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 massive upgrade at catcher by signing Yasmani Grandal. In addition they reinserted Mike Moustakas into their infield. Along with reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar, the lineup is among the league’s greatest.
If there’s a red flag in Milwaukee, it concerns the club’s lack of a No. 1 starter. That wasn’t a problem in 2018, nevertheless, and the Brewers have the starting pitching overwhelming and depth bullpen for more of the exact same in 2019.
Such as the NL East, the National League Central is deeper than it had been a year ago. Nonetheless, these Brewers have 95-win upside down that could net them a branch crown or a wild-card spot.
Playoff opportunities: 70 percent
Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs are projected to finish last in the NL Central by Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system, and they are not happy about it.
To be fair, they did win 95 games this past year. And they’re going into 2019 with a healthy Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez at the center of a lineup that is oozing with upside. A starting five Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish has plenty of upside down in its own right.
However, at least till Brandon Morrow is retrieved from elbow surgery, the bullpen is a clear weakness. And as the offense has explosive potential, it will be accomplished only if Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Ian Happ create the strides that were expected of them in 2018.
Though the Cubs almost certainly won’t be the worst team in the NL Central this year, their playoff chances nonetheless look like a toss-up.
Playoff chances: 50 percent
St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals reacted appropriately to missing out to the 2018 postseason with 88 wins.
Their big move was to add MVP-caliber slugger Paul Goldschmidt to a lineup which was good enough to score 4.7 runs per game without him. They also outfitted a leaky bullpen with Andrew Miller.
It is nevertheless fair to be concerned about the sheer volatility within the pitching team. Neither Miller nor Luke Gregerson was healthy last year, and Jordan Hicks’ outcomes were less striking than his stuff. In the meantime, Carlos Martinez has already run afoul of the injury insect.
If the pitching staff holds together better than anticipated, the NL Central crown will be inside the Cards’ reach. Otherwise, it is going to be a struggle.
Playoff opportunities: 40 percent
Pittsburgh Pirates
In the event the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to improve on last year’s up-and-down road to 82 wins, it will be due to their pitching.
Somewhat softly, Pirates hurlers put a 3.52 ERA in the second half 2018. Almost all the key contributors–specifically Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, Felipe Vazquez and Richard Rodriguez–are back to maintain runs in a premium in 2019.
It’s too bad the front office did virtually nothing to enhance a weak offense. It is going to be up to the incumbents–particularly Starling Marte, Josh Bell, Corey Dickerson and, even when healthy, Gregory Polanco–to induce an improvement on that, and they may not have the power to make it occur.
With 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 attempting to build a winner in the offseason.
Hence a batch of fresh stars headlined from Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark and Alex Wood. They figure to enhance an offense that relied too heavily on Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett in addition to a rotation with an NL-worst 5.28 ERA since 2017.
Still, Cincinnati’s new additions arguably have more title worth than celebrity power. The pitchers are specifically trouble, as they must contend with Great American Ball Park and a feeble defense.
The Reds are definitely better than they were a year ago, but they’re in essentially the exact same boat as the Pirates.
Playoff chances: 10 percent

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