Sunday, April 2, 2017

2017 NL Central Predictions

As we are just hours away from first pitch of Opening Day for our New York Yankees, we've reached the penultimate piece of the six-part predictions series: the National League Central. In 2016, the Chicago Cubs absolutely ran away with the division in route to breaking a 108 year curse, bringing home a world championship in what turned out to be one of the most exciting World Series in my lifetime. This season, there doesn't seem to be any reason to think that 2017 will go any differently. Normally, it's not smart to EVER count out the St. Louis Cardinals and their ability to overcome adversity and make their way into the playoff picture. But, is there any team really capable of getting in Chicago's way? All aboard. 

5. Milwaukee Brewers 
When you think of the best teams in major league baseball, this is not one of the teams that would make your list. The Milwaukee Brewers are comprised of a roster that has a few blossoming pieces but is mostly full of youth and inexperience. One bright spot is the second baseman Jonathan Villar, who really came into his own atop the Brewers batting order where he lead baseball with 62 stolen bases a season ago. Villar was moved from short to second because of Orlando Arcia, one of the afore mentioned rising stars coming up to take over shortstop.  Another player worth mentioning on the infield at first is Korean Baseball League import Eric Thames. Thames was known in the KBL for his tape measure homeruns, which were convincing enough for Milwaukee to let the NL homerun champ from a season ago, Chris Carter, hit the free-agent market. In the outfield, Keon Broxton is quickly making a name for himself in centerfield, both with his exceptional defense and his quick bat. Not a fan of the guy, but left fielder Ryan Braun is still the focal point of the Brewers offense. On the mound, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson hold the top three spots in the rotation. The final two spots will be filled by two of several rookies competing for jobs, headed by Junior Guerra. Gone are the days of Francisco Rodriguez or even John Axford, as their bullpen is far and away their biggest weakness and will most definitely be a bullpen by committee. Expect 2017 to be a continuance of the rebuild process in Milwaukee 

4. Cincinnati Reds 
The Reds started to rebuild a little over a year ago when they traded Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox, and are continuing that rebuild process into this season. After shipping Aroldis Chapman to the Bronx, Jay Bruce to the Mets and fan favorite Brandon Phillips to the Braves this winter, the Reds are left with a lot of money and even more question marks on their roster. Cincinnati still has a handful of key veterans in this lineup to aid with the youth movement: including Joey Votto, Billy Hamilton, Adam Duvall, Zack Cozart, Devan Mesoraco and newly acquired Scooter Gennett. Gennett was brought on to fill second base while their two high-ceiling prospects Dilson Herrera and Arismendy Alcantara get acclimated to life in the show. Similar to Ginnett, they also signed Scott Feldman in the off-season to go along with Homer Bailey to help with the development of Brandon Finnigan, Anthony DeSclefani and Razel Iglesias; all of which had moments of real promise in 2016. As is the case in Milwaukee, Cincinnati has no real potential in the bullpen of which to speak. And just like the Brewers, the Reds have no real shot of finishing anywhere other then at the bottom of the division this season.  

3. Pittsburgh Pirates 
After losing the Wild Card game in two of the last three years, the Pittsburgh Pirates are 
 still trying to figure out how to take it to the next level. Their offense shouldn't be a problem, as they have productivity all throughout their lineup. Gregory Polanco and Jon Jaso have plenty of ability to get on base and set the table for the middle of the order. Last season; in the middle of the order, Starlin Marte seems to be getting better every year and Andrew McCutchen surely hopes to rebound from an atrocious 2016 campaign. If Jung-Ho Kang is ever allowed to return stateside after a DUI incident has kept him overseas, his 25+ homerun a year power would certainly help. Josh Harrison, David Freese and Francisco Cervelli round out what should be a pretty potent lineup. While not as strong as the lineup, the rotation also has some decent potential. Staff ace Gerritt Cole has electric stuff and just needs to hone in his control to be considered amongst the elite. Similarly, Pittsburgh is expecting big things out of their promising young right-hander Jameson Taillon. Former Yankee Ivan Nova, Juan Nicasio and Drew Hutchison round out the rest of the rotation. But, outside of Tony Watson, the bullpen is a work in progress and is one of the main reasons that Pittsburgh will be on the outside looking in come October. 

2. St. Louis Cardinals 
After watching Jayson Heyward sign with the rival Cubs last offseason, the Cardinals returned the favor  by signing Chicago's former centerfielder Dexter Fowler. Fowler will be at the top of a lineup that, even missing Matt Holiday, has some real talent. For starters, third baseman Matt Carpenter is an MVP waiting to happen. Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta are the resident sluggers of the middle of the order. And Stephen Piscotty, Kolton Wong and Randal Grichuk are three guys ready to make some hay in St. Louis's lineup. Every team wishes they could have a player like Yadier Molina to lead their team and guide their rotation the way the lifelong Cardinal always has done. Speaking of the pitching staff, Adam Wainwright is the seasoned staff ace but Carlos Martinez has the best stuff on the team and should take over the top spot in the very near future. Rotation spots 3-5 will be filled by some combination of Mike Leake, Michael Wacca, Marco Gonzalez and John Grant.  In the bullpen, the Cards added Brett Cecil as the left-handed compliment to Jonathan Broxton as the bridge to their outstanding closer Trevor Rosenthal. Strong lineup, good rotation and a good bullpen will lead to St. Louis staying in the hunt all season long. 

1. Chicago Cubs 
 There isn't much more to be said about the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs that hasn't already been said. Offensively, they are absolutely loaded at every single position. Wilson Contreras  was called up last year and was immediately impactful, both behind the dish and at the plate. Addison Russell is a top five two-way shortstop, Anthony Rizzo might be the best first baseman in baseball and Kris Bryant won the MVP last year. When super utilityman Ben Zobrist needs a day off at second, the  unbelievable Javy Baez is there to take over. The outfield has World Series stud Kyle Schwarber, gold glover Jayson Heyward and even acquired Jon Jay to man centerfield. As for their pitching staff, 2015 Cy Young Award winner Jake Arieta is the staff ace, followed by Jon Lester and John Lackey. Kyle Hendricks may have the best stuff on the staff and you won't see him until game three or game four. The last spot is set to be taken by free-agent acquisition Brett Anderson.  And he wasn't the only addition this off-season, as Chicago signed former Red Sox closer Koji Uehara and traded The slugging outfield rising star Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for closer Wade Davis. Like I said, talent at absolutely every position. Not only are they going to win the division, but it wouldn't surprise me to see this club as the last team standing for the second straight year.

Let me have it. 

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