The Chicago Cubs were sluggish in 2017, despite finishing in first place and making it to the NLCS, after winning the World Series vs the Cleveland Indians in 2016. The 2016 Cubs team was very special, they had young players breakout as superstars in Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras. These players will look to bounce back and play more smoothly like how they did in 2016. Let’s look at the team predictions for the NL Central division here at The Utility Man!
- Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are a great team. Don’t get me wrong, but the team performance last year, as I said in the first paragraph, was sluggish. This same team in the NLCS just looked off in terms of the flow of their rhythm. With a brand new season, Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, Baez, and Contreras will work hard to deliver similar numbers from 2016 with the bat. It only helps that the Cubs got better with new pitching additions in former Los Angeles Dodgers, Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow, and former Colorado Rockie, Tyler Chatwood. The Cubs have a very talented starting rotation that matches on par with the offense in terms of production. The Cubs will put on a performance this season and will make the playoffs with another title under their belt. Also, the Cubs will be hungry for another opportunity to face the Dodgers again in the NLCS, so they are counting on the Dodgers to play extremely well and have their wish come true come October.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
I have thought long and hard about who should be in second place between the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals. I ended up going with the Cardinals because I consider this team to be the San Antonio Spurs of the MLB. The Spurs in the NBA are a respected organization that quietly knows how to win. They have a good classy manager in Mike Matheny that has learned a lot while playing under legendary manager Tony LaRussa in the St. Louis. Despite high tension last season between future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina and Matheny, which was due to losing a bit games that made them miss playoffs, I expect the two to turn over a new leaf for 2018. Molina played with Matheny, they have a respect for each other that I truly believe Molina will be professional and play his hardest under Matheny. With Molina playing his hardest, I expect other players like, outfielder Dexter Fowler and first baseman Matt Carpenter, to put up veteran numbers and be leaders along with Molina in the clubhouse. Add the young talent that Cardinals have outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Tommy Pham and infielders Paul DeJong, Jedd Gyorko and Kolton Wong to mesh well and play as a unit with the veterans. The pitching staff has a good mix of players with good experiences in Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, and players of star-studded talent in Carlos Martinez and Luke Weaver. Can’t forget the most interesting addition is starting pitcher Mike Mikolas. Mikolas pitched the last three seasons in Japan, where he excelled. I Imagine Mikolas will be able to transfer his experience in Japan (2.18 ERA with 378 strikeouts over three seasons) to the MLB. He is an intriguing piece for the Cardinals this season that he could also be the x-factor in whether they take a wild card spot.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers were a big surprise last season and it was a nice one. They finished 2nd in the NL Central. I have them in third place because I still see the Cardinals as the biggest threat to the Cubs’ chances for the division title. The Brewers have added some big bats to their lineup in outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, via trade and free agency. It is a homecoming for Cain, who started his MLB career in Milwaukee for one season in 2010, before being traded to the Royals, where he spent his whole career until now. I think Yelich is going to break out this year because not only is he surrounded by tremendous offensive talent, but he is on a contending team for a wildcard spot in the NL. The Brewers have many offensive weapons in third baseman Travis Shaw, first baseman Ryan Braun, outfielder Domingo Santana, and catcher Manny Pina. This is a big year for shortstop Orlando Arcia, who is good with the glove, but will need to prove that he be can a consistent bat in the lineup. Second baseman Jonathan Villar was never able to get going after injured-hampered year in 2017. I expect Villar to be healthy this year and pick up where he last left off in 2016, in which he was an all-star. Moving to the pitching staff, I have some concerns. Can Chase Anderson replicate what he last left off before he got injured that sat him out of the rest of 2017? Can Brent Suter pitch through the rigorous long 162 games? Honestly, surprised that Jhoulys Chacin is the number two starter over Suter or Zach Davies. Chacin, in my opinion, would be better served as the number four starter. Wade Miley is inconsistent at times. He’s good in a certain of starts, then bad in another number of starts, following his streak of good starts. Closer Corey Knebel has to be hoping that the starting rotation can deliver him many opportunities to get saves. The Brewers have something to prove this year and it starts with the pitching if they want to make the postseason.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
It is going to be weird seeing the Pirates take the field without Andrew McCutchen in Pirates uniform. With that being said, this Pirates team can get what they can get with the players they have. Second baseman Josh Harrison and Gregory Polanco will be big the contributors to the offense, and it doesn’t hurt having a 2017 all-star in outfielder Corey Dickerson in the lineup as well. Outfielder Starling Marte needs to be on rebound mission after sitting out a lot of last season, being suspended for using PEDs. Catcher Francisco Cervelli is a valued leader in the clubhouse and will be heavily relied on for the leadership in a young clubhouse. I think they have a decent pitching staff led by Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, and Joe Musgrove, who they acquired from the Houston Astros for ace Gerrit Cole. I think if closer Felipe Rivero pitches well this season, he will become trade bait for a playoff contending team. The Pirates will be in for another losing season, but I think their future could be bright.
5. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are a mess. They are wasting superstar first baseman Joey Votto’s time with the team. This guy carries the Reds throughout the season. It’s a shame that he will be playing for the bottom of the division. Outfielder Billy Hamilton had the potential to be a superstar type of player, but he could never become one because of his hitting. This ball club has plenty of home run hitters in Votto, third baseman Eugenio Suarez, outfielder Scott Schebler and catcher Tucker Barnhart, but the pitching staff is not strong enough to help back them. It also doesn’t help that their ballpark is a hitter’s type of park. I can’t really trust any of their pitchers to provide the type of numbers that managers also want from their pitchers. Keeping the team in close games and actually winning them. The Reds will endure another losing season.
What do you think of the 2018 NL Central division predictions? Be sure to tweet your thoughts @TheUtilityMan17 on Twitter!