NL Central: Most Intriguing Players

All 5 of these teams have been competitive in recent years. And 3 of these teams could legitimately win the division. More likely, St. Louis and Chicago will be favorites to take the crown. Who will lead them?

Ryan BraunMilwaukee Brewers. With so many new parts to a team that wasn’t terribly successful last year the Brewers don’t have much star power. One those guys will be expected to lead the team in every way possible. Ryan Braun may or may not be the player he was prior to the PED scandal and subsequent suspension. Braun will be asked to get things going and be a leader in the clubhouse. Unfortunately there’s just not much there to make a dent in the standings. At this point in his career if he can merely match his numbers of last year (25HR and 84RBI) then he will have had a successful year.

Pittsburgh Pirates. After a year near misses and a few good years that produced playoff berths, there’s still plenty of talent (Cole and Liriano) pitching for the Bucs. Who will help bolster the offense other than Andrew McCutcheon. The former MVP is a great player but he needs more help.

ff4While most of the roster is filled with complementary players, the other big-time player the Pirates have that will be counted on is Starling Marte. With a big bat for him, Marte hit 19 homers and 87 RBI. Given a slight uptick from a .287 AVG and more stellar defense, he could potentially keep this team in the running for the postseason.

St. Louis Cardinals. These guys just keep going. No matter who is in the lineup, they seem to find guys to win games. And this is no different for their pitchers. Big name dudes go down with year-ending injuries and someone steps up with a big performance.

Matt+Holliday+St+Louis+Cardinals+v+Atlanta+ZumGS1TbJcklSo who’s the ace on this squad? And where does Adam Wainwright fit in? He will fit somewhere. But after adding Mike Leake to a rotation that already has Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, and Carlos Martinez; it will be an interesting fit. You win with pitching. But after losing a star to the rival Cubs, the Cardinals need a big bat to step up.

The infield seems to have plenty of talent with Jhonny Peralta, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, and maybe Kolten Wong or Jedd Gyorko and Yadier Molina behind the plate. But with Jason Heyward gone, who’s going to hold down the outfield. Will it be 36-year old Matt Holliday? At 16 million against the cap this year he kinda should be contributing a little. And while he’s not going to hit for tons of home runs, that might note be needed.

After an injury-limited season in 2015, Holliday will look to get back to form. And while age could be a concern, Holliday’s most recent full season was a good sign that he will be able to return to that level. If Matt can hit somewhere around .300 with 20 homers and 80 RBI or more, then this team will be in the hunt come playoff time.

-reds20.jpg201402192Cincinnati Reds. Adamant about scrapping the roster and flipping it for young talent, the Reds are in a precarious situation. With Todd Frazier gone, the offense will lean on Jay Bruce (if he’s not traded before the season begins), Brandon Phillips (after a comeback season and near trade), and Joey Votto.

Joey Votto is that untradeable guy. If there’s one guy they want to keep, it’s him. He can hit for average and power and he’s a marketable player. Votto is already 32 and with injury concerns and his contract he probably wouldn’t be moved without a big first half to the year anyways.

But with such young pitching and tough division, Votto has to lead this guy in the clubhouse and on the field. Given the depth they are up against, it will be a huge accomplishment for this team to avoid losing 95 games or more.

Chicago Cubs. The favorite to win the World Series? Now you’re really pulling my dick. Theo Epstein has nearly done it. And if you said that you’re not surprised then you’re full of shit. Did we expect the bro to pull together a quality club? Sure. Did we expect it to be so soon? Not at all. And he’s got more than just a good team. This is a very good team.

3f415935a8827dd9fde6979f439cf59e_crop_northBut everyone expected the Nationals to walk away with rings last year and that didn’t even come close to happening. Jake Arrieta won a Cy Young and became the pitcher Oriole fans always hoped we’d have. Now he’s teaming with Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Jason Hammel to fill out a rotation that will be very solid across the board. Given consistency in play and in health, this group will be able to do big things.

Still, the Cubs need their lineup to continue to mature. Ben Zobrist has come on board to do what he does and Addison Russell will get to learn from him all the while. Kris Bryant will look to avoid a sophomore slump but should have enough protection in the lineup to be a power guy that gets runs in regularly. The outfield will be stacked with Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, and free agent pick up Jason Heyward.

And where Jason Heyward was once expected to fill the void, Anthony Rizzo will be that guy. He won’t be making an obscene amount of money (or not yet, at least), but he’s entering his prime and should be very good for 7 years minimum. Last year Rizzo hit 31 HRs with 101 RBIs in his year-25 season. Those numbers should only go up, but if they don’t it won’t be because he can’t do it. The Cubs will ask Rizzo to continue to develop as a contact hitter and hopefully raise his average a bit as the staple #3 hitter in the lineup.

 

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