By: Josh Fleck
1: Cincinnati Reds- 102-60 (90-72 in 2013, 3rd in NL Central, 2nd Wild Card spot)
The Reds had a decent offseason and made moves that their farm system allowed them to make. The emergence of Billy Hamilton (.368 average and 13 steals in just 19 at bats last season) allowed for the team to let Shin-Soo Choo go to Texas as a free agent, and Tony Cingrani’s dominance last year (7-4, 2.92, 120 SO in 109 IP) allowed the team to let Bronson Arroyo walk to Arizona. If Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto can stay healthy this team is the cream of the NL Central Crop.
2: St. Louis Cardinals- 91-71, 2nd Wild Card (97-65, 1st in NL Central)
While this Cardinals team won’t look as dominant as teams of the past, the Cards always put themselves in a position to win and find themselves in the hunt for playoffs when the season draws to an end. With one of the more dominant rotations in the league, featuring Wainwright, Garcia, Lynn and Michael Wacha, the latter who really came into his own during the playoffs last year. Despite losing a considerable chunk of their offense in the form of Carlos Beltran leaving for the Yankees, this team shouldn’t have a problem scoring enough runs.
3: Pittsburgh Pirates- 85-77 (94-68, 2nd in NL Central, 1st Wild Card spot)
I think that the Pirates overachieved a bit last season. It pains me to say that because I love me some Andrew McCutchen, but I can’t see that pitching staff playing at the level they did last year. If this was a few years ago the staff would look pretty good, but frankly, Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez have all seen better days. This team will win some games, but things won’t be quite like they were last season.
4: Milwaukee Brewers- 73-89 (74-88, 4th in NL Central)
While getting Ryan Braun back will be a huge boost for this team, as well as the recent signing of Matt Garza, they just don’t match up with the rest of the division (outside of the pathetic Cubs). They should be able to play small ball with the speed at the top of the order with Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez, who have speed to burn, so Braun will get his RBI chances, but I don’t think it will make a huge difference.
5: Chicago Cubs- 67-95 (66-96, 5th in NL Central)
This lineup isn’t going to blow you away, and the pitching rotation isn’t better. Travis Wood had a very good year last year, but he is far from ace, and frankly, I wouldn’t even have him in the rotation of the top two teams in this division. When it comes to fearsome hitters, this lineup isn’t scaring anyone. Anthony Rizzo is a budding star, but there isn’t much for protection so his talents will most likely go wasted in Chicago.