With the season right around the corner, it is time to make some predictions for 2018. Starting with the NL this week I will cover the Central first and cover the rest of the divisions as the week draws on.
5th Place – Pittsburgh Pirates
The rotation filled with losing records (except Jameson Taillon with an 8-7 record) and 4 plus ERA is not a great start for a successful year. The infield is filled with more average or sub average with batting averages around .250 and around 15 home runs a player, nothing spectacular at all about the diamond. David Freese is getting old, and Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, and Jordy Mercer did not have stellar years. Colin Moran has yet to see a full season of baseball so there isn’t much to know about how he will play out. Their one strong group is their outfield with Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, and Corey Dickerson even with the hit of losing Andrew McCutchen. However, I don’t think that the outfield’s production will counteract their mediocre infield or starting rotation.
4th Place – Cincinnati Reds
One of the best players in the league at first base, Joey Votto, is the cornerstone of the entire team. The Reds had slightly above average power last year in terms of Home Runs, Total Bases, Slugging, and OPS, however I don’t think that they will move anywhere this year in terms of that baseline. They will be simply average, with not much change happening across their roster, except with the loss of Zack Cozart to the Angels in Free Agency. The rest of the infield could have breakout years that push the Reds a bit forward in the NL Central, however I’m not sure what fully to expect out of Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez or Jose Peraza making their infield one big question mark. As for their outfield, Billy Hamilton struggled last year with an OBP of under .300 (.299) and and average under .250 (.247). Scott Schebler had an impressive 30 home runs but only batted .230, although Adam Duvall had over 30 home runs with over a .240 average for the second season in a row. Anthony DeSclafani seemed to find more of a groove last year with a 3.28 ERA down from a 4.05 and saw small declines in his WHIP and opposing average although he also saw 60 less innings. Lets just say this isn’t quite ace or number 1 starter material for a team.
3rd Place – St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals rotation starred by Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Adam Wainwright will be solid but probably not amazing this season. Assuming the deteriorating Yadier Molina can bolster through another full season and play near career averages their catching spot should be a solid one. In my opinion, the most notable infielders are Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Jedd Gyorko, none of which are common household names outside of the Midwest. Once again, pushing for a solid but not much more season. Their outfield is probably their best asset right now with the acquisition of Marcell Ozuna this year, Dexter Fowler last year, and their own Tommy Pham, the outfield has a pretty high chance of batting over .300 this year. They may give some trouble to the aforementioned teams, but most likely will be sitting near the middle of the pack this year.
2nd Place – Milwaukee Brewers
A force to be reckoned with this year. With Manny Pina (R) and Steven Vogt (L) they have some decent offense production out of their backstops. Going around the infield, Eric Thames and Ryan Braun sharing time at first base make for a powerful first cornerstone to build the rest of their young infield around with Jonathan Villar (26) at second, Orlando Arcia (23) at short, and Travis Shaw (27) at third. Their outfield has had some major improvements in this offseason with Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain added to Domingo Santana with Braun of course as a utility to switch between outfield and infield this year. The Brew Crew’s bullpen is also impressive with Corey Knebel who will probably get around 40 saves this year, and Matt Albers (former Southsider) with a 1.62 or under ERA 2 of his last 3 years (2014 was also sub 1 ERA but only for the course of 10 innings). The young Josh Hader also had around a 2 ERA last year in his rookie season so he will be another relief pitcher to watch this year. I expect the Brewers to give the Cubs a run for their money this year.
1st Place – Chicago Cubs
As much as I hate to admit it, they will be on top this year. They don’t have an easy road to the top of the division as the Brewers and Cardinals will have decent seasons, especially with how well the Brewers played at Wrigley last year (The Brewers had a 6-3 Record and put up almost 7 runs a game in the friendly confines). That being said, the Cubs have a stellar rotation with their rocks Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks with the acquisitions of Yu Darvish this year and Jose Quintana last year. Going around theinfield, they have high offense potential out of their catcher Willson Contreras, with power at the corners in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. These corners also supply a very solid defense only to be beaten out by their more defensively impressive middle infield with Addison Russell and Javier Baez. Their outfield could see some improvements but they have heavy hitting Kyle Schwarber, gold glove winner Jason Heyward, and young potential in Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ. Not to mention their utility star and World Series MVP Ben Zobrist who can play just about any position you throw him in.
Preview Rest of the Season Here