Well apparently baseball got tired of the disparity (and lack of divisional symmetry) and
We are going to discuss the three biggest questions in the NL Central:
- How far will Ryan Braun take the Brewers?
- Are the Cincinnati Reds in the upper-echelon of teams in baseball?
- Are the Cubs ready to make a run at their first World Series since 1908?
The Pittsburgh Pirates shocked everyone by getting off to an amazing start spearheaded by Andrew McCutchen (my NL MVP) and A.J. Burnett. Two-thirds of the way through the season they were sitting a comfortable 16 games over .500 (62-46) and making a run at not only their first winning season in 20 years, but a run at the playoffs themselves. That's when everything fell apart. The Pirates went on to finish the season 17-37 in what was the worst collapse in Major League Baseball (statistically speaking, but I think the 2011 Red Sox could argue that one).
Will the Pirates be able to build on last season's early success and avoid another historic meltdown? Maybe. The Pirates have no chance to make the playoffs, not in this division, but I do believe they will break their record streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons by winning 81 games this year.
How far will Ryan Braun take the Milwaukee Brewers? That question depends on how well MLB's investigation into the Biogenesis Report. Do I believe Ryan Braun took steroids? Yes, absolutely. Is that going to stop him from being one of the top 3 players in the game? No at all. If this team can overcome its pitching woes, stay healthy and get another bat at the trade deadline besides Aramis Ramirez, the Brewers could make a run at the playoffs. However, that's expecting a lot of things to go right with a team that has one ace pitcher and some other guys.
Are the Cincinnati Reds one of the best teams in baseball? They sure look like it. With an amazing rotation that include Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Matt Latos with an emerging Aroldis Chapman, you won't find better rotation in the NL Central. They also have a healthy MVP-caliber Joey Votto, dependable Brandon Philips and Jay Bruce and young guys throughout the diamond who are ready to produce. Not to mention they upgraded their outfield with Shin-Soo Choo, and the Reds are ready to build on last year's 97-win season (and huge post-season meltdown to the Giants) and make another run at the World Series. They're the team to beat in this division.
Let's not forget about the 2011 World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals. This team has a formidable lineup mix of young and dying stars. They picked up the revitalized Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline last year, and while he's still producing, this will probably be his last year with the team. David Freese, the 2011 World Series MVP will be back to man third base, and first baseman Allen Craig had the most underrated season of the year. His season was so underrated that you probably think that last sentence was a typo. To put it in perspective, the Cardinals did not resign Albert Pujols who ended up hitting .285 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs. Craig who filled in for Pujols hit .307 with 22 home runs and 92 RBIs while costing a BAZILLION DOLLARS cheaper. Nice job, Cardinals management. With a solid rotation that includes Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, and Jake Westbrook the Cardinals have the best chance to top/keep up with the Reds this year.
Finally, the question you have all been waiting for. Are the Chicago Cubs finally ready to make a run at their first World Series since 1908?
MY NL CENTRAL PREDICTIONS: The Reds will finish in first place with 95 wins. The Pirates will surprise a lot of people by having their first winning season in 20 years. Braun and the Brewers will struggle to stay in ball games with lack of an experienced starting rotation. The Cardinal's entire season will once again come down to the last 2-3 games as they fight for the second Wild Card playoff spot.