NL Central Predictions

With the baseball season postponed myworld has more time to provide our predictions for the 2020 season. But why delay. This is the toughest division to predict because there are four teams that will be battling for the first spot. The only team to be left out of the dance - the Pirates.

1. St. Louis Cardinals

Good- When we look at teams we always look at the starting pitching. The Cardinals may not have the best starting pitching, but they have a lot of depth to get through injuries. John Flaherty could turn into an ace but at 24 it may be too early to lay that mantle on him. His numbers last year, especially in the second half were ace like. There is a solid group behind him in Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas. Korean newcomer Kwang-Hyun Kim was an ace in Korea, but in St. Louis he will only have to fill the five hole. Myworld likes Carlos Martinez better in the bullpen where he can replace John Hicks as the closer and also stay healthy, but when Hicks returns he can always be moved into the rotation. Paul DeJong has silently turned himself into a quality shortstop that hits 30 plus homeruns and plays quality defense. All he needs to do is reduce his strikeouts and improve his average. Paul Goldschmidt and Yadier Molina provide veteran leadership even if there numbers are falling.

Bad - With John Hicks not available for the start of the season the bullpen would be better off with Carlos Martinez as the closer. Andrew Miller has struggled the last two years and can not be trusted with protecting leads. Kolton Wong is a quality defensive player but does not provide the lineup with a lot of offense. Matt Carpenter needs to hit to get into the lineup and it would be more potent with him at third and Tommy Edman at second. Last year he had multiple nagging injuries that kept him out of the lineup and may have impacted his swing.

Ugly - Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez were supposed to be ace 1 and 1a when they were coming up as prospects. Neither have been able to stay healthy to compete in the rotation. Carlos has had some success, especially out of the bullpen. Injuries and suspensions have prevented Alex from pitching 100 innings since 2016. The Cardinals will see how he fits out of the bullpen. He has the velocity to be a closer, but not the experience.

Rookies - Dylan Carlson could win the centerfield spot. He hits for big time power and will combine with Tyler O’Neil to make for a young and promising outfield. Genesis Cabrera may start in the bullpen but he can also be used in the rotation. His left handed arm has lots of velocity but finding the plate has been a challenge.

Expected Finish - It will be a battle to the finish, but the Cardinals will prevail with the top spot.

2. Milwaukee Brewers

Good - The outfield is extremely talented, moving Ryan Braun to first base. Christian Yelich should recover from his knee injury to provide MVP numbers again. Lorenzo Cain does not put up gaudy numbers but he steals bases, plays solid defense in centerfield and usually hits in the .300 neighborhood. Last year was an off year. Avisail Garcia was a free agent signing who will put together a solid offense but has a habit of missing 20 to 30 games each season because of injuries. That is where Ryan Braun can come in handy to play outfield. Keston Hiura is a hitting machine at second base. His defense may be spotty but his bat will drive in runs.

Bad - Left side of the infield will be short on offense. Orlando Arcia may pop some homeruns but he has a .292 career OBA and .652 OPS. Mike Moustakas departure leaves a hole at third. They would like to see Jedd Gyorko find his bat that he seemed to have lost last year. If Braun moves to the outfield their first base options are limited. Justin Smoak and his 2017 season of 38 homeruns seem to be an outlier and Ryan Healy has had two poor seasons back to back. The starting pitching is questionable after Brandon Woodruff. Josh Lindblom comes from Korea where he was the top pitcher there. He hopes that translates to success in the major leagues. Too many pitchers better suited for the back end of the rotation appear to be slotted in the two and three hole.

Ugly - Christian Yelich needs to stay healthy. If he gets injured this lineup looks ugly, lacking any power. Ryan Braun is getting older, Omar Narvaez showed some pop last year behind the plate, but bats that can consistently hit 30 plus homeruns are absent from this roster. Disaster could strike the rotation if Woodruff goes down. No reliable ace in the rotation and not a lot in the minors. Myworld and many others have rated the Brewers minor league system the worst in baseball. That will hurt when depth is needed to accommodate injuries.

Rookies - Myworld rated this farm system the worst in the major leagues. There may be some players who can squeeze their name on the roster, but making an impact is another story.

Expected Finish - It all depends on the health of Christian Yelich. If he plays 145 plus games a wild card finish is possible.

3. Cincinnati Reds

Good - There top position is the infield where Eugenio Suarez and Mike Moustakas give them two players with 30 plus homerun power. Moustakas is better defensively at third but his offense will make up for any defensive inefficiencies. Joey Votto needs to have a better season than last year if the Reds want to compete. The outfield has a lot of depth but lacks power. Free agent signings Shogo Akiyama from Japan and Nick Castellanos from the Cubs created the crowded outfield. The key to its success could be the production of Nick Senzel, but he could also move to second base. The top three in the rotation (Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer) need to be good for this team to compete. They have the potential but they have also had their bad years. Which Jekyll and Hyde shows up will define the Reds season.

Bad - Tucker Barnhart is a solid catcher but he does not provide much offensively. Tyler Stephenson is probably a year away from making his debut. Raisel Iglesias had a career high 34 saves but his ERA was almost two runs higher than his previous two seasons. Amir Garrett is not proven but if Iglesias continues to struggle he could take over. The back of the rotation will need a good bullpen to win games.

Ugly - The Reds have built this team to contend. Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer have had some horrendous years, Bauer struggling last year. They need those two to pitch to their potential if they hope to stay in it. Joey Votto has to have a better year and it would be nice if Aristedes Aquino could hit like he did when first called up last year than the Aquino of September who hit just .196. Nick Senzel also needs to show his potential. Myworld sees an easy scenario where it all goes bad and the hopes for 2020 crash.

Rookies - It would be tough to see Tyler Stephenson get in the lineup after only finishing AA last year. Catchers need more time to develop. He could be called up mid-season if Barnhart has a long term injury and Tyler is tearing it up in AAA. Shogo Akiyama is technically a rookie, even though he has had a lot of success in Japan. The Reds hope to utilize him best as a fourth outfielder, unless his bat makes him too valuable to leave him out of the lineup.

Expected Finish - Out of the wild card race and in third place.

4. Chicago Cubs

Good - They still have a strong base of hitters in Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Wilson Contreras. These players are getting older while no young arms have been able to work themselves in the rotation. If the Cubs trade one it may be a sign of rebuilding. Kyle Schwarber is a power bat that provides suspect defense in left field. His 38 homeruns last year were a career high and his average keeps on rising with each year. Javier Baez moving from second to short gives rookie Nico Hoerner an opportunity to win the second base job. Another top bat finding its way into the lineup.

Bad - They need to get more from their free agent pitchers Jon Lester and Yu Darvish. The Cubs would probably like a mulligan on the Jose Quintana for Eloy Jimenez trade. Jose has turned into a borderline fifth rotation piece. The outfield appears a bit unsettled. Jason Heyward always seems to underperform, though his 21 dingers last year were his most since 2012. Despite being a first round pick, Ian Happ has not established himself as a quality major league hitter. He hopes to win the centerfield job over Albert Almora, who has a good glove but quiet bat. Craig Kimbrel was a disaster in the bullpen last year. He hoped to have a full spring training to get ready this year, but now the corona virus has put a stop to spring training. If the Cubs want to compete he needs to have a better year or find another closer.

Ugly - The Cubs development of pitching. It means they have to sign expensive free agents, or trade good, young talent for veteran pitchers who have a limited number of bullets left in their arm. Since the arrival of Theo Epstein they have not drafted a pitcher that has made an impact on the major league roster. They have drafted a number of bats that have gotten them to the playoffs but the arms have remained absent from the rotation.

Rookies - Nico Hoerner could win the second base job. His primary position is shortstop but Javier Baez seems to have that position covered now. Nico should hit for a decent average but may lack the over the fence power. Most of their other young players are down in the lower minors, including Brailyn Marquez, who was signed in 2015 out of the Dominican Republic. He probably won’t be ready until 2021, unless the Cubs become desperate and he is dominating.

Expected Finish - not enough pitching to get anything but fourth place.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

Good - Brian Reynolds had a good rookie year last season, hitting .314 with 16 homeruns. If he was a veteran he would have been traded by now but the Pirates will try to build around him. Josh Bell appeared to reach his potential last year with 37 homeruns and 116 RBIs. He plays first base. Left field and first base are not where championship teams are formed, but it’s a start.

Bad - Gregory Polanco had a forgettable year and Jarrod Dyson is more a fourth outfielder type, but each will form two thirds of the Pirates outfield. Austin Meadows would sure look nice here but see ugly for why he is not here. The middle of the field is filled with backups and second tier players. Kevin Newman at short may be there only true quality player up the middle. Jacob Stallings may be best as a backup catcher, Adam Frazier is a utility player and Dyson is a fourth outfielder type. As stated, championship clubs are developed by the quality up the middle.

Ugly - The Pirates hope Chris Archer becomes their ace, recovering from his down year last year. The Pirates traded Austin Meadows (.291, 33 homeruns) and Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 1.78) to Tampa Bay for Archer. Shane Baz, a top prospect in the minors was also sent to the Rays. They made the trade when they thought they were competing. Shortly after that the Pirates went into rebuilding mode. Meadows and Glasnow would look nice on any rebuilding club or could fetch a pretty penny if traded.

Rookies - The Pirates have waited a long time for Mitch Keller to arrive in the major leagues. He appears to have regressed since his early days in the minors. The fastball is still there but his pitches are more hittable. Ke’Bryan Hayes plays a gold glove defense but his bat is short of expectations for the corner. It would take an injury to Colin Moran, trade or a complete collapse before Hayes takes over the third base job this year. The Pirates are very patient with their rookies, valuing service time. Kevin Kramer could win a job at utility but he needs to beat the better bat in Cole Tucker.

Expected Finish - Last place and perhaps the worst record in the National League. For the Pirates it may be best for the corona virus to shorten the length of the season.

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