National League Central Predictions
The Cincinnati Reds ran away with the NL Central in 2012 thanks to a dominant run after the All-Star break. They finished with a 97-65 record, which put them nine games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals (88-74) at season’s end. There won’t be as many easy wins for some of the top teams in this division in 2013. That’s because the Houston Astros (55-107) will be joining the AL West starting this year. I look for it to be competitive between the top four teams in Cincinnati, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. However, the Cubs are simply a class below the rest. Here are my predictions for this division as well as the odds on each team to win the NL Central in 2013.
1. Cincinnati Reds (-135) – The Reds managed to win 97 games last year despite only getting 111 games out of former NL MVP Joey Votto. That just goes to show the depth of this team and what they are capable of heading into 2013. If anything, they have only gotten stronger this offseason. They added Shin-Soo Choo to the top of the lineup, and he figures to score a ton of runs in front of Brandon Phillips, Votto, Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick. Cincinnati also has one of the most underrated rotations in the league as Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey all finished with sub-3.75 ERAs last year. Add the flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman into the No. 5 spot, and this is one of the best rotations in baseball. The Reds are the clear favorite to win the NL Central in 2013.
2. St. Louis Cardinals (+250) – Mike Matheny did an excellent job in his first season with St. Louis after taking over for the legendary Tony LaRussa. Matheny led the Cardinals to within one victory of a second straight World Series appearance. While this team doesn’t blow you away on paper, it just has a knack for playing its best baseball in September and October. The lineup basically returns intact, but there is some concern in the rotation. Chris Carpenter’s career may be over, and Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook were all inconsistent last year. Adam Wainwright figures to be stronger than ever as last year was his first since returning from elbow surgery. I also believe that Jason Motte is one of the best closers in the game. St. Louis will battle Milwaukee for second place in the division in 2013. The best it can do is a Wild Card spot.
3. Milwaukee Brewers (+700) – I believe the Brewers are definitely a sleeper in the NL Central heading into 2013. They won 83 games last year and I look for them to likely surpass that and battle St. Louis for second place in this division. Milwaukee led the National League in runs, home runs and stolen bases last year, and the offense remains loaded. What I’m really excited about is the rotation, which boasts Yovani Gallardo and the up-and-coming duo of Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada. There is some concern with Chris Narveson and Wily Peralta at the bottom of the rotation, however. The bullpen blew too many games last year, and I look for a bounce-back season out of John Axford. While I have the Brewers picked third in the Central, look out for this team in 2013 as they could surprise.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates (+1150) – The Pirates have actually been contending in the NL Central at the All-Star break each of the past two seasons. However, they have stumbled down the stretch, posting a combined 37-76 record after August 1st over the past two years. There’s no question that Clint Hurdle is the perfect manager for this team as he continues to get the most out of his players. I do like some pieces here like Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte. The bottom of the lineup is very poor, and their only real additions this offseason were Russell Martin and Travis Snider, but I don’t look for either to make much of an impact. The rotation is average at best with question marks surrounding almost everyone, including ace A.J. Burnett, who is coming off a solid bounce-back season. Pittsburgh will suffer its 21st straight losing season in 2013.
5. Chicago Cubs (+1800) – The one certainty in this division is that Chicago is the worst team, hands down. It is coming off a 100-loss season for just the third time in franchise history, and they haven’t won a World Series in over a century. In fact, they haven’t even been to one in more than 65 years. The Cubs will be lucky to avoid losing 100 games in back-to-back seasons with the product they will be putting on the field. The lineup is absolutely atrocious outside of Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano, who may be traded before the deadline. I like Jeff Samardzija at the top of the rotation, but they’re relying on Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson a lot, which is not good. Plus, Scott Feldman and Travis Wood round out the rotation, which is not good. Then there’s Carlos Marmol, arguably the most shaky closer in the game. If Chicago loses less than 100 games in 2013 with this roster, it will be a blessing.