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When four teams in a division make it to the playoffs, you have a good division. That was the case last season with the expanded playoffs for the National League Central. Four of the five teams in the division made to the playoffs, the lone team to miss was the Pittsburgh Pirates.
While none of them made it out of the first round, it shows that this division was clearly the most competitive. That trend should continue this season despite returning to less playoff spots. So which team(s) will punch their tickets to postseason and represent the National League Central? Let’s take a peek.
St. Louis Cardinals
2020 Record: 30-28
Every year, it seems like the St. Louis Cardinals add just one piece, and it takes them to a new level. Three years ago they hired manager Mike Shildt, two years ago they added first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and now this year they brought in third baseman Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies. All the while, young players like outfielders Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill, as well as pitcher Miles Mikolas, have been developing nicely.
On paper, St. Louis should be the favorites in this division, however things don’t always work out to plan. All it takes is one thing to throw St. Louis off their track, and the big thing that could do that is the outfield. While Bader and O’Neill are developing well, they still have some work to do.
Add to it another young outfielder in Dylan Carlson, and now you have an outfield that can be prone to costly mistakes. This team should make it to the playoffs again, but the key word there is should.
Over/Under Wins: 87
2020 Record: 29-31
Milwaukee is an odd team at times: the years they make you think they’ll go to the World Series, they struggle, and the years they seem questionable, they go on a run. This year, they’ll have a good balance of power in the line up and gloves in the field. Adding outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. will do wonders in a stellar outfielder with Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain.
This line up should produce runs and plenty of them, but they may have some issues getting runners on. Early projections show that three players will hit over .260. If they can’t get runners on, they’re going to see their fair share of struggles. The pitching is also a little questionable, but their bullpen should make up for it.
Over/Under Wins: 83
2020 Record: 31-29
Like the Miami Marlins last year, the Cincinnati Reds came out of nowhere to make the playoffs. With a good mix of veteran bats (first baseman Joey Votto, second baseman Mike Moustakas and outfielder Nick Castellanos) and younger players looking to break out (outfielder Nick Senzel, catcher Tucker Barnhart, and shortstop Jose Garcia), this team should make continue to make strides and potentially make a run at the playoffs.
The big elephant in the room is that their starting pitching isn’t fantastic. After losing Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer to the Los Angeles Dodgers, their rotation is now very questionable. Only Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo are projected to finish with more wins than losses, which isn’t good. If the pitching can prove people wrong, they’ll be fun to watch.
Over/Under Wins: 80
2020 Record: 34-26
The Chicago Cubs right now are very reminiscent of the New York Yankees the past couple of years: they will put up a lot of power, but give up contact ability for it. RotoChamp.Com projects five of their nine batters to hit over 20 home runs, but have no batters hitting over .270. Add to it one starting pitcher whose projects to break ten wins and have more wins than losses (Kyle Hendricks) and you have a recipe for disaster.
Realistically, unless the pitching gets better and they find more ways to get on base, you could see this team start selling off pieces. This team seemingly has no balance, and it may ultimately lead to their downfall. It may be a hard year for Chicago but at least they’re not going to finish in last place.
Over/Under Wins: 78
2020 Record: 19-41
The best way to describe the Pittsburgh Pirates at this juncture is that they are a minor league team that’s playing at the Major League level. They have young talent who could potentially break out, but they lack a coach who can put it all together, they lack a true force on the field that players can rally around, and they lack the pitching to at least keep them in games.
Pittsburgh has seen success from the Steelers and Penguins in the last ten years, even seeing Super Bowl and Stanley Cup Wins in the last few years. However, when it comes to baseball, all they see is cobwebs. Don’t expect much from Pittsburgh this year. Their young players may be exciting and could lead to something down the road, but this year is just another year of heartache for them.
Over/Under Wins: 60