One team is making strides toward getting back into contention. Another has apparently decided to take a few years off after being a strong contender that didn’t quite finish the job. In the National League Central, it is looking like the other three teams—Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis, will be fighting it out all season long and, as usual, the one that gets the best pitching should win.
The Cincinnati Reds acquired a pitcher who has shown great potential in the past but hit the skids in New York City. Sonny Gray remains a candidate as a staff ace but the rest of the starting rotation for the Reds is iffy. Tanner Roark had some success in Washington and there are young pitchers that scouts are high on but the Reds can only hope to pass Pittsburgh into fourth place with their staff as it is. They still have the venerable Joey Votto at first base, a solid catcher in Tucker Barnhart, an emerging star in third sacker Eugenio Suarez, and a double play combination of Scooter Gennett and Jose Peraza that is productive offensively. If they are patient with new skipper David Bell, good things may start to happen.
As for the Pirates, it’s probably fair to say that this is an organization that has quit trying, at least for a while, to win. The days of playoff and World Series contention were fun but the Buccos look like they will ride it out so long as the turnstiles are clicking and bide their time until the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals slow down. The trade for Chris Archer solidified a pretty good starting rotation with young talent Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove and Jordan Lyles but the lineup has lost a lot. Francisco Cervelli is a good player and a fine person but he and the others might be looking over their shoulders at Cincinnati in the battle for fourth in the Central.
From here it looks like the St. Louis Cardinals are going to have enough this time to win the division. Paul Goldschmidt really adds a lot to the offensive side and plays the best defense at first base that the Cardinals have seen since the days of Keith Hernandez. Pitching worries will be significantly lessened if Adam Wainwright comes all the way back and Miles Mikolas continues his 2018 success. Harrison Bader is a star in the making and Marcell Ozuna should be better in his second St. Louis season. Matt Carpenter makes them wish that the N.L. had the DH but hits very well.
The Milwaukee Brewers acquired two outfield gems before the 2018 season began in Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain and rode that and a very strong bullpen to a division title, edging the Chicago Cubs by a game. That is not a traditional formula for success, however, and it’s hard to see it happening again. There seemed to be a continual tryout going on in the infield last year and, while it seems to have settled down a bit now (Mike Moustakas at second base?) there are no defensive gems there except for shortstop Orlando Arcia, and Craig Counsell doesn’t seem to really trust him. They will score a lot of runs, as usual, but who on that pitching staff, other than Josh Hader, really scares you?
The Cubs still have enough talent to match the ego of manager Joe Maddon but there seems to be a lack of cohesion, possibly due to most of the roster being reduced to “roles”. There is no denying the ability of Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras, however,and Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana will keep them steady as they roll. They seem to be lacking a spark, but it could change when the weather warms. All in all, an interesting summer awaits us in this division.