N.L. Central 2016 Prediction

Posted: March 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

First:  Chicago.  I despise  agreeing with the masses, but the Cubs are the team to beat in the Central in 2016.  Goats beware.

Pitching:  Jake Arrieta found himself and success in 2016.  Jon Lester, John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel are an impressive group of starters.  Hector Rondon will be followed by Travis Wood (a convincing bullpen conversion in ’15), Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and another 2015 convert to the ‘pen, Clayton Richard.  A quality bullpen.

Offense:  Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant (no forced AAA appearance in April this season) will crush the ball this year.  Justin Hayward is overpaid and very average.  Dexter Fowler covers a lot of grass in center.  Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell had offensively similar years in 2015.  Both need to cut down on strikeouts and invite a base on balls to enter their daily life.  Ben Zobrist brings stability and flexibility.  Jorge Soler will wait for one of the outfielders to falter.  Miguel Montero and the ancient David Ross handle the catching duties.

Players in the system who could help:  Wilson Contreras (c) and Billy McKinney (rf).

Second:  Pittsburgh.

Pitching:  I’m choosing the Pirates over the Cardinals due to a leap of faith in starting pitching and the first four guys (or should I say last four guys) in the bullpen.  Gerrit Cole is entering the territory of exceptional.  Francisco Liriano gets better with each passing season.  Candidly, my leap of faith rests with the last three of the rotation:  Jon Niese, Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong.  If these three can end the season with eras sandwiched between 3.50-3.75 and whips south of 1.35, the Pirates take the wild card.  If not, third place.  The bullpen’s success centers on Mark Melancon (what a 2015!), Tony Watson (see Mark Melancon), Jared Hughes and Arquimedes Caminero.

Offense:  As impressive as Starling Marte, Andrew McCuthen and Gregory Polanco (room to improve) were in 2015, this year will be better.  Production galore awaits.  Francisco Cervelli was one of the better offensive catchers last year.  Jung Ho Kang enjoyed a pleasant introduction at third.  If Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison handle the middle without substantial injury and a combination of John Jaso, Michael Morse and David Freese (time for a new position)  effectively share first base, the Pirates give the Cubs a run for their money.

Players in the system who can help:  Josh Bell (1b), Max Moroff (2b), Dan Gamache (3b), Adam Frazier (ss) Willy Garcia (lf), Nick Kingham (starting pitching), Steven Brault (starting pitching) and Tyler Glasnow (starting pitching).  Yes, the Pirates have the best player development in the N.L. having earned a 3.6 (maximum of 4.0) in my winter review of the 2015 season.

Third:  St. Louis.

Pitching:  Adam Wainwright returns.  34 and not getting any younger.  Jaime Garcia has not thrown more than `129.2 ip in a season dating back to 2012.  Michael Wacha, Mike Leake and Carlos Martinez complete the starting rotation.  Trevor Rosenthal handles the ninth.  Does Seung Hwan Oh throw the eighth?  Probably.  Kevin Siegrist, Tyler Lyons and Jordan Walden should receive more appearances than Seth Maness and Jonathan Broxton.

Offense:  Brandon Moss at first or a declining Matt Adams?  Tough choice regarding a lack of choice.  Jhonny Peralta is out until late June or early July.  Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong need to supply the hits.  Yadier Molina had non-Yadier seasons in ’14 and ’15.  Matt Holiday hopes to play 130 games.  Randal Grichuk (323 ab) and Stephen Piscotty (233 ab) need to prove their true ability during a full season.  Tommy Pham waits for the same chance.

Players in the system who can help:  Aldemys Diaz (ss), Jeremy Hazelbaker (rf) and Tim Cooney (starting pitching).

Fourth:  Milwaukee.   This was tough.  Both the Brewers and Cincinnati Reds are awful.  The Brewers are less awful.  Congratulations.

Pitching:  Starting pitching is woeful.  Wily Peralta cannot be the Brewers’ #1 starter.  I’m going with the following three becoming the #1, #2 and #3 starters as the season progresses:  Taylor Jungmann, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson.  Matt Garza hopes to last the entire season.  What saves the Brewers is their bullpen.  No pun intended.  Saves the Brewers . . . Fine.  Don’t laugh.  Anyway, Milwaukee’s ‘pen is highly underrated and unappreciated.  Sure, a closer has yet to be identified for the 2016 season, but Will Smith, Jeremy Jeffress, Michael Blazek, Corey Kneel and Tyler Thornburg offer a deep and talented group from which a closer will be found.  These guys will be busy April forward.

Offense:  Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy provide the bulk of the hits.  Jonathan Villar shows promise at short.  Chris Carter will offer 20/80 as well as an obp south of .300.  Same obp registers for Scooter Gennett and Aaron Hill.  Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center will enjoy all the at-bats he’s ever dreamed of.  If Keon Broxton can hit the cutoff man quicker than Domingo Santana or Rymer Liriano, Keon wins the right field job.  As the year wears on, do the Brewers move Mr. Lucroy to first base or elsewhere so Brewers’ fans can enjoy the dynamic arm of Martin Maldonado throwing out baserunners?

Players in the system who can help:  Orlando Arcia (ss) and Kyle Wren (lf).

Fifth:  Cincinnati.

Pitching:  Gonna be a long 162 games for the Reds.  Homer Bailey had 2 starts last year and 23 in 2014.  He is the #1 starter?  Anthony DeSclafani and Alfredo Simon don’t offer much following Mr. Bailey.  Neither does John Lamb.  Raisel Iglesias and Brandon Finnegan should move to the front of the rotation as soon as possible.  The Reds do not have a closer.  The Reds have J.J. Hoover and Jumbo Diaz in the bullpen.  They are looking for help. Lots of help.

Offense:  The outfield is a mess.  Jay Bruce had consecutive bad years in ’14 and ’15.  Billy Hamilton hates to walk.  And does his awful obp prove the point.  Adam Duvall and Jake Cave share left field because Jesse Winker needs another year of development.  The infield is probably Eugenio Suarez at third, Zack Cozart at short and the long suffering Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto on the right side wondering “Why are we here?”  Ramon Cabrera should start at catcher.

Players in the system who can help:  The aforementioned Jesse Winker (lf), Alex Blandino (ss) and Zach Weiss (relief).

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