Good news sports fans, baseball season is back in full force! In celebration of the return of the game we all love, Sports Grumble is running a series of 2015 division previews and predictions. We will be dissecting each team, division by division, as we predict their season-ending records come October.
To begin this series of previews, we dive into one of the deepest divisions in all of baseball – the NL Central.
Fifth Place: Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Record: 82-80
2015 Projected Record: 74-88
For the majority of the 2014 season, the Brewers were one of the most pleasant surprises. Then, after the All Star break, everything seemingly went down the drain. So which team is the real representation of the talent these Brewers possess?
That’s a good question.
When dissecting the NL Central, we struggled the most with these Brewers. They are tough to put a finger on – especially when you consider just how much potential they truly have. The offense will be there, but there are a ton of question marks surrounding the pitching staff.
With Yovani Gallardo in Texas, the pressure in the rotation lies on the shoulders of Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza to lead a young rotation who – like the rest of the team – is full of potential. Likewise, the back-end of the Milwaukee bullpen gives one pause for concern. Francisco Rodriguez and Jonathan Broxton have seen better days, yet they are the anchors to the group.
Considering the Brewers have the likes of Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Scooter Gennett and Jean Segura, it’s hard to imagine the team cleaning up the rear of the Central 14-games under .500. However, as we have seen recently, high expectations don’t tend to go over that well with this organization.
Fourth Place: Cincinnati Reds
2014 Record: 76-86
2015 Projected Record: 75-87
The Cincinnati Reds find themselves in a rather odd predicament – they have two groups of players, expensive veterans and talented youngsters. As those around the Queen City will tell you, Cincinnati management wasn’t willing to go “all in” on a rebuild the same year they were hosting the Mid-Summer Classic (regardless of how needed such a move was).
Now the Reds have players like Todd Frazier, Billy Hamilton, Devin Mesoraco and Anthony DeSclafani who are young, full of energy and ready to usher in a new era of Reds baseball. On the other hand, the Reds have players like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Marlon Byrd, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto who are benefiting from lucrative contracts and have been in Cincinnati (or MLB) for the better part of the last five years.
In order for the Reds to succeed, they will need a collaboration of the two parts – and they will need everyone playing to the best of their ability. Like the Brewers, the Reds have talent but uncertainty still surrounds the team. After trading 40 percent of their starting rotation this offseason, manager Bryan Price is uncertain as to what he can expect aside from Cueto and Mike Leake. Meanwhile, his bullpen houses Kevin Gregg – that alone should adequately express the concerns for this unit. Aside from Aroldis Chapman, everyone else represents a yellow flag. The unit that was once one of the best in baseball has quickly become one of the most potentially self-destructive in the league.
Perhaps in another division the Reds would have more luck. But in the stacked NL Central, Walt Jocketty could be selling rather quickly come July 31.
Third Place: Chicago Cubs
2014 Record: 73-89
2015 Projected Record: 85-77
The demotion of Kris Bryant garnered much of the attention that focused on the new-look Chicago Cubs during spring training. However, this team has a ton of talent. From veterans like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero to young stars like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, these Cubs are full of experience and skill. Then you add that the likes of Jorge Soler and other up and coming stars and it quickly becomes evident that this is the team of the future in the NL Central.
We haven’t even mentioned one quiet offseason move that could have a huge impact on the growth of this team – the acquisition of Dexter Fowler. Here at Sports Grumble, we have been big proponents of the former Colorado Rockies center fielder. A career .271 hitter, what has impressed us the most about Fowler is his .366 on base percentage over his eight year MLB career. Fowler will get on base for guys like Castro and Rizzo – something that was at times hard to come by last year in the Windy City.
Also new for 2015 is the man at the helm, crafty (and always stylish) Joe Maddon. Not only does Maddon bring winning experience to Chicago, but his ability to cultivate young talent makes him the perfect man for the job. It’s hard to call the Cubs “surprises” for the 2015 – the addition of Maddon combined with the immense talent on this roster lends one to believe this Chicago team will be one of the most enjoyable to watch in 2015 and forward.
Second Place: Pittsburgh Pirates
2014 Record: 88-74
2015 Projected Record: 90-72
The Pittsburgh Pirates are fun to watch – like incredibly fun. After all, this team seems to take on the personality of their leaders, manager Clint Hurdle and star Andrew McCutchen. Watching this team grow has been a joy, as the stage is no longer too big for them and they know it.
Looking at McCutchen, it is astounding that he signed a six-year deal in 2012 worth “just” $51 million. This is a guy who is one of the best all-around players in the game. He is a career .299 batter with a .386 OBP, but his last three years have been simply stellar with averages annually over .312 and an OBP never lower than .400.
Joining McCutchen to form one of the most potent in the game are Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte. In addition, the infield for Pittsburgh consists of Pedro Alvarez, Josh Harrison (another one of the most enjoyable to watch in all of baseball) and Neil Walker. The Pirate lineup is one of the most criminally underrated around the league. The more players like Polanco, Harrison and Alvarez develop, the more dangerous they become.
Despite the bevy of moves by the Padres and the open checkbooks of the Red Sox and Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Pirates are the most exciting team in all of baseball. Keep an eye out on this team in 2015, this second place projection may be too low on the list.
First Place: St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Record: 90-72
2015 Projected Record: 94-68
Baseball fans outside of Missouri have a deep disdain for the St. Louis Cardinals and there really is one true reason for such animosity – the Cards are always winning. Year after year, St. Louis is seemingly always in the hunt for the National League crown. Despite allowing their prized players leave (Albert Pujols), they are seemingly always able to replenish through a fruitful farm system.
As usual, there really isn’t much to say about the Cardinals, they are just solid. Aside from Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, no one is going to knock your socks off with name recognition. To be honest, there is nothing wrong with that. Every year the Cards seem to fly under the radar yet are always there when October arrives.
For 2015, the biggest question marks for the Cardinals surround newly-acquired right fielder Jason Heyward. After exploding onto the scene in 2010, the ride for Heyward has been rather inconsistent. Following the tragic death of Oscar Taveras this offseason, the Cardinals traded for Heyward to become the everyday man in right. In Atlanta, Heyward was in need of being “the guy” – a label that stuck with him since his debut in 2010. In St. Louis, however, Heyward is not going to be looked upon to provide all of the offense. While the Cardinals lineup struggled to score runs at times in 2014, Heyward will be surrounded in a lineup full of hitters more than capable of providing him with protection.
It is easy to overlook the Cardinals, as we seemingly do so year after year, but this 2015 team will be poised to completed unfinished business from last season.
Cover Photo: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
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