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2016 NL Central Preview

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We tried to gather the finest baseball minds for a great TPOP preview of the NL Central.  But unfortunately the only people that showed up were me, Steve, and Kurt.  Here’s our thoughts on how the NL Central is going to shake out in 2016.

STEVE DiMICELI

NL CENTRAL STANDINGS

1. Chicago – 96-66
2. Pittsburgh – 93-69
3. St Louis – 90-72
4. Milwaukee – 69-93
5. Cincinnati – 64-98
Chicago Cubs
MVP – Anthony Rizzo
Breakout – Addison Russell
Disappointment – Kyle Schwarber
Key Addition – Jason Heyward
Key Departure – Starlin Castro
Pittsburgh Pirates
MVP – Andrew McCutchen
Breakout – Jung-ho Kang
Disappointment – Tyler Glasnow
Key Addition – Jon Niese
Key Departure – Neil Walker
St Louis Cardinals
MVP – Matt Carpenter
Breakout – Kolten Wong
Disappointment – Randal Grichuk
Key Addition – Mike Leake
Key Departure – Yadier Molina’s youth
Milwaukee Brewers
MVP – Jonathan Lucroy
Breakout  –  Taylor Jungmann
Disappointment –
Key Addition – Chase Anderson
Key Departure – Adam Lind
Cincinnati Reds
MVP – Joey Votto
Breakout – Raisel Iglesias
Disapointment – Billy Hamilton
Key Addition – Jose Peraza
Key Departure – Todd Frazier

KURT HACKIMER

NL CENTRAL STANDINGS

1. Chicago Cubs (97-65)
2. Pittsburgh Pirates (90-72)
3. St. Louis Cardinals (89-73)
4. Cincinnati Reds (74-88)
5. Milwaukee Brewers (66-96)

Chicago Cubs
What makes the 2016 Cubs different from the 2015 Washington Nationals, who everybody picked to win the National League? Depth. The Cubs roster is chock full of young talent and Joe Maddon won’t let them lose focus.

MVP: Anthony Rizzo
Breakout: Addison Russell
Disappointment: Kyle Schwarber
Key Addition: Jason Heyward
Key Departure: Starlin Castro

While Kris Bryant led the team in jersey sales, Rizzo was Chicago’s best position player last season and will be again … It’s tough to call Russell, who posted 2.9 WAR last season, a breakout star, but most of his value came from his defense. This year his offense will take a step forward … Schwarber has incredible power, but the problem with all or nothing hitters is that the “nothing” tends to show up more than the “all” … Heyward’s defense alone makes him their most impactful acquisition … A move to New York further rejuvenates Castro’s career.

Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s not fair to expect 98 wins from the Pirates again, but it’s also not fair to think that their lack of splashy offseason moves will prevent them from contending. The Pirates return a strong core that will keep them in contention for the fourth straight year.

MVP: Andrew McCutchen
Breakout: Tyler Glasnow
Disappointment: Mark Melancon
Key Addition: Juan Nicasio
Key Departure: A.J. Burnett

McCutchen enters this season healthy and determined. He might end up becoming the MVP of the whole league … Come June, Pirates fans will pine for Glasnow’s promotion and the lanky youngster will deliver … Melancon’s declining velocity and strikeout numbers didn’t hurt him last season, but he won’t be able to keep the magic going … I’m going to commit a cardinal sin and believe in Nicasio’s strong spring. He’ll be the next Searage success story … Alvarez and Walker will be replaced, but having an All-Star behind Cole and Liriano was a luxury that the Pirates won’t have this season.

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals were decimated by injuries last season but still won 101 games thanks in large part to their pitching staff’s ability to pitch themselves out of trouble. The magic will finally start to fade this season, but this team is still very good.

MVP: Kolten Wong
Breakout: Tommy Pham
Disappointment: Yadier Molina
Key Arrival: Seung Hwan Oh
Key Departure: Jason Heyward

Wong is exactly the kind of barely above average baseball player that will thrive in St. Louis … Randal Grichuk is the most popular choice, but Pham hit the ball harder than Grichuk did last season … Molina is flat out brilliant behind the plate, but injuries and a lack of pop will have Cardinals searching for a backup plan … Mike Leake will be fine, but the Korean import will steal headlines … The Cardinals just won’t have the facilities to replace Heyward in the outfield.

Cincinnati Reds
If you squint, you might be able to see the skeleton of a decent team in Cincinnati. But the Reds have too many holes in their lineup and rotation to really be competitive.

MVP: Joey Votto
Breakout: Adam Duvall
Disappointment: Homer Bailey
Key Arrival: Jose Peraza
Key Departure: Todd Frazier

Votto will set the Major League record for walks in a season … Duvall’s home run power will push him to a productive 2016 … Bailey will successfully return from Tommy John surgery, but there’s no way that he’ll be worth $18 million to a losing team … The Aroldis Chapman trade was a total mess, but the Reds acquired an interesting young prospect in Peraza … “Tear Down/Rebuild” is en vogue right now, so Frazier had to go. But his 35 home runs will be hard to replace.

Milwaukee Brewers
After years of faking it, the Brewers are finally rebuilding. They’ve sold off nearly all of their big league assets and have their sights set on 2018. Bernie Brewer is reportedly renting out his Dugout as an AirBnB.

MVP: Ryan Braun
Breakout: Keon Broxton
Disappointment: Taylor Jungmann
Key Arrival: Orlando Arcia
Key Departure: Jonathan Lucroy

When the Brewers trade Lucroy, Braun and Matt Garza will be the last two guys on the roster who have played on a good Brewers team … Broxton will do his best Nyjer Morgan impersonation and win the hearts of Brewers with his alter ego “Terry Blush” … Jungmann is one of the few Brewers pitchers with upside, but too many walks will ruin his 2016 season … Stud shortstop prospects are en vogue and Arcia will be Milwaukee’s trendy accessory … Lucroy isn’t gone yet, but he has an overnight bag packed. The return in the imminent Lucroy trade might determine the length of Milwaukee’s rebuild.

KEVIN CREAGH

NL CENTRAL STANDINGS

1. Chicago Cubs (93-69)
2. Pittsburgh Pirates (90-72)
3. St. Louis Cardinals (87-75)
4. Cincinnati Reds (66-96)
5. Milwaukee Brewers (63-99)

Chicago Cubs
I anticipate that some of the Cubs’ second year players (Schwarber, Bryant, Russell) will experience some regression, but as Kurt alluded to, the Cubs have tremendous depth.  I’m not as enamored of their starting rotation as others in the national media are.  After Arrieta and Lester, I see an old and unexciting John Lackey, an unexciting Jason Hammel, and a young and unexciting Kyle Hendricks.

MVP: Anthony Rizzo
Breakout: Jorge Soler
Disappointment: Ben Zobrist
Key Addition: Jason Heyward
Key Departure: Starlin Castro

I think Kris Bryant will cause many baseballs to wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweat, but I do see him regressing a touch this year, so I’m sticking with one of baseball’s best bargains in Anthony Rizzo.  Jorge Soler has been frittering around the edges the past two years on his potential, but this may be his use-it-or-lose-it year with the Cubs.  If he breaks out, he’s a fixture, if not he’s a trade chip.  Ben Zobrist is old.  Jason Heyward is a little overrated because of the (in my opinion) over-reliance on defensive metrics to bolster his WAR total, but he’s still a hugely useful component.  Starlin Castro, perhaps like Jorge Soler next, never fully delivered on his talent.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Even though I’m projecting the Pirates to have eight fewer wins this year, I still really like this squad and think they are a playoff team.  There is still a lot of talent in the remaining core of players, with some more potentially on the way this year from the minors in Glasnow and Taillon.

MVP: Starling Marte
Breakout: Gregory Polanco
Disappointment: Juan Nicasio
Key Addition: Jon Niese
Key Departure: A.J. Burnett

McCutchen will (hopefully) finish in the top 5 of the NL MVP again this year, but I think in terms of team MVP that Starling Marte is going to put it all together for a full year in 2016.  Likewise, I feel that Polanco’s growth chart is going to hit an upward inflection point, as well.  With all of the good vibes surrounding Juan Nicasio out of Spring Training, it just feels like a huge setup for the inevitable return trip to Earth.  He’s pitched more than 100 innings once in his career and 157 is his career high.  If Jon Niese accepts that Ray Searage is his dark overlord, the Pirates can control him for two more seasons at $10.5M/year — a steal in today’s pitching market.  A.J. Burnett went out with a vintage season last year and not having three top starters will be an adjustment for the Pirates.

St. Louis Cardinals
This is the year that Father Time catches up to the Cardinals.  It probably won’t be, but I feel better for having said it.

MVP: Matt Carpenter
Breakout: Carlos Martinez
Disappointment: Matt Holliday
Key Arrival: Mike Leake
Key Departure: Jason Heyward

Matt Carpenter is not flashy and not heralded around the league — the perfect example of a Cardinal.  If Martinez’s shoulder doesn’t fall off, he could garner some Cy Young votes this year.  Matt Holliday’s slow decline will take an accelerated step this year, just in time for the Cardinals to have to make a tough call on his 2017 club option.  Mike Leake is a solid #3/#4 level pitcher and will make the Pirates miserable like he always seems to do.  Even though he’s a touch overrated, losing Heyward is still a big deal.

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds chose to get closer-to-majors prospects back in their trades, thinking their rebuild will be quick.  It won’t be and this team will be mediocre for years to come.

MVP: Joey Votto
Breakout: Raisel Iglesias
Disappointment: Homer Bailey
Key Arrival: Cody Reed
Key Departure: Aroldis Chapman

By the end of the year, Votto may be a man on an island.  It should be a chilling reminder to the Pirates that just 3 seasons ago, the Reds and Pirates faced off in the Wild Card game.  The Reds got older and made some bad contract decisions, which put them in this spot.  I think Iglesias is going to be a strong #2-level starter for the Reds, perhaps as soon as this year.  Bailey is one of the aforementioned bad contract decisions.  The Reds are still on the hook for 4 yr/$86M.  Cody Reed was a prospect obtained in the Cueto trade with the Royals and all accounts this spring say he’s going to be very good.  It was so deflating when the Reds had a lead in the 9th inning and seeing Chapman on the mound — the game was virtually unwinnable.

Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers are going to be horrible for a few years, but they’re rebuilding with more purpose than the Reds.  Their farm will produce more high-yield crops than the Reds, plus their future salary commitments are much lower than the Reds.

MVP: Anyone but Ryan Braun, please
Breakout: Orlando Arcia
Disappointment: Will Smith
Key Arrival: Chase Anderson
Key Departure: Jonathan Lucroy, when he’s eventually traded

Man, I really dislike Ryan Braun.  Once the Brewers skirt the Super 2 deadline, Arcia will be up and should entrench himself as the Brewers’ shortstop for their next competitive window.  I’m cheating a little on Will Smith as he’s already out half the year, but I have to figure the Brewers were hoping to flip him in July for a big return.  Chase Anderson came over in the Jean Segura heist from everyone’s favorite trading partner, the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Lucroy will make some team better this year, it just won’t be the Brewers.

About Kevin Creagh (259 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

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