MLB: Predicting 2014 NL Central Standings
Predicting the Final Standings for the 2014 National League Central
Of all the divisions in MLB, the one that changed the least from 2013 to 2014 may be the NL Central. It makes sense, however, considering that three of the top NL teams from 2013 came from the Central division. The St. Louis Cardinals won the division and eventually lost in six games in the World Series, and the two NL Wild Card teams were the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Cardinals had very few weaknesses in 2013, so a big offseason wasn't needed from them. The holes that were on the roster were addressed when they signed Jhonny Peralta to replace Pete Kozma at shortstop and when they traded David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels for Peter Bourjos. Freese leaving doesn't create a hole at third base, either, because Matt Carpenter, the 2013 second baseman, can be moved to third and prospect Kolten Wong will take over at second base.
The Pirates did very little this offseason. Other than trading for Chris Stewart and signing Edinson Volquez, the team's biggest move was signing Charlie Morton to a three-year extension.
Like the Pirates, the Reds were very inactive. The team lost Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo to free agency and they traded catcher Ryan Hanigan to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Reds may have had the worst offseason in baseball.
The Chicago Cubs lost Dioner Navarro to free agency, but they have one of the best young catchers in the game, Welington Castillo, ready to take over full-time. The Cubbies are still in rebuilding mode, but it is quickly coming to an end. The team has a ton of young talent and if they stay the course they will be competitive very soon. The Cubs free agent signings were headlined by Jason Hammel, Jose Veras, Emilio Bonifacio and James McDonald.
The Milwaukee Brewers are getting their stud, Ryan Braun, back from suspension to begin the 2014 season. If he can return to his pre-suspension form, Braun's return would be more impactful than any free agent acquisition could have been. The only big free agent addition made by the Brewers was when they signed Matt Garza. To address their first base hole, the team signed Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds.
Based on the competitiveness of the division last year, as well as the lesser teams getting closer to competing, the NL Central is looking like it might be the best division for the second year in a row. A lot of the division's intrigue may be swayed depending on whether or not the Pirates can repeat their success from 2013.
5. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are certainly on the right track, but the track doesn't end this season. The Cubbies didn't necessarily add a lot of impact talent to their MLB roster for 2014, but there is a ton of talent on the way through the farm system. The 2015 season may be the year when the Cubs' fortunes start to turn, but don't expect much for this season.
Prediction: The Cubs' young players show positive signs for the futures, but the team ultimately finishes 70-92.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers weren't good in 2013. A lot of that can be contributed to Braun not playing. Even with Braun returning this season, I have serious questions about if he will still be the same player or not. I don't think anyone knows how much the steroids really helped Braun, but until I see it with my own eyes, I'm going to assume it made a huge difference. Basically, for me, I don't give any steroid user the benefit of the doubt. Prove me wrong, Braun. Garza will help the rotation a bit, but don't expect big things from a fly-ball pitcher in Miller Park.
Prediction: The Brewers are better, but don't get over the .500 hump, finishing 79-83.
3. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are going to miss Shin-Soo Choo and his .423 on-base percentage at the top of their lineup. They can hope and hope that Billy Hamilton will make up for the loss, but it's just too much for a speed-only player to do. Choo had a nice combination of power and speed, as well as one of the best walk rates in baseball. Hamilton can steal bases. Sure, he hit .368/.429/.474 with the Reds last season, but it was in just 22 plate appearances. Hamilton hasn't shown a sustained ability to hit. The loss of Arroyo won't be as much of a problem. Tony Cingrani will step in and probably pitch even better than Arroyo, so the Arroyo situation may be a case of addition-by-subtraction.
Prediction: The Reds fall from 90 wins in 2013 to 85-77 in 2014. They miss the playoffs by a half-game.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates were the feel-good story of 2013, carried by a great rotation and an even better bullpen. While the loss of A.J. Burnett will surely cause a bit of a step-back, the Pirates will still be a contender in 2014. Led by Gerrit Cole, the Pirates' rotation will still out-pitch the opposing team on most nights, and they will get just enough offense and defense to win games. The outfield is going to be one of the best, especially once Gregory Polanco gets called up. With Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Cole leading the way, the Pirates will be just fine.
Prediction: The Pirates pick up the first Wild Card spot and finish 88-74.
Bonus prediction: Cole wins the NL Cy Young Award. I don't believe there is anything he can't do.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals won 97 games in 2013 with a team that actually had a few holes. The team they will be fielding in 2014 won't have those holes, barring injuries of course. The acquisitions of Peralta at shortstop and Bourjos in centerfield will go a long way towards for the Cardinals finding a way to win more games than they did last season. The Cards' rotation has a nice mix of young arms and veterans. The lineup was one of the best last season, hitting exceptionally well with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals are better right now than they were at this time last season.
Prediction: The Cardinals win the division at 98-64.