PTBN’s 2014 National League Central Preview

This is Part Five of Place to Be Nation’s Major League Baseball division previews, focused on the National League Central.

To read Part One, the A.L. East, click here. For the A.L. Central, click here. For the A.L. West, click here.

For the N.L. East, click here.

Just as before, teams are listed in predicted order of finish.

Catcher Yadier Molina will guide the Cardinals' young, but stellar, pitching staff this year.
Catcher Yadier Molina will guide the Cardinals’ young, but stellar, pitching staff this year.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

2013: 97-65, 1st in N.L. Central, lost World Series

Key additions: SS Jhonny Peralta, 2B Mark Ellis, CF Peter Bourjos

Key losses: RF Carlos Beltran, 3B David Freese, SP Jake Westbrook

Projected lineup, rotation, bullpen — Division Rank in [brackets]

Lineup [1]

Rotation  [1]

Bullpen [1]

3B Matt Carpenter (L)

Adam Wainwright (R)

Trevor Rosenthal (R)

SS Jhonny Peralta (R)

Lance Lynn (R)

Carlos Martinez (R)

LF Matt Holliday (R)

Michael Wacha (R)

Seth Maness (R)

RF Allen Craig (R)

Shelby Miller (R)

Keith Siegrist (L)

C Yadier Molina (R)

Joe Kelly (R)

Randy Choate (L)

1B Matt Adams (L)

   

CF Peter Bourjos (R)

   

2B Kolten Wong (L)/Mark Ellis (R)

   

Strengths: Overall offense, roster depth, starting rotation, bullpen, X-ray vision, Omniscience, Levitation of small mammals

Weaknesses: Offensive regression with RISP (.330 team BA last year); lack of power (125 HR, 27th in MLB); lack of overall speed (45 SB, 29th in MLB), youth of starting pitchers behind Wainwright & Lynn

Best case scenario: The team continues its dynastic run of 13 winning seasons (out of 14) thus far in the 21st century; Wainwright repeats his 2013 (19-9, 2.94 ERA) while Wacha and Miller build on strong freshmen seasons; Rosenthal saves 50 to lead a lights-out bullpen; Allen Craig stays healthy; Matt Holliday’s power remains strong at age 34; the team wins the N.L. Central and makes it all the way to the Fall Classic.

Worst case scenario: The young pitchers regress and/or get hurt; key players (Molina, Craig, Holliday) miss significant time; Matt Carpenter falls back to Earth; the team fails to make the postseason for the first time since 2010.

Bold, but unlikely prediction: Matt Adams gets 500 at-bats and belts 40 home runs.

2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen hopes to lead the Pirates to another postseason appearance in 2014.
2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen hopes to lead the Pirates to another postseason appearance in 2014.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

2013: 94-68, 2nd in N.L. Central

Key additions: SP Edinson Volquez, C Chris Stewart

Key losses: SP A.J. Burnett, 1B Garrett Jones

Projected lineup, rotation, bullpen  — Division Rank in [brackets]

Lineup [3]

Rotation [3]

Bullpen [2]

LF Starling Marte (R)

Francisco Liriano (L)

Jason Grilli (R)

2B Neil Walker (L)

Gerrit Cole (R)

Mark Melancon (R)

CF Andrew McCutchen (R)

Jeff Locke (R)

Tony Watson (L)

3B Pedro Alvarez (L)

Wandy Rodriguez (L)

Justin Wilson (L)

C Russell Martin (R)

Edinson Volquez (R)/Charlie Morton (R)

Jared Hughes (R)

1B Gaby Sanchez (R)

   

RF Jose Tabata (R)/Travis Snider (L)

   

SS Jordy Mercer (R)

   

Strengths: Defense, pitching, reigning MVP McCutchen

Weaknesses: Overall offense, bottom of rotation, regression of the entire team

Best case scenario: The team repeats its wild ride of 2013, making the playoffs for the second year in a row; young pitching (Cole, Jameson Taillon) and young offense (Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco) creates aces and strong supporting talent for McCutchen; the bullpen posts another amazing season (2nd in NL with a 2.89 ERA last year); the starting pitching stays healthy and Volquez is lightning-in-a-bottle; the team wins a Wild Card berth.

Worst case scenario: The bullpen regresses significantly due to injury, age, and the fungibility of all relievers; the rotation misses A.J. Burnett; Cole fails to progress; McCutchen gets no help in the lineup; the team’s defensive innovations fall short as opponents adjust; the team falls back under .500.

Bold, but unlikely prediction: Starling Marte becomes the 12th player in MLB history to hit 20 homers and steal 50 bases.

Joey Votto will try to push the Reds back to a postseason berth.
Joey Votto will try to push the Reds back to a postseason berth.

CINCINNATI REDS

2013: 90-72, 3rd in N.L. Central

Key additions: 2B Skip Schumaker, C Brayan Pena

Key losses: OF Shin-Soo Choo, C Ryan Hanigan, OF Xavier Paul

Projected lineup, rotation, bullpen  — Division Rank in [brackets]

Lineup [2]

Rotation [2]

Bullpen [3]

CF Billy Hamilton (L)

Johnny Cueto (R)

Aroldis Chapman (L)

will begin season on DL

2B Brandon Phillips (R)

Homer Bailey (R)

Jonathan Broxton (R)

1B Joey Votto (L)

Mat Latos (R)

Sean Marshall (L)

RF Jay Bruce (L)

Tony Cingrani (L)

J.J. Hoover (R)

LF Ryan Ludwick (R)

Mike Leake (R)

Logan Ondrusek (R)

3B Todd Frazier (R)

   

SS Zack Cozart (R)

   

C Devin Mesoraco

   

Strengths: Starting pitching, bullpen, defense, middle of the lineup

Weaknesses: Leadoff, bottom of lineup

Best case scenario: Hamilton (13 SB in 13 MLB games; 75 SB in 123 MiLB games) gets on base enough to make his speed a lethal weapon; Votto and Bruce combine to drive in 200 runs; Chapman bounces back from his spring injury and the bullpen pitches great before and after his return; Bailey, owner of two no-hitters, takes the next step to ace-hood; the rotation combines for 70 wins (after 66 in 2013); the team gels under new manager Bryan Price and earns a Wild Card spot.

Worst case scenario: Hamilton fails to get on base and be an effective top-of-the-order presence; the middle of the order misses Shin-Soo Choo’s on-base skills; Votto and Bruce combine to drive in fewer than 150 runs; Brandon Phillips continues his downward trend and pouts about it, creating dysfunction; Chapman fails to come back from his injury; the bullpen collapses without a labeled closer; the rotation gets injured; the team ends up barely over .500.

Bold, but unlikely prediction: Homer Bailey throws his third career no-hitter.

Ryan Braun looks to bounce back from his 65-game PED suspension for Milwaukee.
Ryan Braun looks to bounce back from his 65-game PED suspension for Milwaukee.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

2013: 74-88, 4th in N.L. Central

Key additions: SP Matt Garza, RP Will Smith, 1B Mark Reynolds

Key losses: OF Norichika Aoki, RP Burke Badenhop

Projected lineup, rotation, bullpen  — Division Rank in [brackets]

Lineup [4]

Rotation [4]

Bullpen [5]

CF Carlos Gomez (R)

Matt Garza (R)

Jim Henderson (R)

SS Jean Segura (R)

Kyle Lohse (R)

Brandon Kintzler (R)

RF Ryan Braun (R)

Yovani Gallardo (R)

Will Smith (L)

3B Aramis Ramirez (R)

Marco Estrada (R)

Tyler Thornburg (R)

C Jonathan Lucroy (R)

Wily Peralta (R)

Alfredo Figaro (R)

LF Khris Davis (R)

   

1B Mark Reynolds (R)/Lyle Overbay (L)

   

2B Scooter Gennett (L)

   

Strengths: Top of the order, top of the rotation

Weaknesses: Everything else.

Best case scenario: The lineup overcomes its major imbalance of right-handed hitters; Garza, Lohse, Gallardo combine for 50 victories; the bullpen lines up well behind closer Jim Henderson; Ryan Braun returns from his suspension and leads the team in HR and RBI; Gomez and Segura form a dynamic top of the lineup; Khris Davis hits 35 HR; the team competes for a Wild Card berth will into September.

Worst case scenario: The team gets eaten alive by most RHPs in baseball; the starting pitching flops, as does the bullpen; Ryan Braun struggles all year, leading to a figurative black eye for baseball; Segura drops off significantly from his breakout 2013 (.294, 42 extra-base hits, 44 SB), as does Gomez (.284, 10 3B, 24 HR, 40 SB); the team struggles to stay out of the division cellar.

Bold, but unlikely prediction: Khris Davis hits 40+ HR

First baseman Anthony Rizzo will try to build on his 2013 numbers.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo will try to build on his 2013 numbers.

CHICAGO CUBS

2013: 66-96, 5th in N.L. Central

Key additions: OF Justin Ruggiano, RP Wesley Wright, SP Jason Hammel, RP Jose Veras

Key losses: OF Brian Bogusevic, UT Emilio Bonifacio

Projected lineup, rotation, bullpen  — Division Rank in [brackets]

Lineup [5]

Rotation [5]

Bullpen [4]

CF Emilio Bonifacio (S)

Jeff Samardzija (R)

Jose Veras (R)

LF Junior Lake (R)

Travis Wood (R)

Pedro Strop (R)

1B Anthony Rizzo (L)

Jason Hammel (R)

James Russell (L)

RF Nate Schierholtz (L)

Edwin Jackson (R)

Kyuji Fujikawa (L)

3B Donnie Murphy (R)/Mike Olt (L)

Jake Arrieta (R)

Arodys Vizcaino (R)

SS Starlin Castro (R)

   

C Welington Castillo (R)

   

2B Darwin Barney (R)

   

Strengths: A talented No. 1 starter, a few decent inning-eaters beyond that, some young talent on the rise; a handful of tradeable veterans

Weaknesses: They’re bad and they should feel bad. (Well, not that last part.)

Best case scenario: The team rebuilding accelerates thanks to great seasons from Samardzija, Rizzo, Castro, and minor league prospects Kris Bryant and Javier Baez; the team finishes ahead of Milwaukee for fourth-place.

Worst case scenario: None of the prospects/young talent make strides forward; the pitching flops worse than last year (4.00 ERA, 21st in MLB); Theo Epstein’s rebuilding stalls out as he cannot find new talent in midseason trades; the team challenges for the worst record in MLB.

Bold, but unlikely prediction: Javier Baez plays 100+ MLB games; forcing a trade of incumbent SS Starlin Castro.

We’ll wrap up with the National League West. Until then, enjoy your Opening Day!

Author: Joel Barnhart

A big-time baseball nerd, Joel is currently teaching English as a Second Language in San Antonio, Texas. In addition to his MLB passion, he enjoys good whiskey, good music, good movies, and good friends. He is currently engaged in an ongoing 12-year online debate over the merits of bubble wrap.