National League Central

Milwaukee Brewers

Rather than risk disappointment in 2019, the Milwaukee Brewers kept the pedal into the proverbial metal following a 96-win 2018 effort.
They left a huge upgrade at catcher by signing Yasmani Grandal. They also reinserted Mike Moustakas into their infield. Along with reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar, the lineup is one of the league’s best.
When there’s a red flag in Milwaukee, it worries the club’s lack of a No. 1 starter. That was not a problem in 2018, nevertheless, and the Brewers have the starting pitching overwhelming and depth bullpen for the same in 2019.
Such as the NL East, the National League Central is deeper than it was a year ago. Yet, these Brewers have 95-win upside that could net them a division crown or a wild-card spot.
Playoff opportunities: 70 percent
Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs are estimated to finish last in the NL Central by Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system, and they’re not happy about it.
To be honest, they did win 95 games this past year. And they’re going into 2019 using a healthful Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez at the center of a lineup that is oozing with upside. A beginning five of Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish has plenty of upside in its own right.
But at least till Brandon Morrow is recovered from knee operation, the bullpen is a clear weakness. And while the crime has explosive potential, it’ll be realized only if Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Ian Happ create the strides which were expected of them in 2018.
Though the Cubs almost certainly won’t be the worst team in the NL Central this season, their playoff odds nonetheless look as a toss-up.
Playoff opportunities: 50 percent
St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals responded appropriately to missing out on the 2018 postseason with 88 wins.
Their big move was to include MVP-caliber slugger Paul Goldschmidt to a lineup that was good enough to score 4.7 runs per game without him. They also outfitted a leaky bullpen with Andrew Miller.
It’s nevertheless reasonable to be worried about the volatility within the pitching team. Neither Miller nor Luke Gregerson was healthy last year, and Jordan Hicks’ outcomes were less striking than his substance. In the meantime, Carlos Martinez has run afoul of the injury bug again.
If the pitching team holds together better than anticipated, the NL Central crown will be within the Cards’ reach. Otherwise, it’ll be a struggle.
Playoff opportunities: 40 percent
Pittsburgh Pirates
If the Pittsburgh Pirates are likely to improve on last season’s up-and-down road to 82 wins, it’ll be due to their pitching.
Somewhat softly, Pirates hurlers set a 3.52 ERA in the second half of 2018. Virtually All the key contributors–namely Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, Felipe Vazquez and Richard Rodriguez–are back to maintain runs in a top in 2019.
It is too bad the front office did nothing to improve a weak crime. It is going to be around the incumbents–especially Starling Marte, Josh Bell, Corey Dickerson and, when healthy, Gregory Polanco–to induce an improvement on that, and they may not have the power to make it happen.
Barring any surprises, the Pirates will be hard-pressed to crack the top three of the NL Central.
Playoff opportunities: 10 percent
Cincinnati Reds
Despite losing 95 games in 2018, the Cincinnati Reds took the novel approach of trying to build a winner at the offseason.
Consequently a batch of new stars headlined by Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark and Alex Wood. They figure to improve the offense that relied too heavily on Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett in addition to a turning with an NL-worst 5.28 ERA because 2017.
Still, Cincinnati’s new improvements arguably have more title value than star power. The pitchers are specifically trouble, as they have to compete with Great American Ball Park and a feeble defense.
The Reds are certainly better than they were a year ago, but they are in essentially the exact same ship as the Pirates.
Playoff chances: 10 percent

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