Baseball’s Back! – NL Central Preview

Jason Heyward was among the Cubs big acquisitions this offseason. (Getty Images)

Jason Heyward was among the Cubs big acquisitions this offseason. (Getty Images)

Cruz Serrano

As I’m typing this, I’m watching the Atlanta Braves play in one of their split squad games against the Houston Astros. The chill is still in the air here in Buffalo, but the spring equinox has passed and regular season baseball is less than 10 days away.

Mike Tolsma and I have decided to take turns previewing divisions, and I would like to thank him for his awesome format for doing so. Like Mike, I also value depth, but I will also try and look at things from an analytical standpoint as I am often prone to doing.

NL Central

2015 Division Standings

St. Louis Cardinals (100-62)

Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64 2 GB)

Chicago Cubs (97-65 3 GB)

Milwaukee Brewers (68-94 32 GB)

Cincinnati Reds (64-98 36 GB)

Division Outlook:

Looking back to last year, this was one of the most exciting divisions in baseball. Even though the Cardinals pulled ahead and stayed there for most of the season, the Cubs and Bucs kept things interesting, and these three teams had the best three records in baseball, respectively. Unfortunately because of the way the playoffs are currently formatted, the Pirates once again had to play in the Wild Card game against the Cubs. Looking forward to this season, these three teams all seem prepared to contend once again. The Brewers and Reds are both currently rebuilding and presumably won’t factor much into the outcome of the division. The Cubs went out and added to an already impressive roster, adding a lot of high end talent that will certainly improve the team. Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward will not only bring their on base skills to the North Side, but they also bring their great defense abilities and versatility. Heyward was arguably the best free agent available, and by prying him away from the Cards the Cubs not only improved their team but hurt a division rival. Heyward led St. Louis in WAR by far, and the team didn’t do much to replace his important production. The Cubs also signed John Lackey who was by far the Cards best and most consistent pitcher last year, and he led St. Louis pitchers in WAR according to baseball reference. So it’s pretty clear that the Cubs have done a lot to improve the depth of their roster, and the Cards made a few acquisitions, but not nearly enough to keep up with the arsenal the Cubs now possess. The Cardinals will be relying on a lot of youth, including one of their top prospects Stephen Piscotty. Randal Grichuk, who was a surprising rookie for the team a year ago, will also try and prove that he wasn’t a one year wonder. Veteran started Adam Wainwright will be a huge question mark for the team as well. Coming off of a torn Achilles last season, Wainwright is another year older and it will be interesting to see if he can return to being an ace type at the top of the St. Louis rotation. As for the Pirates, the team is certainly still very good, and will definitely still be there to compete for a playoff spot. The Pirates are unfortunately hampered by their small market, and it will be interesting to see how some of their under the radar acquisitions pan out. John Jaso has historically been slightly above replacement level, and David Freese will try and revitalize his once promising career while donning black and gold in the steel city.

Prospects to Watch:

Stephen Piscotty – St. Louis Cardinals

As mentioned before, Piscotty was one of the Red Birds top prospects going in to last season. He performed well at the major league level in a small 63 game sample size. If the Cardinals are going to make the playoffs this season, Piscotty will have to do all that he can in order to replace Heyward’s production. Also look for Cards top pitching prospect Marco Gonzales to make an impact at the major league level at some point. Their rotation is full of guys that have had significant injuries, and Marco is certainly capable of filling in at some point in the near future.

Tyler Glasnow – Pittsburgh Pirates

Newcomer Tyler Glasnow will look to spark the Pirates rotation. (Getty Images)

Newcomer Tyler Glasnow will look to spark the Pirates rotation. (Getty Images)

Glasnow is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, and he is just about ready to join Gerrit Cole as a young anchor in the Pittsburgh rotation. Standing at an intimidating 6’7”, Glasnow has the physical tools to go along with his electric stuff. Regularly touching the high 90s with his fastball, Glasnow is basically a mold for how pitching prospects should be created.

Note: Although the Cubs have had an incredible influx of young talent of the past couple seasons, the team still has one of the best farm systems in baseball. The talent is still somewhat far from making an impact at the major league level, however they have the means to go out and add if the need arises as the season goes on. The same cannot be said about the Cardinals, as their farm system is on the weaker side for the first time in what seems like forever.

2016 Projected Standings:

Chicago Cubs (103-59)

St. Louis Cardinals (94-68 WC Berth 9 GB)

Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74 15 GB)

Milwaukee Brewers (78-84 27 GB)

Cincinnatti Reds (71-91 32 GB)

The Cubbies are quite simply too good and too deep not to win this division. The Cards might stick around for the first half, but don’t be surprised to see the Cubs pull away with it towards the end of the season. The Pirates will have some issues, and I don’t see them making the playoffs.

cruz– Cruz Serrano (@Cruzin_USA)

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