Each MLB season there is always at least one division with a wild end of the year race. These races excite us all and get us looking forward to each divisional matchup. Last year the race was in the NL Central, where the Brewers and Cardinals were battling until the very end. This season we will see much of the same because the NL Central is a four-way race. In my opinion, the Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers and upcoming Reds all have a chance to win the title this year. Each of these teams have the assets available to win right now, and it would not surprise me to see all four of the teams sit above the .500 mark.
My current pick to win the most competitive division in baseball is the Cardinals, but this article will detail why each team has a chance to take the top spot.
Pitching will be the name of the game this year if the Cardinals want to succeed. Luckily, the defending division champions have unbelievable depth in their pitching staff. Four of their five starters had a top 50 ERA of those qualified last year, headlined by Jack Flaherty. (According to Fox Sports) The bullpen will also be good enough to pick up the slack for when the starters do not have their A game. Andrew Miller will lead the middle relievers, while Jordan Hicks, if healthy, will be the one to slam the door shut at the end of the game.
Although their offense is not the most dangerous in the division, the Cardinals pitching will be able to dominate enough to win games with a potent offense. Paul Goldschmidt will lead an offense that likes the home run. Guys like Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, and seasoned veteran Yadier Molina have enough experience to lead some younger hitters to the playoffs. The pitchers of the Cardinals alone can get them to the playoffs, but big contributions from the bats are needed if the Cardinals want to make a run.
X-Factor: Run Production
The Brewers have Christian Yelich. He is good at baseball and can hit the ball far. If Yelich can come back full speed after his knee injury, you never know what the Brewers can do. All jokes aside, the Brewers came up short last year after getting beat in the wild card round by the defending champion Nationals. Despite having a solid bullpen highlighted by the hard throwing closer Josh Hader, the NL Central runner ups lack the elite starting rotation that it will take to make a strong playoff run.
They may be able to sneak into the wild card with their offense, which will provide enough run support to help protect the pitching issues. Yelich will lead the team, but the veteran Braun and young, contact hitting infielders will impress. I project the Brewers to finish fourth in this heavy central. However, if offense is king this year, the Brewers could surprise.
X-Factor: Starting Pitchers
The Cubs may have the most complete and deep team in the entire division. If there is any team that will knock off the Cardinals, the Cubs have the best chance. Unfortunately, having to play other teams in the most competitive division don’t help the Cubs’ chances. Led by Yu Darvish, the pitching staff is strong, with three guys that finished with a top 50 ERA. They are also deep, with veteran lefty Jon Lester not being one of those previously mentioned. The bullpen is not as deep, but they do have talent. After an injury plagued year, the 2016 World Series champs are hoping Craig Kimbrel can bounce back. If he can become a lockdown closer again, the chances of the playoffs increase dramatically.
The lineup is still exciting, and the universal DH will help Kyle Schwarber find a permanent spot in the order. The two main stars will yet again be Rizzo and Bryant, but it’s the lineup’s depth that is truly interesting. An aging Jason Kipnis is an interesting pickup, but he brings power and maturity to the club.
The Cubs might be the best team in this division as a whole, but in a unique season, I expect a team led by dominant pitching to take the crown. If the Cubs are the ones that do end up on top, I believe they have a ceiling to get to the NLCS, but I struggle to see them defeating the Dodgers or Braves. I think the Cubs have a second place floor, but don’t be surprised to see them surge to the top.
The Reds are the most intriguing team in baseball’s most competitive division. The fourth-place finishers last year, a solid pitching staff and mature lineup will help turn the Reds around. A starting rotation led by Sony Gray may be one of the best in baseball, as all five starters had good seasons last year based off ERA, which isn’t a perfect stat to decide good pitching, but is definitely a baseline. The Reds relievers are also strong, with do it all Michael Lorenzen and tough guy Amir Garrett. The Reds need to ride their pitching if they want success, but the offense can’t slack too much. New pickups Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos will help bolster the offense, who finished with the 25th worst offense last season.
The Reds pitching alone will help bring them to mediocrity, but if the new pickups can help the offense improve, then the Reds can take over the division. My ceiling for the Reds is to get to the divisional round, and their floor is a third-place finish.
X-Factor: Hitting for average
With the new, shortened 2020 season approaching, it will be very exciting to see who will take the crown of baseball’s most competitive division. Here are my predictions for the standings in 2020:
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