Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 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 National League East Preview and check back next week for the National League West Preview

St. Louis Cardinals
Who's New:  
Dean Anna, IF (Free Agent from Pirates)
Mark Reynolds, 1B (Free Agent from Brewers)
Jason Heyward, OF (Trade from Braves)
Carlos Villanueva, P (Free Agent from Cubs)
Miguel Socolovich, RP (Free Agent from Mets)
Matt Belisle, RP (Free Agent from Rockies)
Who Left?: 
Audry Perez, C (Free Agent to Rockies)
Daniel Descalso, 2B (Free Agent to Rockies)
A.J. Pierszynski, C (Free Agent to Braves)
Mark Ellis, 2B (Unsigned Free Agent)
Shane Robinson, OF (Free Agent to Twins)
Jermaine Curtis, OF (Free Agent to Reds)
Jorge Rondon, P (Waiver Claim by Rockies)
Justin Masterson, P (Free Agent to Red Sox)
Eric Fonataro, RP (Free Agent to Nationals)
Pat Neshek, RP (Free Agent to Astros)
Jason Motte, RP (Free Agent to Cubs)
David Aardsma, RP (Free Agent to Dodgers)
Winter Headlines:  
Despite several key losses, Cardinals remain clear favorite in Central.
What to Expect?:
The Cardinals organization seems to have this game figured out.  Their minor league system continues to produce key players and they make smart trades and signings.  They don't always have big names but they know how to build a team that gets the most out of their pieces.
Why Should You Root for These Guys?:
This Cardinals run of success is something special.  This run started in 2000 when the Cardinals finished 1st.  Since then the team has only missed the playoffs three times.  Four times they have reached the NLCS only to come up short. Twice they have reached the World Series and lost and twice they have won it all.  For an organization boasting a history with Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Johnny Mize, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith (among a million others) it is amazing to say that this may be one of the best times of their history.
Why Might This Season Not Turn Out the Way Cardinals Fans Want?:
The Cardinals are clearly the favorite in this division but pitching depth, something they have used to their advantage in other years, may be a bit thin this year.  Wainwright is spectacular every year and Lance Lynn has started his career strong but there is a significant drop off after the top 2.  John Lackey's age should be a cause for concern and the rest of the rotation is unproven.  It would seem they have some questions about the rotation and pitching depth themselves based on the fact that they traded for Lackey and Masterson at the trade deadline last year.
Don't Expect Too Much From Him:
John Lackey has had a very good career but age and injuries have caught up to him.  Although he was 11-7 with Boston when he was traded to St.Louis his ERA was high and he only went 3-3 in St. Louis.  Lackey is still a strong pitcher but his best days are behind him.
Expect Great Things From:
Jason Heyward is one of the most talented and hard working players in the game, although his last few years in Atlanta were not up to his normal production levels.  Part of that can be traced to a horrific at bat in 2013 where he was hit in the face with a pitch that shattered both sides of his jaw but that does not account for all of the problems.  A new start in St.Louis will be just what he needs.  Expect Heyward to regain his All Star form.
Is This His Last Chance?:
Peter Bourjos had huge potential and huge expectations when he came to the majors in Anaheim.  An outfield of Bourjos-Trout-Hunter was supposed to be a winning combination for the Angels but a lack of production led to Bourjos being sent to St.Louis in exchange for David Freese.  Bourjos has now fallen to a bench role.
Prediction: 1st in NL Central

Pittsburgh Pirates:

Who's New: 
Francisco Cervelli, C (Trade from Yankees)
Jake Elmore, SS (Free Agent from Reds)
Steve Lombardozzi, 2B (Trade from Orioles)
Corey Hart, OF (Free Agent from Mariners)
A.J. Burnett, SP (Free Agent from Phillies)
Clayton Richard, SP (Free Agent from Diamondbacks)
Chris Volstad, SP (Free Agent from Angels)
Charlie Leesman, SP (Free Agent from White Sox)
Brad Lincoln, RP (Free Agent from Phillies)
Blake Wood, RP (Free Agent from Royals)
Rob Scahill, RP (Trade from Rockies)
Josh Stinson, RP (Free Agent from Orioles)
Josh Lindbaum, RP (Waiver Claim from Athletics)
Antonio Bastardo, RP (Trade from Phillies)
Radhames Liz, RP (Free Agent from Blue Jays)
Arquimedes Caminaro, RP (Free Agent from Marlins)
Who Left:
Russell Martin, C (Free Agent to Blue Jays)
Chase D'Arnaud, SS (Free Agent to Phillies)
Dean Anna, IF (Free Agent to Cardinals)
Ike Davis, IF (Trade to Athletics)
Clint Barmes, IF (Free Agent to Padres)
Thomas Field, IF (Free Agent to Rangers)
Chris McGuiness, 1B (Free Agent to Phillies)
Omir Santos, C (Free Agent to Nationals)
Michael Martinez, IF (Free Agent to Indians)
Jake Elmore, 1B (Free agent to Rays)
Gaby Sanchez, 1B (Unsigned Free Agent)
Edinson Volquez, SP (Free Agent to Royals)
Adam Wilk, SP (Free Agent from Angels)
Wandy Rodriguez, SP (Free Agent to Braves)
Justin Wilson, RP (Trade to Yankees)
Ernesto Frieri, RP (Free Agent to Rays)
Chaz Roe, RP (Free Agent to Orioles)
Preston Guillemet, P (Free Agent to Blue Jays)
Jeanmar Gomez, RP (Free Agent to Phillies)
John Axford, RP (Free Agent to Rockies)
Vin Mazaro, RP (Free Agent to   Marlins)
Rafael Perez, RP (Free Agent to Mariners)
Winter Headlines: 
Who's the ace?
What to Expect?:
Pirates fans have been happy with the team's improvement over the last 5 years, however, the team may take a big step back this season.  There is no clear ace on the team and the loss of Russell Martin to lead the staff could cause a big drop off in a very competitive division.
Why Should You Root for These Guys?:
The Pirates have built this team fom the ground up.  The key pieces of this team have all come through the minor league system.  In an offseason where we have seen Atlanta and Oakland dismantle competitive teams and scatter their pieces all over the league it would be nice to see a team that has grown together, win together.
Why Might This Season Not Turn Out the Way Pirates Fans Want?:
Pitching.  The Pirates starting rotation is a big question for this team.  They somehow got by last year with Edinson Volquez and Gerrit Cole but Volquez is gone and Cole is probably not a true ace, at least not yet.  They resigned Burnett but the magic Burnett carried with him a few years ago seems to be gone.
Don't Expect Too Much From Him:
Francisco Cervelli is a decent Catcher.  He is not an All Star and he is not Russell Martin.  Martin had a way of controlling the game behind the plate and getting the pitchers to follow his lead.  Cervelli does not have that reputation.
Expect Great Things From:
Andrew McCutcheon is one of the best players in this league.  If you are trying to show a non fan why this game is so great show them McCutcheon.  He is a special player and watching him play with passion is a great experience.
Is This His Last Chance?:
A.J. Burnett has come back for a second tour of the Steel City.  In his first trip through the city he was the ace of the staff and led the team to their first playoff appearance since 1992.  At 8-18 with an ERA of 4.59 with the Phillies last year, Burnett will need some magic to help the Pirates back to the post season.
Prediction: 2nd in NL Central

Chicago Cubs
Who's New: 
Tom LaStella, IF (Trade from Braves)
Jonathan Herrera, IF (Free Agent from Red Sox)
Miguel Montero, C (Trade from Diamondbacks)
David Ross, C (Free Agent from Red Sox)
Taylor Teagarden, C (Free Agent from Mets)
Adron Chambers, OF (Free Agent from Blue Jays)
Chris Denorfia, OF (Free Agent from Mariners)
Mike Baxter, OF (Free Agent from Dodgers)
Dexter Fowler,OF (Trade from Astros)
Jason Hammel, SP (Free Agent from Athletics)
John Lester, SP (Free Agent from Athletics)
Donn Roach, RP (Waiver Claim from Padres)
Jason Motte, RP (Free Agent from Cardinals)
Mike Kickham, RP (Waiver Claim from Giants)
Francisley Bueno, RP (Free Agent from Royals)
Jorge DeLeon, RP (Free Agent from Athletics)
German Gonzalez, RP (Waiver Claim from Rangers)
Who Left: 
 Eli Whiteside, C (Free Agent to Braves)
Luis Valbuena, 3B (Trade to Astros)
John Baker, C (Free Agent to Mariners)
Lars Anderson, 1B (Free Agent to Dodgers)
Josh Vitters, IF (Free Agent to Rockies)
Justin Ruggiano, OF (Trade to Mariners)
Ryan Kalish, OF (Free Agent to Blue Jays)
Arodys Vizcaino, RP (Traded to Braves)
Kyuji Fujikawa, RP (Free Agent to Rangers)
Wesley Wright, RP (Free Agent to Orioles)
Alberto Cabrera, RP (Free Agent to Tigers)
Dan Straily, RP (Trade to Astros)
Carlos Villanueva, RP (Free Agent to Cardinals)
Marcos Mateo, RP (Free Agent to Padres)
Winter Headlines:
The ripening products of the Farm System.
What to Expect?:
Cubs fans should be excited.  Theo Epstein has this team moving in the right direction and they should be right in the thick of this competitive division.  The Farm System is producing high expectations and the arrival of Joe Maddon from the Rays has led to big excitement in the Windy City.
Why Should You Root for These Guys?:
For the obvious reason.  It has been over 100 years since the team won a World Series.
Why Might This Season Not Turn Out the Way Cubs Fans Want?:
That all depends on your expectations.  If you are expecting an immediate World Series with the arrival of Dexter Fowler, John Lester and Maddon you will be disappointed.  If you are expecting an improved, competitive team laying the ground work for a climb to the post season then you should be satisfied.
Don't Expect Too Much From Him:
John Lester is a very good pitcher and was one of the top free agents in a very good class of free agent pitchers.  You can expect him to be the ace of this staff and to eat a lot of innings but don't expect a Cy Young from him just yet.
Expect Great Things From:
Joe Maddon is a terrific manager and his style is made for a situation like the Cubs.  In Tampa he was able to work with a small budget and develop great talent.  When that talent hit free agency he was able to find great replacements and continue his winning ways.  For a young team like the Cubs it could be a match made in heaven.
Is This His Last Chance?:
This team is too stocked with young talent to be considered anyone's last chance.  The young kids on this team added with Maddon's winning attitude could make this team fun to watch.
Prediction: 3rd place in NL Central

Cincinnati Reds:
Who's New: 
Josh Satin, 1B (Free Agent from Mets)
Ivan de Jesus, IF (Free Agent from Red Sox)
Kyle Skipworth, C (Free Agent from Marlins)
Irving Falu, IF (Free Agent from Brewers)
Eugenio Suarez, SS (Trade from Reds)
Brennan Boesch, OF (Free Agent from Angels)
Marlon Byrd, OF (Trade from Phillies)
Jermaine Curtis, OF (Free Agent from Cardinals)
Chris Dominguez, OF (Free Agent from Giants)
Anthony DeScalfani, SP (Trade from Marlins)
Paul Maholm, SP (Free Agent from Dodgers)
Donovan Hand, SP (Free Agent from Brewers)
Jose Cisneros, RP (Free Agent from Astros)
Nate Adcock, RP (Free Agent fom Rangers)
Wilmer Font, RP (Free Agent from Rangers)
Jose De La Torre, RP (Free Agent from Brewers)
Burke Badenhop, RP (Free Agent from Red Sox)
Kevin Gregg, RP (Free agent from Marlins)

Who Left: 
Jake Elmore, IF (Free Agent to Pirates)
Ramon Santiago, IF (Free Agent to Blue Jays)
Jack Hanahan, IF (Unsigned Free Agent)
Chris Heisey, OF (Trade to Dodgers)
Ryan Ludwick, OF (Free Agent to Rangers)
Brett Marshall (Free Agent to Rockies)
Mat Latos, SP (Trade to Marlins)
Alfredo Simon, SP (Trade to Tigers)
Carlos Marmol, SP (Unsigned Free Agent)
Curtis Partch, RP (Free Agent to Giants)
Logan Ondrusek, RP (Free Agent to Japan)
Ryan Rowland Smith (Unsigned Free Agent)
Trevor Bell, RP (Unsigned Free Agent)
Winter Headlines: 
With age and injuries, questions arise about how long the window will stay open.
What to Expect?:
It is a loaded question and it depends on a few things.  First, how healthy are Phillips, Votto and Cueto?  If they can stay healthy this team can be a serious force in the National League and could challenge for first in a very close division.  If they have the same issues they have suffered through the last two years the team may struggle.  Second, how good is Marlon Byrd?  We know he can be good because we saw it after the trade deadline in Pittsburgh a few years ago.  We also know he can be just average as we saw with the Mets and Phillies.  Finally, how important was Mat Latos?  Not having the 1-2 punch of Cueto-Latos could be a big problem.  Homer Bailey is a very good number 2 starter but he missed the las few weeks of last season and culd miss part of the firs month.  After Cueto-Bailey there is a significant drop off in quality.
Why Should You Root for These Guys?:
In 2012 this team was one game away from advancing to the National League Championship Series.  That year they had overcome some inuries and a late season stroke suffered by Dusty Baker to finish the season with the best record in baseball.  They followed that up with a loss to Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round and replaced Baker.  This group of Cueto-Phillips-Votto-Bruce have worked hard to help give this franchise a rebirth.  It would be nice to see this group hoist a trophy together.
Why Might This Season Not Turn Out the Way Reds Fans Want?:
We already talked about the question of the health and loss of Latos but more than that, the other teams in this division are strong and the Cubs have improved.  With 5 teams about equally matched someone has to finish last and it seems as though the Cubs are determined not to be the doormat anymore.
Don't Expect Too Much From Him:
Joey Votto had his worst season as a professional in 2014.  Injuries cut his playing time to just 62 games and his average dropped to .255.  As the injuries start to catch up to him Votto will need to display his leadership and build his clubhouse presence but his numbers on the field may fall a bit.
Expect Great Things From:
At 20-9 and 2.25 Johnny Cueto had his best year as a pro and if it were not for a historic year from Clayton Kershaw he would have won the Cy Young.  Cueto is the clear ace of this staff and any success the Reds hope for will start with Cueto.
Prediction:4th in NL Central

Milwaukee Brewers
Who's New: 
Adam Lind, 1B (Trade from Blue Jays)
Luis Sardinas, IF (Trade from Rangers)
Bryan Peterson, OF (Free Agent from Rangers)

John Ely, RP (Free Agent from Red Sox)
Neal Cotts, RP (Free Agent from Rangers)
Chris LeRoux, RP (Free Agent from Yankees)
Chris Perez, RP (Free Agent from Dodgers)
Corey Knebel, RP (Trade from Rangers
Josh Roenicke, RP (Free Agent from Rockies)
David Herndon, RP (Free Agent from Phillies)
Who Left:  
Matt Pagnozzi, C (Free Agent to Diamondbacks)
Irving Falu, IF (Free Agent to Reds)
Mark Reynolds, 1B (Free Agent to Cardinals)
Eugenio Velez, IF (Free Agent to Rays)
Jeff Bianchi, IF (Free Agent to Red Sox)
Rickie Weeks, IF (Free Agent to Mariners)
Lyle Overbay, 1B (Unassigned Free Agent)
Caleb Gindl, OF (Free Agent to Blue Jays)
Zach Duke, SP (Free Agent to White Sox)
Marco Estrada, SP (Trade to Blue Jays)
Tom Gorzelanny, SP (Free Agent to Tigers)
Donovan Hand, SP (Free Agent to Reds)
Yovanny Gallardo, SP (Trade to Rangers)
Billy Buckner, SP (Unsigned Free Agent)
Jose De la Torres, RP (Free Agent to Reds)
Francisco Rodriguez, RP (Unsigned Free Agent)
Winter Headlines: 
In the fight or time to rebuild?
What to Expect?:
With this division being as competitive as ever it is hard to say where the Brewers will finish.  Last year they appeared to be on the decline heading into the Spring but amazing years by Segura, Gomez and Lucroy kept them in the race until the end of the year.  With improvement by the Cubs but fall off from the Reds and Pirates the Brewers could still stay in the fight.  In reality though, the lack of pitching depth, especially in the bullpen, will likely lead to a last place finish.
Why Should You Root for These Guys?:
The general perception of the organization (to non-fans and non-students of the game) is that of a losing organization.  In reality this is a proud organization with Hall of Famers, MVP's and a usually competitive history.  For a die-hard fan base it would be nice to see Milwaukee get the respect it deserves.
Why Might This Season Not Turn Out the Way Brewers Fans Want?:
This division is very close from top to bottom and the Cubs are no longer the door mat of the league.  The Brewers still have Garza and Lohse at the top of the rotation but they lost Gallardo and Estrada in the offseason.  The bullpen is shaky and Lucroy suffered a serious injury that will keep him out for some time.
Don't Expect Too Much From Him:
Matt Garza has been a big name in baseball since he emerged with the Rays in their playoff years.  He was a big name in a trade to the Cubs.  That was followed by a big hype over a trade to the Rangers in 2012. He then became a big name free agent in 2014.  The results since he had his big year in 2010 have not been great.  In fact, despite his reputation as a top level ace, Garza is only 75-75 over his career.  That included 4-5 in his stint with the Rangers and 8-8 in his year with the Brewers.  Garza is of course a very good pitcher and will help the Brewers in any chance they have at the post season but he is not an ace.
Expect Great Things From:
Jean Segura came to the Brewers in the Zack Grienke trade with the Angels a few years ago and it was a steal for the Brewers.  Jean Segura is one of the best hitting short stops in the NL and is superb defensively.  Expect an All Star year from him.
Is This His Last Chance?:
Johnathon Broxton was a dominant closer for the Dodgers in their 2008-2009 runs to the playoffs but a series changing double to Jimmy Rollins in 2009 and a complete collapse in 2010 led to his departure from Los Angeles.  He has bounced around the league with varying levels of success.  The Brewers are asking him to regain his 2008 form but it may be too late.
Prediction:5th in NL Central

*-Please be aware that these predictions are based on the rosters as set in the middle of February.  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.

Adam Wainwright led the National League in wins in both 2013 and 2009.  Before Wainwright, when was the last time a National League Central Pitcher led the league in wins?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Since the league moved to the three division format, a National league East player has led the league in Home Runs four times (including Stanton in 2014.  The first to do so was Jim Thome (47) with Philadelphia in 2003.  Not until Ryan Howard (58) in 2006 did anyone else from the east lead the league.  Howard did it again in 2008 with 48. Between 2008 and 2014 no one from the East led the league in Home Runs.

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