Last week I started to do my Major League Baseball preview for the 2013 season with a look at the National League East. This week I will be previewing the NL Central. I will try to be unbiased in my opinions of what will happen in this division since my favorite team happens to be in this division. I will tell you at the end of the post who my favorite team is and hopefully you will see that I am unbiased.
The Pirates had a very good start to their season last year but really fell off during the second half of the year. They finished last season with a record of 79-83 to continue their streak for losing season that is at 20 seasons. They had many bright spots that fizzled out toward the end of the year but the one constant was Andrew McCutchen. He will again lead the way for this team that added Russell Martin during the offseason and will have Starling Marte for the whole season. I don’t really see much of a change in this team that makes me think that this season will be much different than last season.
The Cubs struggled a lot last year and finished the season with a record of 61-101. Things should be looking up for this ball club coming into the 2013 season. Although they did not make many changes during the offseason they do have some young talent that learned a lot last season. Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney are looking to step into much bigger roles for the Cubs this season. The pitching staff could be an Achilles heel for this team though. Their number one and number two starters will be Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson but after that it falls off. The closer Carlos Marmol will be good this season but the question is going to be how often can they get the ball in his hands in a save situation.
The Brewers finished with a record of 83-79 and finished third in NL Central in 2012. The injury bug has already hit this team hard and we aren’t even through the second week of Spring Training. Corey Hart had surgery to repair his knee about a month ago and is still recovering from that and they have already lost their first baseman Mat Garmel to a torn ACL. They are also dealing with the situation that is surrounding their star player Ryan Braun. Unfortunately this is not a new situation for the Brewers to deal with. Before last season began rumors were circling about Braun and PEDs and now, right around the same time as last season, they are dealing with Braun’s name being associated with PEDs again. Even with all of this going, the Brewers still have a good lineup but same as the Cubs this teams struggles will come from their pitching staff. Yovani Gallardo will have a solid season like he always does but there is a steady drop off from there. Also like the Cubs, the Brewers have a very strong closer in John Axford but it will come down to how many opportunities he will get to save ball games.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals finished the 2012 season in second place in the NL Central with a record of 88-74 and won the Wild Card “play-in” game and lost to San Francisco Giants who would go on to win the World Series. It was a good season for the Cardinals but it was also a bit of surprised. Before the beginning of the season, they lost their ace in Chris Carpenter to an injury and lost Albert Pujols to the Angels in free agency. They ended up getting great seasons from Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse. Again this season, the Cardinals will be without Carpenter and they will also be without Lohse as he became a free agent during the offseason. The Cardinals will have to rely on Wainwright again this season and they hope that Jaime Garcia can step in to the role that Lohse had last year. Even without Pujols, the Cardinals had a very productive lineup and will go into this season with many of the same players in their lineup. They will look for Jon Jay, Matt Holliday, and David Freese to spearhead this lineup during the 2013 season. Another player to keep an eye on during this season is Allen Craig. He had a very productive year last season and I think that he has room to grow as well.
The Cincinnati Reds had a very good season last year as they finished the season at 97-65. One of the reasons for their solid season was due to their starting pitching. During the 2012 offseason, the Reds acquired Mat Latos via a trade with the San Diego Padres and it turned out to be a very good trade as he went on to win 14 games and have a 3.48 ERA. They Reds will enter this season with a very similar rotation as the 2012 season and will hope that they can get the same production from the five starters. They major difference from the 2012 and 2013 rotation could possibly come from within. The Reds will be looking to take Aroldis Chapman from the closer role and put him in to the starting rotation. I think that this is a major mistake for the Reds. Chapman is proven dominant closer but is extremely unproven as a starter. This will be a major storyline for the Reds during the 2013 season. The big move by the Reds this offseason was the move to bring Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati. This move was brought about after the Reds finished the 2012 season with the worst leadoff on base percentage in Major League Baseball. The Reds will also be without Scott Rolen, which will give Rookie of the Year candidate Todd Frazier the full time job and could also help the offensive production.
End of Season Predictions
Here is how I think this season will end:
1) Cincinnati Reds (Division winner)
2) St. Louis Cardinals
3) Milwaukee Brewers
4) Pittsburgh Pirates
5) Chicago Cubs
I think that there is still a pretty sizable gap between the good and the bad in this division. Last year was a much larger gap with the Houston Astros in the division but I still think the gap is there with the Cubs. The Pirates have the chance to close the gap but I have a hard time seeing them challenging the top three teams this season. I think that the addition of Choo to the Reds puts a gap between them and the Brewers and Cardinals. The Brewers and Cardinals both have the chance to grab a Wild Card spot but I believe that at the end of the season they both will come up just short of making it in to the Wild Card.