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March 1st, 2017

2017 NL Central Preview: Cubs Stay on Top as Cards and Pirates Battle

Def Pen Sports
NL Central

Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, left, talks with general manager Neal Huntington, right, during a workout at Busch Stadium, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, in St. Louis. Game 1 of the National League Division Series baseball playoff between the Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals is scheduled for Thursday. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

 

The National League Central used to be a juggernaut of a division, perhaps the best in baseball. Year in and year out, at least three teams were vying for the top spot in the division. Fast forward to 2017, and it looks like one team will have a stranglehold on the rest of the division; the Chicago Cubs. However, despite dominance in the North Side, the NL Central is still a star-studded division that will surely be a lot of fun to watch this season.

 

Chicago Cubs

There’s no getting around it, the Cubs have the games best roster, and you can bet on them taking home the NL Central crown in 2017. The reigning World Series Champions are loaded with a youthful, talented roster that appears primed to run the MLB for the next decade. Kris Bryant just won the NL MVP, Kyle Schwarber has as much raw power as anyone, and Anthony Rizzo is a perennial MVP candidate. The best part? They’re all under the age of 28. There are so many young guys on the team, from Wilson Contreras, Albert Almora, Javier Baez, and Addison Russell.

As for the 2016-2017 offseason, GM Theo Epstein added Koji Uehara and Wade Davis to an already strong bullpen. In short, there is A LOT of talent on this team. The top starting staff in baseball last season belonged to the Cubs, as the rotation combined for a 3.15 ERA. The team finished last season with the best record in baseball at 103-58. As fans, we should expect to see a lot of similar records in the next few years.

 

St.Louis Cardinals

NL Central

Adam Wainwright (Source: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images North America)

After years of dominance in the NL Central, the once-perennial contender Cardinals now find themselves inferior to the Cubs. St.Louis finished their disappointing 2016 season with an 86-76 record and no postseason appearance. To make matters worse, the club’s prized prospect, Alex Reyes, will miss the 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. However, 2017 looks to be better for the Cards.

The rotation is still incredibly talented, with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, and Lance Lynn leading the front end of the staff. GM John Mozeliak stole OF Dexter Fowler away from the rival Cubs this offseason in efforts to boost their outfield production. Aledmys Diaz was a bright spot for the Cardinals, as the shortstop earned an All-Star appearance in his first MLB season. Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk are two more intriguing youngsters who have shown they can handle the rigors of the majors. Expect the Cardinals to rebound for a Wild Card spot come 2017.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

 

NL Central

Sep 18, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) hits a two run home run against the San Diego Padres during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The San Diego Padres won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

 

After three straight seasons of postseason ball, the Pirates took a step backward in 2016 after injuries to Gerrit Cole, and Jung-Ho Kang derailed their season. Injuries weren’t the only reason the Pirates limped to a 78-83 record, as Pittsburgh was in the bottom half of the league in team ERA. As for 2017, a lot of questions remain unanswered for the ‘Burgh. Will Andrew McCutchen end up getting traded? The star center fielder has been the center of trade rumors for a while now, and this year’s trade deadline could finally be the summer a deal gets done. Can Jung-Ho Kang avoid the injury bug and move past his off-field troubles from this offseason?

On the bright side, Pittsburgh has a young staff led by Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, and Jameson Tallion. These young arms will carry a team led by a power outfield anchored by Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. The pieces are certainly in place for Pittsburgh. The only problem is the two teams ahead of them in the division; the Cubs and Cardinals. Can the Pirates jump the Cardinals for a Wild Card spot? To be determined.

 

Milwaukee Brewers

 

NL Central

Keon Broxton #23 of the Milwaukee Brewers and teammates in the dugout celebrate scoring a run during the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Maryvale Baseball Park on February 28, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Feb. 27, 2017 – Source: Norm Hall/Getty Images North America)

 

Despite finishing 2016 with a dismal 73-89 record, the Brewers future does look relatively bright. Thanks to numerous offseason trades, the once talentless farm system now boasts some elite pieces. Outfielder Lewis Brinson, acquired in the Jonathan Lucroy deal, will look to break camp on the major league roster and translate his power to the MLB. 2016 1st rounder Corey Ray is still a year off from becoming a regular, but he has the makeup of a future superstar.

As for major league talent, the Brewers are somewhat lacking. Former MVP Ryan Braun will again provide power from the outfield, while Domingo Santana will look to build on a promising 2016 campaign. 26-year-old Keon Bruxton has looked good in camp thus far, and he’ll look to solidify his role as a mainstay in Milwaukee’s lineup. Former top prospect Orlando Arcia struggled in a limited role last season, but he’ll be given every opportunity to succeed.

With a rotation that pitched to a combined 4.40 ERA, this roster won’t be able to get very far, as the majority of its young talent needs a lot more time to develop.

 

Cincinnati Reds

NL Central

Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton (Source: Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images North America)

Just a few seasons ago, the Reds had one of baseball’s rosters. Now, the team is still searching for its identity while trying to undergo a quick rebuild. Cincinnati’s farm offers some optimism, as Nick Senzel and Jesse Winker will look to improve their overall game in efforts to aid the team at the MLB level as soon as possible.

The most pressing issue for the Reds remains the strength of the starting staff. Last season’s rotation finished 25th in the league with a combined ERA of 4.79. Prospect Cody Reed could absolutely help the cause if he finally finds consistency. At the MLB level, Joey Votto, Billy Hamilton, and Adam Duvall highlight the minimal big-time talent that the Reds showcase at the major league level. Once elite catcher Devin Mesoraco will look to make a return from injury as he attempts to find his old ways when he .273 with 25 home runs in 2014.

Expect the Reds to once again finish at the bottom of the NL Central, as the Brewers will finish ahead of them due to the significant edge of talent in the farm.

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