Baseball 2015: NL Central outlook

NL Central: Though the Chicago Cubs made the biggest buzz in baseball’s offseason, it’ll be tough to overtake the Cardinals – and maybe even the Pirates and Brewers.

By Greg DePalma, PSN Executive Producer

 

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

PREDICTION: 1st. FUTURES: 12-1.

MANAGEMENT: GM John Mozeliak, manager Mike Matheny.

2014 RECORD: 90-72 (1st).

NEW FACES: SP Carlos Villanueva, 1B Mark Reynolds, RP Matt Belisle, OF Jason Heyward, RP Jordan Walden.

KEY INJURIES: SP Jaime Garcia (shoulder/May).

FANTASY SLEEPERS: OF Randal Grichuk, SP Carlos Martinez.

ANALYSIS: The additions of Heyward and Walden should only make the Cards a better team than last season’s 90-win squad. With John Lackey in the fold from spring training, I expect to see him provide the type of front-line leadership the Cards did not receive after last year’s deal with Boston.

FUTURE INVESTMENT: The Cards have finished first or second in each of the past six seasons with three division titles, one World Series crown and a World Series loss. I see no reason to believe that streak won’t continue with another division title and quite possibly another World Series title. I’ll take the Cards.

 

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

PREDICTION: 2nd. FUTURES: 20-1.

MANAGEMENT: GM Neal Huntington, manager Clint Hurdle.

2014 RECORD: 88-74 (2nd/WC).

NEW FACES: 2B Steve Lombardozzi, 1B/OF Corey Hart, RP Antonio Bastardo, SP A.J. Burnett, C Francisco Cervelli.

KEY INJURIES: None.

FANTASY SLEEPERS: 1B Pedro Alvarez, C Francisco Cervelli.

ANALYSIS: Aside from Miami, the Pirates have the best young outfield in the game. If Pedro Alvarez can put together a complete season for once and Cervelli can make fans forget Russell Martin, the Pirates will be better on offense. The staff will be solid once again – but until they get another young arm to join Gerrit Cole, I’m not sure it’s capable of taking them far in October.

FUTURE INVESTMENT: I’ve picked the Pirates the past two years to make the playoffs and they’ve made me look good. I’m still not sure they can win a title yet because their top young players need to grow, but we’ll take them now and hope they add a veteran or two at the deadline that can get them over the top come playoff time.

 

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

PREDICTION: 3rd. FUTURES: 50-1.

MANAGEMENT: GM Doug Melvin, manager Ron Roenicke.

2014 RECORD: 82-80 (3rd).

NEW FACES: 1B Adam Lind.

KEY INJURIES: None.

FANTASY SLEEPERS: SS Jean Segura, OF Khris Davis , 1B Adam Lind, SP Mike Fiers.

ANALYSIS: The Brewers were one of the least transitional teams this offseason. The only key player move was trading SP Yovani Gallardo, but with top prospect Jimmy Nelson set to take over his spot in the rotation, the Brewers may not miss Gallardo as much as one would think.

FUTURE INVESTMENT: This is one of my top long-shot teams. They led the division for most of last season and now I think they are ready to close the deal. Take the 50-1 and run!

 

CHICAGO CUBS

PREDICTION: 4th. FUTURES: 16-1.

MANAGEMENT: GM Jed Hoyer, manager Joe Maddon.

2014 RECORD: 73-89 (5th).

NEW FACES: RP Phil Coke, OF Dexter Fowler, OF Chris Denorfia, C David Ross, RP Jason Motte, SP Jon Lester, SP Jason Hammel, C Miguel Montero, 2B Tommy LaStella.

KEY INJURIES: None.

FANTASY SLEEPERS: 3B Mike Olt, OF Jorge Soler, SP Kyle Hendricks.

ANALYSIS: If I had to decide between the two Chicago teams this season, who are both 16-1 to win the World Series, I would take the Cubs. The Cubs have better pitching depth and a proven playoff ace who could steal wins in elimination games. Excitement needs to be tempered a bit, though, considering most of the everyday talent is a year or two away at least from meeting expectations.

FUTURE INVESTMENT: Not yet. Let’s see how things go early on and if I can get better odds before Kris Bryant makes his debut.

 

CINCINNATI REDS

PREDICTION: 5th. FUTURES: 50-1.

MANAGEMENT: GM Walt Jocketty, manager Bryan Price.

2014 RECORD: 76-86 (4th).

NEW FACES: RP Burke Badenhop, OF Marlon Byrd, OF Brennan Boesch, SS Eugenio Suarez, SP Anthony DeSclafani.

KEY INJURIES: None.

FANTASY SLEEPERS: OF Brennan Boesch.

ANALYSIS: After dropping 14 wins from their 90 win season in 2013, the Reds failed to make any significant moves to upgrade with proven veterans except Byrd.  With SP Homer Bailey just returning from arm surgery, the Reds’ key will be young rotation newcomers DeSclafani and Raisel Iglesias. There is also hope that Tony Cingrani could rebound off a disappointing season which included shoulder problems.

FUTURE INVESTMENT: I was never on board with letting Dusty Baker go after winning over 90 games in three of his last four seasons, but Jocketty wanted change and so he got what he deserved. This is a team not devoid of talent, but I need to see some positive signs first before making an investment.

 

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