NL Central Preview, Predictions, and Odds
The 2020 Major League Baseball season is right around the corner with Opening Day rapidly approaching. The NL Central is wide open this year as the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers all have a nearly equal chance of winning the division this year.
Brewer’s and Red’s fans are ever hopeful this season as both teams return with a strong roster and aspirations of making the playoffs. Fans of the Pirates are not as hopeful as most projection systems have the Pirates winning just 70 games.
There’s a lot going in Chicago right now to say the least, with the organization making the transition from Joe Maddon to David Ross at the head coach position. The Cardinals have not really made any big moves this off season, and for good reason. The Cardinals are more than capable of winning the NL Central, returning with the same roster that led St. Louis to the NLCS just last season.
Chicago Cubs (84-78)
The Chicago Cubs haven’t made any big changes this off season as they enter the 2020 season with practically the same roster. Former Cubs catcher and 2016 World Series Champion David Ross has taken over as head coach of the Chicago Cubs, and I think it’s the right move moving forward. Despite having practically no coaching experience, David Ross brings a players-coach feel to the organization as he already has relationships with a majority of the players.
Chicago returns with a number of weapons on offense with Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo all batting over .280 last season. Baez led the team in doubles and stolen bases, with 38 and 11 on the year. Kyle Schwarber improved his swing and batted a respectable .250 for Chicago in 2019 and drove in 92 RBI’s, which was 2nd most to Rizzo’s 94. Keep an eye on Schwarber this season, as I think he’s in for a career year.
Pitching has been Chicago’s weakness the past couple seasons, and the loss of Cole Hamels and Pedro Strop to free agency make things awfully difficult for the Cubs moving forward. Jon Lester and Yu Darvish will have to make the most out of each outing this year if the Cubs have any hopes of making the playoffs in 2020. Lester finished the 2019 season 13-10 with an ERA of 4.46. Darvish returns with a 3.98 ERA and an impressive WHIP of 1.097.
The Cubs led the NL Central a good chunk of the 2019 season before collapsing towards the end of the season to miss the playoffs. Chicago won just 11 of 27 games in the month of September, which led the way for the Brewers to steal the NL Wild Card spot.
Cincinnati Reds (75-87)
Cincinnati enters the 2020 with arguably the best rotation in the NL Central thanks to the likes of Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray. Castillo has the potential to be a superstar as one of the most promising young players in baseball. Luis finished 2019 with 15 victories, 8 losses and an ERA of 3.40.
Trevor Bauer undoubtedly needs to improve his craft if the Reds hope to make a postseason run in 2020. In 10 games last season, Bauer recorded an ERA of 6.39 and a WHIP of 1.349.
Freddy Galvis has some big shoes to fill with the loss of Jose Iglesias to free agency this offseason. Iglesias led the Reds with a batting average of .288 in 504 at bats, which is impressive considering Iglesias is known more for his talented fielding capabilities rather than his hitting. Galvis batted .234 in 107 at bats, and drove in 16 RBI’s for the Reds last season.
All-Star 3B Eugenio Suarez just had surgery on his throwing shoulder to remove loose cartilage in January. Suarez is said to be ready to go by Opening Day, but we’ll just have to wait and see how fast his shoulder recovers. Suarez drove in a team-high 103 RBI’s last season and hit 49 homeruns for the Reds.
The Reds have strong enough pitching to win the Central Division, but the bats will undoubtedly need to improve if they hope to stand a chance. In 2019, Cincinnati allowed the 3rd fewest runs among the National League, while scoring the 4th fewest.
Milwaukee Brewers (89-73)
The Milwaukee Brewers finished 2nd in the NL Central in 2019 after making an insane 20-7 run in September to steal the NL Wild Card spot from the Cubs. The Brewers went on to lose to the eventual 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals in the Wild Card Game 2-3.
Christian Yelich is no doubt the face of the Brewers organization, and rightfully so- the dude’s an absolute monster. The runner-up National League MVP batted .329 in 2019 and knocked 44 over the wall before fracturing his kneecap on September 10th. Yelich has fully recovered from his knee injury and is expected to have a big season in 2020 for Milwaukee.
The Brewers enter the 2020 season without Yasamani Grandal and Mike Moustakes, who were both key to Milwaukee’s 2019 successes. However, the Brewers have not made any big moves this offseason, which is somewhat surprising given the situation. Early Spring Training rumors say the Brewers want to keep Yelich in Milwaukee long-term, as the Brewers are nearing a $200+ million-dollar deal with Yelich.
Brandon Woodruff enters 2020 as the likely-Ace for Milwaukee, following a pretty impressive 2019 season which included 11 wins and a WHIP of 1.142.
One move the Brewers did make this offseason is the acquisition of SP Eric Lauer. The 24-year-old lefty has been putting in the work this off season to improve his craft. Lauer won 8 and lost 10 in 2019, with an ERA of 4.45 and a WHIP of 1.396.
Pittsburgh Pirates (69-93)
The Pittsburgh Pirates are making some big changes this offseason, and you can’t really blame them. The Pirates finished 2019 (69-93) and finished 5th in the NL Central for the first time since 2010. Pittsburgh hired Ben Cherington as General Manager, and named Derek Shelton as the new head coach.
The Pirates started the 2019 season strong with a 44-45 record through the 1st half of the season but fell apart in the second half posing a 25-48 record following the All-Star Game.
Shortstop Kevin Newman enters the 2020 season following an impressive 2019 batting .308 and stealing 16 bases for the Pirates. 25-year-old outfielder Bryan Reynolds has proven to be quite consistent at the plate after batting .314 last season and driving in 68 RBI’s for the Pirates in 491 at bats.
Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove are the 1-2 punch at pitcher for the Pirates. Williams won 7, lost 9, and finished 2019 with an ERA of 5.38. Musgrove (11-10) had a WHIP of 1.215 last season, and struck out 157 batters in 32 games for the Pirates. Chris Archer and Steven Brault both need to improve their numbers if the Pirates hope to get back to respectability this 2020 season.
St. Louis Cardinals (91-71)
The St. Louis Cardinals enter the 2020 season with practically the same roster as year’s previous. There’s really no need for change, as this roster led the Cardinals to the National League Championship Series last season, where St. Louis fell to the eventual World Series Champion Washington Nationals.
The Cardinals started the 2019 season .500 but went on to win 47 of the remaining 74 games following the All Star Game to secure the #1 spot atop the NL Central Standings.
Lane Thomas is the projected starter in LF, and has some pretty big shoes to fill serving as Marcell Ozuna’s replacement. Ozuna drove in 89 RBI’s and hit 29 HR’s with a SLG of .472 for St.Louis in 2019, and will for sure will missed entering the 2020 season.
St. Louis expects a big season out of Paul Goldschmidt, who finished 2019 batting .260 through 597 at bats. Goldschmidt signed a 5-year, $130 million contract to commit long term to St. Louis, as the Cardinals organization believes the first baseman could serve a role similar to that of former 1B Albert Pujols. Paul Goldschmidt drove in a team-high 97 RBI’s and hit 34 home runs for the Cardinals in 2019.
3B Matt Carpenter’s numbers will need to improve as well if the Cardinals hope to return to the NLCS in 2020. Carpenter batted .226 in just 416 at bats last season.
Jack Flaherty returns as the Cardinals ace, following what was an impressive 2019 for the RHP to say the least. Flaherty finished last season with 8 wins, an ERA of 2.75, and an elite-WHIP of .968. Relief pitching consists of Giovanny Gallegos and John Brebbia who both recorded respectable numbers in 2019.
NL Central Predictions
- Chicago Cubs (90-72)
- Cincinnati Reds (87-85)
- Louis Cardinals (85-87)
- Milwaukee Brewers (78-84)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (72-90)
All statistics found at https://www.baseball-reference.com/