League West. Stay tuned to Manliness for all the details you need to stay ahead of the count in the 2015 season.

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You might say he has a little too much time on his hands… James Mangano is a rabid, passionate, and ridiculously insightful sports fan—even for a New Yorker. With one of the sharpest minds for baseball we’ve ever come across, we here at Manliness think it’s only a matter of time before he gets his own Moneyball or Million Dollar Arm… Or maybe even Rookie of the Year. And if you got those references… You won’t want to miss a word he has to say.

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