2021 N.L. Central Preview

A week closer to the start of the MLB season we will now cover the American League Central to cover the Indians, Royals, Tigers, Twins and White Sox. This division has the young and fun to watch White Sox and the high powered offense of the Twins with the other teams in some sort of rebuilding phase. These articles will coincide with the division that we preview on the podcast that week. We will be starting in the west then and working our way east across the divisions. In this article I will highlight the team’s offseason losses and additions, some prospects that may make an impact this season, my player to watch, my projected team record, and finally my projected division standings.

 

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers finished last season 29-31 getting a wild card spot last season. The Brewers lost Corey Knebel via trade, declined the options of Ryan Braun, Eric Sogard, and Jedd Gyorko, and lost Axex Claudio and Ben Gamel to free agency. They have acquired Derek Fisher via trade and Luke Maile, Zach Green, Hoby Milner, Dylan Cozens, Pablo Reyes, Daniel Robertson, Blane Hardy, Carl Edwards Jr., Kolton Wong, Jordan Zimmermann, Brad Boxberger and Travis Shaw.

The Brewers have 2 top 100 prospects in OF Garrett Mitchell(65) and SS/2B Brice Turang(96). Both of these prospects are a year or more away from making an impact but are good pieces up the middle for the future to pair with Keston Hiura or Kolton Wong and a rock in the outfield.

My player to watch for the Brewers is Kolton Wong, the newly acquired second baseman will be a rock for this team in the field as well as be consistent at the plate.  He will be a great clubhouse guy leading these younger players well. Prior to the shortened season last year Wong increased his WAR from 2017 to 2019 and I think he will still be on this trajectory with his phenomenal defense along with his knowledge of this division as well as having other great hitters around him.

The Brewers will be competitive in the NL Central as the entire division usually beats up on each other never allowing a team to take a commanding lead in the division. They have stud pitchers in Woodruff and Burnes along with Williams and Hader in the pen leading the way. They will need their 3-5 pitchers to step up and the supporting cast alongside Yelich to step up to try and take the division.  The Brewers will finish 85-77.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are coming off a season where they finished 30-28 getting a wild card spot in the playoffs last season. The Cardinals lost Mateo Gil, Jake Sommers, Tony Locey, Austin Gomber and Elehuris Montero via trade, declined Kolton Wong’s option and lost Brad Miller, Matt Wieters, Ricardo Sanchez, Nabil Crismatt, John Brebbia and Rangel Ravelo to free agency. They added Nolan Arenado, Johan Quezada and Ali Sanchez via trade and Tyler Heineman, Max Moroff, Jose Rondon and Matt Szczur via free agency.

The Cardinals have 3 top 100 prospects including OF Dylan Carlson(14), 3B Nolan Gorman(43) and LHP Matthew Liberatore(52). Gorman and Liberatore are a year away or may come up in July or later but Carlson will most likely start the season as the starting Left-Fielder. He has a good bat and should complement the duo of Goldschmidt and Arenado. I think he will have a solid year and help this team tremendously with another bat.

My player to watch for the Cardinals is starting shortstop Paul DeJong. DeJong had a down year last year in the shortened season and looks to bounce back and have more production in this full season.  In each of his first three seasons he has increased his WAR each season but at the dismay of his average. He has increased his RBI’s each season and I think he will continue that with the extra protection in the lineup from Arenado he will get more favorable pitches and have a large impact.

I think the Cardinals are the class of this division if their pitching can keep it together and I think it will. They are the Cardinals and they are always consistent and find ways to be in the hunt and win games.  The addition of Arenado along with Goldschmidt, DeJong in the power department will produce alongside the speed of Bader, Edmon and O’Neill they will be a tough team to contend with in the NL Central. I think they will finish 91-71.

 

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are coming off a 34-26 record, winning the NL Central by three games. The Cubs have lost Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini via trade, declined the options of Daniel Descalso and John Lester as well as losing Tyler Chatwood, Jose Quintana, Jeremy Jeffress, Billy Hamilton, Josh Phegley, Jason Kipnis, Ryan Tepera, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Jose Martinez and Colin Rea via free agency. They added Zach Davies via trade and Cameron Maybin, Rafael Ortega, Michael Hermosillo, Joe Biagini, Jonathan Holder, Matt Duffy, Adam Morgan, Austin Romine, Joc Pederson, Trevor Williams, Jake Marisnick, Jake Arrieta and Brandon Workman via free agency.

The Cubs have 3 top 100 prospects in LHP Brailyn Marquez(63), OF Brennen Davis(72) and C Miguel Amaya(91). None of these players will most likely see the field to start the season and may get called up later in the summer to get some MLB experience. These are good foundational pieces for the Cubs going up the middle having a potential centerfielder and a strong catcher if they move on from Contreras in the future.

My player to watch for the Cubs is Jake Arrieta. Will the magic that made Jake Arrieta a known name come back in the return to the place where he put his best work in. His best seasons were with the Cubs and it is not even close. From 2014-2016 in Chicago, Arrieta finished top-10 in Cy Young voting and won the award in 2015. I think a familiar location and guys that he was around at his peak will help him to regain some of his form from the past.

The Cubs lost significantly more than they added and overall didn’t change much in their starting lineup while losing two of their starting pitchers. The Cubs are also looking to trade Kris Bryant and possibly more so I think it will be a down year for the Cubbies. I think they will finish 78-84.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates are coming off a season where they finished with the worst record in the MLB at 19-41 securing the number 1 pick in this season's draft and future stud Kumar Rocker. This offseason the Pirates have lost Josh Bell, Nik Turley, Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon via trade, declined Chris Archer’s option and lost Derek Holland, Keone Kela, Jason Martin, Dovydas Neverauskas, Jose Osuna and Trevor Williams via free agency. They added many prospects including Wil Crowe via trade and Wilmer Difo, Joe Hudson, Chasen Shreve, Brian Goodwin, Tony Wolters, Tyler Anderson and Todd Frazier via free agency.

The Pirates have 3 top 100 prospects including 2B Nick Gonzales(32), 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes(37) and SS Oneil Cruz(59). Ke’Bryan Hayes is going to be the starting third baseman for the Pirates this year and looks to become the star of the future for this team. In 24 games last season he hit .376/.442/.682 with 5 HR, 11 RBI and a 1.8 WAR.  If he could do all that is such a small sample size I can only imagine what he can do in a full season.

My player to watch for the Pirates this season is Ke’Bryan Hayes. He is the only play on the team that really does anything to excite me. Don’t get me wrong I like Bryan Reynolds and Adam Frazier a lot but Hayes is the only player that would entice me to watch a Pirates game. He has the potential to be a future star that has 5 tools and could be the next great third baseman.

The Pirates are clearly in a rebuilding stage and are very far away from contending with their lack of pitching depth and a true star currently. This will be a down year as predicted and they will most likely choose Kumar Rocker 1st overall in the draft and probably finish with the worst record in the league again and get the 1st pick.  They will finish 54-108.

 

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are coming off a season where they finished 31-29 getting a wild card spot last season. This offseason they lost Robert Stephenson and Raisel Iglesias via trade as well as Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeScilafani, Tyler Thornburg, Freddy Galvis, Travis Jankowski, Archie Bradley, Brian Goodwin, and Curt Casali via free agency. They added Brandon Bailey, Jeff Hoffman, Noe Ramierz, Scott Heinemann, Art Warren, Hector Perez, Cionel Perez and Kyle Holder via trade and Dwight Smith, Cheslor Cuthbert, Bo Takahashi Josh Osich, Edgar Garcia, Rocky Gale, Sean Doolittle, Nicky Delmonico, Dee Gordon, Braden Shipley, Shane Carle, Cam Bedrosian and Tyler Naqauin via free agency.

The Reds have 4 top 100 prospects including LHP Nick Lodolo(44), RHP Hunter Greene(47), OF Austin Hendrick(78), and C Tyler Stephenson(96). Of the 4 prospects only Stephenson looks to break camp with the team as Lodolo and Greene are fighting for spots in a pitching staff and Hendrick was drafted this past season. Stephenson will most likely back-up Tucker Barnhart but will look to make strides and try to take over the position.

My player to watch for the Reds is Eugenio Suarez. Prior to the shortened season he finished in the top-20 in MVP voting and was on a path to continue his rise towards possibly winning one.  He had a down year in the shortened season but I think he will bounce back and make good on his promise to hit 50 HRs and get another finish in the top-20 of MVP voting. He may also play some shortstop so his value to this team will increase with that.  

The Reds are a middle of the road team but could be better if all things click for them. I am going to take the safe road and say they will be average all around. They have a good 1 and 2 pitcher but lack depth and their fielding is abysmal. If all things click they could finish 1 or 2 but there are too many unknowns to put them much higher. I think the Red will finish 81-81.

 

Division Standings/Round-Up

St. Louis Cardinals – 91-71

Milwaukee Brewers - 85-77

Cincinnati Reds – 81-81

Chicago Cubs – 78-84

Pittsburgh Pirates – 54-108

 

Final Note: As is tradition this division will be a dog fight and all the teams except for the Pirates will beat up on each other and spread out the wins. Realistically all teams but the Pirates can win the division and it all depends on which team clicks and hits stride. I think the Cardinals have the best rotation, best defense and lineup and the Reds have the best bench.