Along with our fellow SweetSpot bloggers, we recently submitted our preseason prognostications for ESPN. Let’s go into the NL, and the NL Central in particular, in a bit more depth. First, our picks for the end-of-season tournament (win totals in parentheses):
- NL East champion: Nationals (84)
- NL Central champion: Cardinals (90)
- NL West champion: Dodgers (90)
- NL Wild Canards: Braves (83), Diamondbacks (83)
Nothing too surprising there: The Cardinals and Dodgers are clearly the class of the league, if not all of baseball. Beyond them, we’re as confident in some arrangement of the Braves, Nationals and Diamondbacks as any teams to garner the remaining spots for the playoffs.
As is our policy for handicapping short series, we won’t venture into a guess for NL pennant winner (though ESPN’s poll required us to, in which case we picked the Cardinals). Other league-wide predictions:
- Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
- Most Valuable Player: Yadier Molina. We figured that, with the increase in awareness of defense among the legacy media, it’s possible that Molina will win a plurality of votes this year.
- Rookie of the Year: Chris Owings. Picking the RoY is almost as inane as the Cy Young or MVP, but we bit. Note: We’re not putting any money on Owings, and neither should you. But you probably already knew that.
All right, so onto something that we have a little better grasp on (talk about damning with faint praise!), the NL Central. Our not-so-out-on-a-limb projected order of finish:
The Cardinals have improved in almost every area (you can read our longer report on their front-office work at the Bird’s Eye Series Preview), so they’re clearly the tops. They’re not perfect, of course: Jhonny Peralta will almost certainly be more effective than Pete Kozma, though it’s unclear just how much more. The combination of Matt Adams and Kolten Wong should be as potent as Carlos Beltran and David Freese, the batters they’re effectively replacing in the lineup. And the pitching staff should be every bit as strikeout-oriented as they were in 2013.
Despite winning a wild card last year, the Pirates don’t figure to challenge, having lost AJ Burnett and Justin Morneau. But they’re at least as good as the Reds, who lost even bigger cogs Bronson Arroyo and on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo. As exciting as Billy Hamilton (ZiPS-projected .319 OBP) is, he unfortunately can’t steal first base, which is many times more important than stealing anything else.
As for the Brewers, we’re not exactly sure what they’re doing, but it’s fairly clear that they won’t be competing for a division title. And the Cubs seem like they’re rebuilding their rebuilding program, so perhaps they’ll be competitive someday, but it’s not looking like it’ll be this decade.