MLB Preview 2016: NL Central

I’m writing divisional previews this year because I had way too much to write about the AL West.

NL Central
Cubs*
Pirates*
Cardinals
Reds
Brewers

* = projected playoff team

This was a tough one (which isn’t why it’s last; that was just random).  I don’t think this is The Year for the Cubs despite, you know, real cubs and other things that haven’t occurred since 1945, 1908, or ever.  The Cubs probably won’t win 100 games because no one does (except the 2015 Cardinals, who really only won 89), and the Plexiglass Principle, and an NL division that lacks the Phillies, Braves, Rockies, or Padres.  So there’s the Pirates, who are sexy because they shift and pitch-frame and have Ray Searage and oh by the way also have Andrew McCutchen (who “slumped” to .292/.401/.488 last year, with an OPS+ of 145 that was his worst since 2011?!—with a career-high 98 walks, too?!) and Gerrit Cole.  John Jaso could be this year’s Scott Hatteberg (I mean the 2002 Scott Hatteberg, though actually John Jaso is better than Scott Hatteberg).

I wanted to pick the Pirates because of all of this, both underrating the Pirates and overrating the Cubs, but then there’s this:

Cole-Liriano-Niese-Locke-Nicasio

(The Pirates website actually lists them Liriano-Cole-Niese-Locke-Nicasio because Opening Day Starter, but really, Cole’s the ace here.)

The bullpen is equally underwhelming (so that’s what happened to Kyle Lobstein).

The counterargument, of course, is this:

Arrieta-Lester-Lackey-Hammel-Hendricks

Which I think is better, but how much better, and (with all due respect to Chris Bosio) how much does Ray Searage neutralize any degree of better?

Maybe a better counterargument is this:

Volquez-Ventura-Guthrie-Duffy-Young

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals (pending Johnny Cueto).  Although see “The bullpen is equally underwhelming” above; these aren’t the Royals.

I think these teams are about even, with the Cardinals not that far back.  If there’s any deciding factor for me, it’s probably Maddon.  And though I don’t think it’s The Year for the Cubs, yet, it’s A Year, and even if it’s only Last Year again, it’s a little better just because there’s more of it, and when you’ve been used to none of it for so long, that’s not a bad thing.

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