3U3D Break It Down: N.L. Central

Ah, baseball season. We move along to the N.L Central to try and organize what most people call “the worst division in baseball.”  As of the last four or five years, the N.L. Central breaks down to a three horse race, with two of the horses being a bit stronger.  I’m of course referring to the Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers.  The Pirates and Cubs would like to join the party, but it’s going to take quite the miracle for that to happen.  Let’s get to looking at the teams.

Projected Order of Finish: Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs

Why the Reds could win the N.L. Central: The Cincinnati Reds have quietly turned into a National League powerhouse. Behind their two All Stars Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, it’s hard to count them out at any point in the season.  If they can stay healthy and get a boost from 2012 rookie standout Todd Frazier and their off-season acquisitions of Shin-Soo Choo and Jonathan Broxton, it could be a long season for the rest of the N.L. Central.  They also manage to shorten every game to 8 innings as Aroldis Chapman throws fire and leaves batters shaking in their shoes as triple digits consistently hit the radar gun.  

Why the Reds wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: If Frazier collapses, Choo doesn’t pan out and Chapman isn’t as effective this year, things could derail quickly in Cincinnati. Not to mention the fact that Bruce and Votto are only getting older.  It’s hard to see all of that happening, but hey, you never know. Their starters are also not all perfect. Mike Leake and Homer Bailey are spotty at best.  Really though, worst case scenario for the Reds is probably taking 3rd in the Central.

Why the Cardinals could win the N.L. Central: I’ll be honest, every time I look up and down the Cardinals lineup it scares the bejeezus out of me. Each and every one of them can change a game with a single swing of a bat.  That alone makes them scary. Not to mention they’re only two years removed from a World Series Championship.  Pitching staff? Solid. Relievers? Battle tested, but can be shaky at times.  It’s as simple as that.

Why the Cardinals wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: If they get off to a slow start while missing Furcal, Freese, Motte, and Carpenter, the Reds may be too far ahead to catch them. They’re defensively worse off without Furcal and Freese. No doubt. Things can get shaky down in St. Louis, but I don’t think that Matheny or the Cardinals’ front office would let that happen for too long before making changes.

Why the Brewers could win the N.L. Central: As a Brewers fan, I always think they could win the N.L. Central.  Is 2013 their year? They’d most likely need a lot of things to go their way, but certainly aren’t far off from making a good run. In fact, they’re about a good bullpen and decent pitching staff away.  Blowing an incredible amount of leads in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, the Brewers could have easily made the playoffs last year if that didn’t happen.  Braun, Weeks, Hart, and Ramirez will be the main driving forces for the offense while Gallardo and recent acquisition Kyle Lohse will have to maintain their composure on the hill. Anything can happen, they could play like they did in September last season, or they could play like they did in April last year. Time will tell.

Why the Brewers wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: The other side of things is clearly the Brewers first half of the season for them last year.  The bullpen and pitching staff hardly got much of an overhaul by only adding Lohse and Gorzelanny.  It’s their biggest weak spot and the biggest difference between the Brewers finishing above .500 or falling into the depths of the Central. Another huge factor will be if MLB finds Braun guilty of something that earns him a 50 game suspension. But he hasn’t done anything wrong, so that’s probably a long shot.

Why the Pirates could win the N.L. Central: The Pirates won’t win the Central. Plain and simple. Then again, McCutchen is certainly going to try and carry this team to victory.  A.J. Burnett got comfortable last season, and N.L Central veteran Wandy Rodriguez will bolster their rotation a bit, but that’s about where it stops.  Gaby Sanchez will provide some pop, Garrett Jones will try to play like he’s still young, and Russell Martin will load the back end of the lineup. It could happen.

Why the Pirates wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: The Pirates won’t win the Central. Plain and simple. A team that hasn’t finished over .500 since 1992 and things probably won’t be changing this season.  They lack a lot of fire power on both sides of the ball.  Their bullpen is weak, they don’t have another big bat to help McCutchen, and just don’t have the overall makings of a winning team.  I’d love to see 81 wins happen for them…it’s just not going to be 2013.

Why the Cubs could win the N.L. Central: Whaddya know. Another team that won’t win the Central.  The Pirates have been bad, but the Cubs have been worse the last few years.  They’ll try to hone their young talent this year led by 2012 standout Anthony Rizzo. Starlin Castro also provides some excitement at shortstop and certainly helps make watching a Cubs’ game bearable. I don’t want to say it can’t happen, but Theo Epstein will have to keep on chugging to turn this team into the next Red Sox.

Why the Cubs wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: Because they’re the Cubs.  History gives you every reason why they wouldn’t win the Central. They have an unproven lineup, an unproven and extremely shaky rotation, not to mention Carlos Marmol is known for putting runners on base late in games. Hopefully they can get some AAA guys up and let them get a taste of the big leagues and maybe see what their future will hold. Until then, the rest of the Central thanks them for the wins.

Awards Watch

N.L. MVP

Jay Bruce, Joey Votto – Reds

Matt Holliday – Cardinals

Ryan Braun – Brewers

Andrew McCutchen – Pirates

Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro – Cubs

Cy Young

Johnny Cueto – Reds

Adam Wainwright – Cardinals

Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse – Brewers

A.J. Burnett – Pirates

Rookie of the Year

Wily Peralta – Brewers

Shelby Miller – Cardinals

Gerrit Cole – Pirates

Who do you think wins the N.L. Central?  Can the Cubs or Pirates salvage a winning season?  Let us know in the comments!

-Kurt Peter (@FalconKP)

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