The National League Central isn’t a division you think about when you think about powerhouses, but it features a couple really good teams who made it into the playoffs last season.
It wasn’t a big offseason in the Central except for the loss of the Astros. Man, they’re gonna miss those guys!
2013 should be much like 2012, but hey, what do we know. Here’s how STT sees the NL Central shaking out.
[Division Rank. Team (2013 W/L Prediction, 2013 Preseason Power Ranking]
5. Chicago Cubs (68-94, 25)
The Cubs are on the right track and their pitching staff isn’t half bad. They’re a year or two away and they have some players worth watching on the north side of Chicago, notably one of my favorites, Anthony Rizzo at first base. With Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer at the helm, the Cubs are heading back to prominence, but it won’t be this year.
4. Milwaukee Brewers (79-83, 19)
The Brewers are a lot of people’s pick to surprise in 2013. They have a pretty good offense, but I can’t get behind their pitching depth and man, the bullpen looks pretty weak. They have one of the game’s best players in Ryan Braun and some other players who could make the Central interestiof the game’y one of my favorites, Anthong if they can produce at career levels. The Brew Crew won’t be embarrassing by any stretch, but I don’t see them contending in a meaningful way.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (82-80, 21)
This is the year! The Pirates are going to finish above .500. They will. Don’t get me wrong, this is a team with a lot of upside, but not a lot of players who are sure to produce. If they can get some life shot into them from the farm system, the Pirates should be good enough to hang on the peripheries of the playoff race before falling off down the stretch again.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards are a really good team with a lot of pitching depth and a well-rounded offense. They also have some sort of deal with a higher power given the way the last two postseasons have gone for them. Even without Chris Carpenter in the fray, they’re still a great team with a lot of good players.
1. Cincinnati Reds (92-70, 6)
If the Cardinals are really good, the Reds are great. They’re average or better everywhere on the field and their rotation was excellent last season and has Aroldis Chapman coming to make it even better. You wonder about the outfield defense with Choo in center, but other than that, this is a team that looks like it could only be stopped by injuries. Plus, have you guys seen Joey Votto. That dude is incredible.
NL Central Cy Young: Adam Wainwright
NL Central MVP: Joey Votto
Most Potentially Pivotal Player: Rickie Weeks
Storyline that Will Surprise Us: Choo will survive center.
Boldest of the Bold: Anthony Rizzo will finish in the top ten of the MVP race.
It was a big season for the NL East. The Marlins spent big. The Mets had R.A. Dickey. The Phillies underperformed. The Braves bounced back. The Nationals rose to the occasion.
I predicted the big year from the Nats and the poor showing by the Marlins. I thought too highly of the Phillies and sold the Braves a little short. For a breakdown of how I viewed each team’s 2012, I wrote full pieces on each club.
Here’s how 2012 shook out:
And here are the playoff odds across time:
This is how I see the division next season:
And a final look at my 2012 grades:
The National League East was one of the better divisions in baseball in 2012 and there’s a lot of talent for next season. I like the Nationals to repeat in 2013, but there are a lot of interesting teams…except the Marlins. They will be terrible.
NL East Cy Young: R.A. Dickey
NL East MVP: David Wright
Over the last couple weeks, you’ve seen the STT Seasons in Review for each of the six NL Central teams that gave brief overviews of each team’s biggest contributors and how their seasons went. I gave each club a letter grade for 2012 and a rough projection of how I see them stacking up in 2013.
Today, I want to review the division as a whole and paint a broad picture about what it looks like going forward (See you never, Astros!).
This is how things went in 2012:
And here’s how the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds looked from April to October.
The Reds took over by July and the Cardinals pretty much stayed in Wild Card position for most of the season. Each of the Brewers and Pirates made a run at it at different points, but neither could really close the deal. Needless to say, the Cubs and Astros did not really factor into the race.
The NL Central is one of the lesser divisions in the game, but the offense from the Reds, Cards, and Brewers was pretty good. Match that with a Pirates club on the rise and some good pitching from a couple of these teams, and what we really have is a division dragged down by the bottom feeders.
The Reds and Cardinals are good teams. The Brewers are talented but have damaging holes. The Pirates are becoming competitive, but still haven’t become a threat. The Cubs and Astros are a mess. One of these teams is leaving next year, so the division as a whole might get a little better by subtraction.
My bet is that the division will look pretty similar in 2013 when it’s all said and done. Here is my early projection, which is subject to change throughout the offseason:
The key variable here is that these teams have to pick up some wins that normally came at the expense of the Astros in order to keep these win totals up. I guess I’ll have to look at this more closely as I fill in the sheet with the rest of the divisions.
The NL Central MVP goes to Ryan Braun over Yadier Molina and the Cy Young belongs to Johnny Cueto.
Here’s a final summary of the NL Central 2012 Grades and Win totals:
All and all, another fine year in the pitcher-bats-9th Midwestern United States led by the Reds and Cardinals.
97-65, 1st in the NL Central, Division Champion
Lost in the NLDS to the Giants
It’s hard not to be happy with 97 wins. That’s a lot of wins. The Reds were a great team in 2012 and should be really happy about everything they did except for those last three playoff games where they let the Giants embarrass them.
Joey Votto played 70 percent of the year and posted a 5.9 WAR. His slash line (.337/474/.567) was something out of a video game. Brandon Phillips, Ryan Hanigan, Todd Frazier, Ryan Ludwick, Zack Cozart, and Jay Bruce all posted starter or better WARs while contributing to baseball’s 10th best cohort of position players.
It’s hard to argue with a top five pitching staff either. The original rotation, led by Johnny Cueto, made 161 starts, yielding only a single game to Todd Redmond at the very end of the season. Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey joined Cueto in the original five to form one of the better rotations in the game.
But the bullpen was the story. They posted the second best K/9 rate and the third best FIP in 2012 on the back of fireballer Aroldis Chapman.
The Reds hit well, fielded well enough, and pitched great. That’s a really good formula if you’re trying to win baseball games.
The Reds were a complete team and commanded the soft NL Central for the entire season. They fought off challenges from the Pirates and Cardinals and coasted their way into the postseason. After a strong start on the road in San Francisco, the Reds lost all three home games and called it a season after Game 5 of the NLDS.
It’s hard not to favor the Reds again in 2013 as they return most of their key pieces and look to be moving Chapman to the rotation where he belongs. The Cardinals will have something to say about the Reds’ chance at a repeat division crown, but the Great American Ballpark faithful should clear their schedules for next fall.
2012 Grade: A
Early 2013 Projection: 94-68