2016 National League Central Predictions
To say that this division has been dominated by the Cardinals is an understatement; five division titles in seven years; four appearances in the NLCS in five years: four World Series titles in the past twelve seasons; sheer domination. The Pirates and Cubs, long the doormats of the division, might have something to say about it this year…and beyond.
The young Cubs were the surprise of the NL last year, making it to the NLCS before getting swept by the Mets. GM Theo Epstein has the organization about two years ahead of schedule. He rebuilt the roster and the farm system perfectly, as the Cubs possess the perfect blend of youth and experience, especially in the lineup. New RF Jason Heyward could experience a rebirth of sorts. He’s spent his career in pitcher’s parks; we expect a nice power bump and 100+ runs. 3B Kris Bryant is much-exalted for his power, but he needs to cut down on his K-rate and produce more on the road; only 5 of his 26 HRs were hit away from Wrigley. The Cubs are going to try to hide the brutal glove of slugger Kyle Schwarber in LF this year; Jorge Soler is ready and waiting as one of the best fourth OF’s in the game. 1B Anthony Rizzo is our MVP pick this year; we looking for a slash line of .290/.390/.550 with monster run production.
The rotation is fantastic at the top, mediocre at best behind them. Jake Arietta and Jon Lester will be the best ½ in the division again, and John Lackey is a good (albeit aging) #3. Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks are contact pitchers, so the defense will be a bit busy when they’re on the mound. Look for the Cubs to add a significant arm at the trade deadline.
Take the Cubs under 93.5 wins (-105)
The Pirates (87) will make this a very exciting three-team race, especially if they can find a missing arm or two to fill the rotation with. Pittsburgh possesses the best outfield in the game, as Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco are all capable of putting up big numbers at the plate and displaying Gold Glove-caliber play in the field. Polanco and Marte could improve their K-rates a bit, however, and we expect them to as they mature. There are plenty of concerns behind them, though. 2B Jung-Ho Kang has the best remaining bat, but how long will it take for him to return to form after that brutal leg injury? Francisco Cervelli is a serviceable backstop, but doesn’t have the pop you’d like from the position. There is little power or run production elsewhere as well, at least until the organization deems prospect 1B Josh Bell ready to take over; his bat is ready but his glove is not.
The rotation is led by a Cy Young favorite, non-Kershaw division, in Gerrit Cole. Unlike the young arms in New York, he will not be inning-restricted; expect 200+ strikeouts and an ERA around 2.75 for the young ace. Francisco Liriano has finally learned how to stay healthy, though his command can still be a bit concerning. Jon Niese comes from the Mets and will be a solid three. Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong are just keeping the back-end warm until Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon are ready at some point this year. The bullpen is deep and Mark Melancon is coming off of a 51-save season. Leads will be safe more often than not in The Steel City.
Take the Pirates over 86 wins (-110)
St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis has had a nice combination of talent and luck over the years; they may finally be running out of both a bit. They lost a top SP in Lance Lynn for the year, SS Jhonny Peralta is going to miss 2-3 months with a hand injury, and SP Adam Wainwright along with C Yadier Molina are coming off of their own significant injuries. As far as the rest of the lineup goes they may not possess significant speed or power, but they are on-base machines – especially the top half. OF Stephen Piscotty, 3B Matt Carpenter, and OF/1B Matt Holliday will all reach at a clip of .350 or higher, setting the table nicely for the likes of Brandon Moss, Matt Adams, and Randall Grichuk, though they all whiff a ton. The lower third of the order will consist of the aging Molina, 2B Kolten Wong, and with Jedd Gyorko or Ruben Tejada until Peralta returns. None are much to get excited about, though Wong does have a bit a pop. The bench, long a strength in St. Louis, is not as deep and talented as previous years.
Wainwight and Michael Wacha will anchor the rotation and Jaime Garcia will be the top #3 in the division if he can stay off of the DL, a tall order. Carlos Martinez will look to build upon his breakout of last season as well, and the rotation of the Cards should keep them in most games. The bullpen will remain a strength as well.
Take the Cardinals under 86.5 wins (-120)
Cincinnati is in the same boat, though they have a few more pieces in place. The question is how long they’ll actually have them. Longtime Reds Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips are almost certain to join all of their departed friends before the deadline, leaving Joey Votto as the lone link to the glory days of just a few years back. Unlike the Brewers, though, the Reds have some additional talent in the lineup.C Devin Mesoraco looks completely healed from hip surgery and should provide power and improved game-calling abilities. 3B Eugenio Suarez displayed surprising power, but may have hit his ceiling there already. Left field is still a gaping chasm; no fewer than three rookies are vying for the slot right now and none are prized prospect Jesse Winker – yet. CF Billy Hamilton can have all the speed in the world, but a .275 OBP is putrid and he won’t last half the season if he can’t improve his on-base skills.
The rotation is nothing special either, as they’ll again start a crew better suited for a AAA roster. Raisel Iglesias looks to be the best of the bunch as he was much better after moving out of the bullpen last year. Anthony DiSclafani is more a 4 or 5; certainly not the top of the rotation arm he is here. Veteran Homer Bailey will return from TJ surgery a t some point during the spring, but his effectiveness will be limited. The bullpen, now missing Aroldis Chapman, is thin and not very good.
Take the Reds under 68.5 wins (-115)
Milwaukee is in full rebuild mode, and it’s not likely that any of their prospects will be ready to help any time soon. Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy are the lone holdovers and will continue to lead the offense. Expect a nice bounce-back from the latter as he played through many injuries last year. The rest of the lineup is big on strikeouts and short on production. OF Domingo Santana and 1B Chris Carter could combine for 420 K’s if they play full seasons. Though both bring substantial power, neither may hit higher than .220. Scooter Gennett and Jonathan Villar will man the middle infield; both are OK with the glove but neither will light up the stat sheet, though Villar has good speed and will probably lead off.
The pitching staff won’t fare much better, though Jimmy Nelson showed some promise before getting nailed by a liner last year. Matt Garza is coming off of an embarrassing season and has seen far better days. Wily Peralta’s 17-win season of 2014 was a complete aberration, and there are no prospective arms ready to assist for the foreseeable future
Take the Brewers under 70 wins (-125)
2016 National League Central Predictions
- Chicago 93-69
- Pittsburgh 89-73
- St. Louis 85-77
- Cincinnati 68-94
- Milwaukee 64-98