Saturday, March 15, 2014

2014 National League Central Preview

***The Division Preview that follows is not betting advice in any way shape or form.  Please do not bet any money based in any part on these predictions.***

Don't forget to check out the American League EastAmerican League Central, and American League West  and National League East Previews and check back next week for the National League West Preview

Cincinnati Reds:
Who's New: 
Brayan Pena (C) free agent from Tigers,
Skip Schumacher (IF) free agent from Dodgers,
Bryan Anderson (C) free agent from White Sox
Chris Nelson (3B) free agent from Angels
Ramon Santiago (IF) free agent from Tigers
Jason Bourgeois (OF) free agent from Rays,
Neil Thomas (OF) free agent from Cubs
Roger Berardina (OF) free agent from Phillies
David Holmberg (SP) trade from Diamondbacks,
Chien Ming Wang (SP) free agent from Blue Jays
Jeff Francis (SP) free agent from Rockies
Who Left: 
Ryan Hannigan (C) trade to Rays,
Cesar Izturis (SS) free agent to Astros
Shin Soo Choo (OF) to Rangers,
Xavier Paul (OF) free agent to Orioles
Derrick Robinson (OF) unsinged free agent
Greg Reynolds (SP) free agent to Japan
Bronson Arroyo (SP) free agent to Diamondbacks
Zach Duke (RP) free agent to Brewers
Nick Masset (RP) free agent to Rockies
Winter Headlines: 
Dusty hits the road but is Price right?
What to Expect?:
Nothing against Brian Price but he's no Dusty Baker, at least not yet.  After a first round exit this year the Reds decided it was time to move on without Dusty. It may end up being one of the worst decisions this leadership group has ever made. That being said, the core group of Votto, Phillips, Bruce and Frazier are still there and the rotation looks solid with Cueto, Latos, Bailey and Leake meaning the Reds are still probably the most talented team in this division.
Why Should You Root for These Guys?:
Last year I predicted the Reds would win it all.  Things started off badly from the beginning.  They lost their clean up hitter on opening day.  Their ace went down and missed most of the year.  Their second ace pitched fantastically but somehow couldn't win.  The Reds deserve some good luck for once.
Why Might This Season Not Turn Out the Way Reds Fans Want?:
The Reds lost their lead off hitter Choo to free agency and have done nothing to replace him.  Theoretically Billy Hamilton will be the lead off hitter but there are questions of his ability to play at the Major League level.  Add to that the change of manager and things in Cincinnati are still questionable.
Don't Expect Too Much From Him:
Billy Hamilton set a record for stolen bases in the minor leagues a few years ago.  The question is how will he do at the next level.  He did not have much chance to show his talent last year but with Choo gone Hamilton will get his chance to show what he can do.
Expect Great Things From:
Brandon Phillips has developed into one of the best players in the league but for some reason his name came up in trade rumors over the off season.  In 2012 when Joey Votto went out for an extended period it was Phillips that stepped up.  When the team started slowly in 2013 Phillips got the team back on track.  Expect Phillips to do what he always does: perform at a high level.
Prediction:1st in NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals
Who's New:  
Jhonny Peralta (SS) free agent from Tigers,
Mark Ellis (2B) free agent from Dodgers,
Peter Bourjos (OF) trade from Angels, 
Pat Nesheck (RP) free agent from Athletics
Who Left?: 
David Freese (3b) trade to Angels,
Brock Peterson (1B) free agent to Nationals
Ty Wigginton (IF) free agent to Marlins
Rob Johnson (C) free agent to Padres
Carlos Betran (OF) free agent to Yankees,
Adron Chambers (OF) free agent to Astros
Jake Westbrook (SP) unsigned free agent
Fernando Salas (RP) trade to Angels,
Edward Mujica (RP) free agent to Red Sox,
John Axford (RP) free agent to Indians, Brock Peterson (1B) free agent to Nationals
Winter Headlines:  
Beltran and Freese gone.  Will the pitching hold up?
What to Expect?:
For the last few years Cardinals fans have dealt with the loss of major stars and expected the worst.  They have been pleasantly surprised with the results.  This year they lost Beltran, Freese and Mujica and done little to replace them.  Still, with the success that Mike Matheny has had in filling holes and the success of the organization overall it is hard to count this team out.
Why Should You Root for These Guys?:
The Cardinals organization has quietly built itself into the best organization in baseball.  Despite the loss of Pujols, Carpenter, Beltran and Freese, the Cardinals still seem to find ways to win.
Why Might This Season Not Turn Out the Way Cardinals Fans Want?:
The Cardinals continue to lose big names without replacing them.  They have been able to find players in a number of ways, mostly by listening to the smart baseball minds in the organization.  Even the best baseball minds make mistakes.  At what point will the baseball trust in St.Louis fail?
Don't Expect Too Much From Him:
Matt Holliday is generally considered a super star by many baseball experts but there are numerous holes in his game.  He is capable of great things but at times seems to have mental lapses that lead to mistakes at the worst possible time.  Expect Holliday to perform well but don't look for him to fill the holes left by the loss of Furcal, Beltran and Freese.
Expect Great Things From:
Yadier Molina is sometimes overlooked in the Cardinals current run.  In 2006 when the Cardinals won their first World Series since 1982, Molina hit the game winning Home Run to propel them to the World Series.  When they pushed to another title in 2011 Molina was the quiet leader.  Molina always seems to be at the center of the good things that happen in St. Louis.
Is This His Last Chance?:
Adam Wainwright missed all of the 2011 season as the Cardinals won the World Series.  He bounced back to a 14-13 season in 2012 and went 19-9 in 2013 while pitching well over 200 innings.  Wainwright is clearly a great pitcher but how many innings can an arm that missed an entire season just a few short years ago take?
Prediction: 2nd in NL East. Wild Card

Milwaukee Brewers
Who's New: 
Irving Falu (IF) free agent from Royals,
Matt Pagnozzi (C) free agent from Astros,
Lyle Overbay (1B) free agent from Yankees
Mark Reynolds (3B) free agent from Yankees
Matt Garza (SP) free agent from Rangers
Wil Smith (SP) trade from Royals,
Zach Duke (RP) free agent from Reds
Francisco Rodriguez (RP) free agent from Orioles
Who Left:  
Blake Lali (1B) free agent to Diamondbacks,
Alex Gonzalez (IF) free agent to Orioles
Yuniesky Betancourt (IF) unsigned free agent
 Norichiki Aoka (OF) trade to Royals,
Corey Hart (OF) free agent to Mariners
Chris Narveson (SP) free agent from Japan
Aaron Laffey (SP) free agent to Orioles
Burke Badenhop (RP) trade to Red Sox,
Michael Gonzales (RP) free agent to Nationals
Winter Headlines: Braun's return
What to Expect?:
The Brewers had a nice run over the last few years but 2013 was a struggle.  The team fell off severely as they dealt with the Ryan Braun situation.  They have now lost Corey Hart who was a big piece of the Brewers recent success.  They are in a strong division but for some reason I can't count them out of playoff contention just yet.  With players like Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez and Aramis Ramirez this team could be very dangerous.
Why Should You Root for These Guys?:
The Brewers team had some truly terrible years before this current run of success.  All they have to show for this recent history is two failed playoff appearances.  The Brewers are on the brink of heading for another dark period and it would be nice to see them have some more success before the decline.
Why Might This Season Not Turn Out the Way Brewers Fans Want?:
The Brewers have lost most of the key players of their playoff runs and the one remaining key piece is in disgrace.  If Braun fails and the pitching does not perform up to their potential it could take quite some time before the Brewers are able to compete again.
Don't Expect Too Much From Him:
Ryan Braun left the team last year in disgrace.  He will return for the full year this year and will be a great player again.  Just don't expect him to win an MVP.
Expect Great Things From:
Jean Segura was a great surprise for the Brewers last year in a season of turmoil.  He was near the top of the league in batting for most of the year and was the one bright spot for the team.  Expect Segura to continue to improve.
Is This His Last Chance?:
Matt Garza was a big contributor to the Rays playoff runs before moving on the Cubs.  With the Cubs he did not have the success they had hoped for and he was moved to the Rangers at the deadline last year.  All the Rangers got was a 4-5 record and a high ERA.  Garza, when healthy, has the potential to be an ace but continuing arm problems could sideline his career.
Prediction:3rd in NL Central

Pittsburgh Pirates:
Who's New: 
Chris Stewart (C) trade from Yankees,
Travis Ishikawa (1B) free agent from White Sox, 
Michael Martinez (IF) free agent from Phillies, 
Travis McGuinness (1B) trade from Rangers
Omir Santos (C) free agent from Indians
 Jeff Decker (OF) trade from Padres,
 Edinson Volquez (SP) free agent from Dodgers,
Cody Eppeley (RP) free agent from Twins,
Miles Mikolas (RP) trade from Padres,
Duke Welker (RP) trade from Twins,
Who Left:
Garrett Jones (1B) free agent to Marlins,
 Justin Mourneau (1B) free agent to Rockies,
John Buck (C) free agent to Mariners
Michael McKenry (C) free agent to Rockies
Brandon Inge (IF) released
Marlon Byrd (OF) free agent to Phillies,
Felix Pie (OF) unsigned free agent
Kris Johnson (SP) traded to Twins,
A.J. Burnett (SP) free agent to Phillies
James McDonald (SP) free agent to Cubs
Mike Mikolas (RP) trade to Rangers
Kyle Farnsworth (RP) free agent to Mets
Chris Leroux (RP) free agent to Yankees
Jeff Karstens (RP) unsigned free agent
Winter Headlines: 
Follow up to playoffs?
Hurdle MOY, McCutcheon MVP
What to Expect?:
The Pirates had a magical year in 2013 but fell short.  They return an MVP and a Manager of the Year but the pitching staff remains a question.  Fortunately for Pittsburgh the Reds and Cardinals appear to have gotten weaker as well but the Brewers have improved.  The Pirates will need some upgrades in pitching but they should still be able to compete.
Why Should You Root for These Guys?:
The Pirates are one of the small market teams that have suffered while other free spending teams have thrived.  The Pirates reached the playoffs for the first time in over two decades and are looking to prove it was not just a fluke.
Why Might This Season Not Turn Out the Way Pirates Fans Want?:
Last season was a magical season in Pittsburgh.  The problem is the pitching staff has taken a hit that it may not be able to recover from.  Losing A.J.Burnett, the leader of the staff, and replacing him with Edinson Volquez is not reassuring.
Don't Expect Too Much From Him:
Wandy Rodriguez is a very good pitcher.  he proved that in Houston ofr several years and has had a strong year and a half in Pittsburgh.  Rodriguez is not an ace and will not be able to fill Burnett's shoes.
Expect Great Things From:
Andrew McCutcheon has been one of the unknown star players in the league for the last three years until he was finally recognized as the MVP last year.  McCutcheon should continue to get better and will hopefully be the next great player in the Pirates long history joining the names of Wagner, Waner, Clemente and Bonds.
Is This His Last Chance?:
Edinson Volquez had a great start to his career in Cincinnati but the last few years have been a struggle. After a few difficult years in San Diego and a failed late season stint with the Dodgers, Volquez is taking a shot at helping the Pirates.  If he fails in Pittsburgh he may not get another shot.
Prediction: 4th in NL Central

Chicago Cubs
Who's New: 
George Kottras (C) trade from Royals,
John Baker (C) free agent from Dodgers,
Ryan Roberts (IF) free agent from Rays,
Chris Valaika (IF) trade from Marlins
Emilio Bonifacio (IF) free agent fromRoyals
Casper Wells (OF) free agent from Phillies,
Justin Ruggiano (OF) trade from Marlins,
Chris Coghlan (OF) free agent from Marlins
Liam Hendricks (SP) waiver claim from Twins,
Jonathan Sanchez (SP) free agent from Dodgers
Jason Hammel (SP) free agent from Orioles
James McDonald (SP) free agent from Pirates
Chris Valaika (P) free agent from Marlins,
Wesley Wright (RP) free agent from Rays,
Jose Veras (RP) free agent from Tigers
Who Left: 
 J.C. Boscan (C) free agent to Dodgers,
Dioner Navarro (C) free agent to Blue Jays,
Cody Ranson (3B) released
Brian Bougosevic (OF) trade to Marlins,
Cole Gillespe (OF) free agent to Mariners,
Thomas Neal (OF) free agent to Reds
Dave Sappelt (OF) free agent to Phillies
Daniel Bard (OF) free agent to Rangers
Scott Baker (SP) free agent to Mariners
Eduardo Sanchez (RP) free agent to Tigers,
Zach Putnam (RP) free agent toWhite sox,
Michael Bowden (RP) free agent to Japan
Henry Alberto Rodriguez (RP) free agent to Marlins
Daniel Bard (RP) free agent to Rangers
Matt Guerrier (RP) free agent to Twins
Kevin Gregg (RP) unsigned free agent
Winter Headlines:
The Cubs get a new mascot.
What to Expect?:
Open the Cubs website and you will see their new slogan: Committed.  The Cubs have started their rebuilding process and appear to have a five year plan in place.  The problem is that until they can see if that five year plan is working there may be some truly terrible teams.  They definitely have some potentially great players in Ruggiano, Barney, Castro, Rizzo and Samardzjia but it is not enough to compete now.  In fact, some of those pieces may be moved for minor leaguers to help facilitate the five year plan.  The slogan may mean they are committed to winning but if could also be a warning that they will be committed to the asylum if things don't go the way they planned.
Why Should You Root for These Guys?:
Being a cursed organization is one thing.  Not winning a World Series for over 100 years is more than just a curse.  There is no longer suffering organization in sports than the Chicago Cubs.  They not only haven't won since 1908, they have had very few close calls.
Why Might This Season Not Turn Out the Way Cubs Fans Want?:
There is definitely talent on this team.  Most of the infield has great potential and there are a few veteran presences on the pitching staff that can help the team along.  The Cubs should be improved over last year's disappointment but don't expect them to challenge the top four in this division just yet.
Don't Expect Too Much From Him:
Starlin Castro  had a great first two years in the league and fell off each of the last two.  Castro has the ability to become a star in this league and the organization is working with him to get the most out of his talent.  If the Cub five year plan is effective Castro will need to be part of it but don't expect him to emerge as a star just yet.
Expect Great Things From:
Anthony Rizzo hit 23 Home Runs last year and drove in 80 RBI.  Somehow he only hit .233 for the year and struck out 127 times.  If Rizzo is able to improve his patience at the plate and make better decisions expect Rizzo to become the Cubs' All Star Representative.
Is This His Last Chance?:
Edwin Jackson was expected to be a Dodgers ace when he first entered the league.  That didn't happen.  He moved on to the Rays, Tigers, White Sox, Diamondbacks,Cardinals, White Sox again, Nationals and now the Cubs.  At every stop he has impressed the fan bases with his ability.  Though he has never become the superstar that was expected by the Dodgers he has become a very good pitcher.  The problem with journeymen players is that they sometimes get a reputation for being expendale and at some point run out of suitors.  Will the Cubs be the last stop for Jackson?
Prediction: 5th place in NL Central

*-Please be aware that these predictions are based on the rosters as set in the middle of March.  There are still several key free agents unsigned which could alter these previews.  Also, injuries during spring training could alter my outlook.  Check back next week for the NL West Preview and continue following to see my final predictions at the start of the season.

The Cubs won the National League in 1906, 1907, 1908 and 1910 during the Tinker, Evers and Chance years.  They have not been as consistently in contention since.  How many post season appearances have the Cubs made since they lost the 1910 World Series?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
The divisional format in 1969 with the East and West starting play that year.  Here are the Eastern Division Rookies of The Year since then:
Carl Morton (Expos)1970
John Matlack (Mets)1972
Bake  McBride (Cardinals) 1974
Andre Dawson (Expos)1977
Daryl Strawberry (Mets) 1983
Doc Gooden (Mets) 1984
Vince Coleman (Cardinals) 1985
Todd Worrell (Cardinals) 1986
Jerome Walton (Cubs) 1989
Scott Rolen (Phillies) 1997
Rafael Furcal (Braves) 2000
Dontrelle Willis (Marlins) 2003
Ryan Howard (Phillies) 2005
Hanley Ramirez (Marlins) 2007
Chris Coghlan (Marlins) 2009
Craig Kimbrel (Braves) 2011
Bryce Harper (Nationals) 2012
Jose Fernandez (Marlins) 2013


  1. Enjoyed the analysis.
    Question. Matt Pagnozzi the catcher for Milwaukee, is he the son of Tom Pagnozzi the former catcher with the Cardinals.

    Not too sure what to make of the Pirates. I hope last year was not a fluke.

    I think the Cubs will be worse than Houston this year. They will rival Miami for the worst record in baseball. A five year plan? Try a five decade plan.

    My guess on the trivia is 3. 1945, 1984 and the year of Bartman and the foul ball.


  2. Great question about Matt Pagnozzi. He is the nephew of Tom Pagnozzi. Tom played 12 years in the Major Leagues, all 12 years with the Cardinals. At the time of his career Pagnozzi was often under rated as the defensive prowess of Benito Santiago and the offensive power of Darren Daulton often got more attention. Pagnozzi was a good all around Catcher. He won three Gold Gloves as a Catcher (1991, 1992 and 1994). He also made the All Star Team as a reserve in 1992. I personally was a big fan of Pagnozzi growing up.


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