The St. Louis Cardinals have been the class of the NL Central. They have won the division each of the last two years, and nine of the past 15 seasons overall. The Pittsburgh Pirates are nipping at their heels and have made the wild-card each of the past two seasons. Both figure to contend for a division title in 2015.
This division is actually more wide open than it’s ever been. That’s because you could reasonably make a case for all five teams. The Cardinals are always there, the Pirates have one of the best young teams in baseball, the Reds had a rare down year last season and figure to bounce back, the Brewers led the division most of last season before collapsing, and the Cubs have had a tremendous offseason. Here is how I foresee the NL Central playing out in 2015.
NL Central Predictions
- Odds to Win NL Central: 5/4
- 2015 Season Win Total: 88.5
- My Projected Record: 89-73
There may not be a better oganization in North American professional sports than the Cardinals. They have made the postseason 11 times in the past 15 years, which includes a ridiculous nine trips to the NLCS. They have also won two World Series and lost two during this stretch. They had a tragic offseason with the loss of top prospect Oscar Tavarez, who was killed with his girlfriend in a car crash in the Dominican Republic. They are likely to dedicate this season to him, which will keep them motivated. They improved their offense by adding Jason Heyward in a trade with the Atlanta Braves for Shelby Miller. They already had a deep rotation, so they could afford to part ways with Miller. The Cardinals look very strong once again in 2015, and I have them winning the NL Central as a result.
- Odds to Win NL Central: 9/1
- 2015 Season Win Total: 77.5
- My Projected Record: 87-75
The Reds are my favorite sleeper pick in the NL Central. They have little expectations off a 76-win season last year, but they were much better than that record would indicate. They had a league-high 38 losses by exactly one run last year as their bullpen simply imploded time and time again. Remember, this is a Reds team that won 90-plus games in three of four seasons prior to last year. If Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips can stay healthy, and Jay Bruce returns to his old self, this lineup will be one of the best in the National League. That’s because guys like Billy Hamilton, Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier are all coming off big years. They also added Marlon Byrd, who hit 25 homers last year. The top four in the rotation is solid with Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani. Look fro the Reds to challenge the Cardinals for the NL Central title in 2015 and easily top their 77.5-win total.
- Odds to Win NL Central: 3/1
- 2015 Season Win Total: 84.5
- My Projected Record: 83-79
The Pittsburgh Pirates were the laughingstocks of baseball not long ago. Entering 2013, they had finished with a losing record in 20 consecutive season. After back-to-back playoff appearances and an average of 91 wins over the past two seasons, the Pirates are the butt of the joke no longer. They realistically have hopes of making their first World Series trip since 1979. They may have one of the most underrated lineups in baseball because all of their guys are so young, and there are few big names outside of Andrew McCutchen. I do think they’ll miss Russell Martin, who is now with the Blue Jays, but the rotation will miss him the most. This rotation is solid up top with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, but I have my doubts about A.J. Burnett, Jeff Locke and Vance Worley. The bullpen is one of the best in baseball, but I believe it’s the rotation that will prevent the Pirates from getting back to the postseason in 2015.
4. Chicago Cubs
- Odds to Win NL Central: 3/1
- 2015 Season Win Total: 82.5
- My Projected Record: 81-81
The Cubs have spent the past several seasons rebuilding their farm system. They did show some improvement last year, but it only led to a 73-89 campaign. The Cubs are getting a lot of hype for what they’ve done this offseason, and deservedly so for the most part. They went on a $250 million holiday shopping spree that netted them manager Joe Maddon and ace Jon Lester, among others. Their odds went from 50-1 to win the World Series to 10-1 after those two signings. The lineup adds Dexter Fowler and Miguel Montero to the mix, and top prospect Kris Bryant will be called up about a month into the season. The rotation should be better with Lester and Jake Arrieta at the top, while Jason Hammel is coming off the best year of his career. Youngster Kyle Hendricks shined at the end of last season and figures to be a cornerstone for the future. In the end, I have the Cubs improving to 81-81 this season, but I’m not nearly as big on them as a lot of folks are.
- Odds to Win NL Central: 9/1
- 2015 Season Win Total: 78.5
- My Projected Record: 75-87
The Brewers were one of the biggest surprises in baseball for much of last season. They led the NL Central for a whopping 150 days, only to collapse over the final few months to finish 82-80 and out of the playoffs. General manager Doug Melvin believes this team has enough to be successful, which is why he mostly stoop pat this offseason. However, I believe the Brewers greatly overachieved last year, and I look for the collapse to be a sign of things to come in 2015. They traded away ace Yovani Gallardo, which will hurt even though the rotation is still pretty solid, especially at the bottom with Wily Peralta and Mike Fiers. Their lineup is easily the worst in the NL Central. Ryan Braun will never be the player he once was. They added Adam Lind at first base, but he’s washed up and cannot stay healthy. Aramis Ramirez is on his last leg as well. I have the Brewers finishing in last place in the improved NL Central in 2015.
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