Today we are heading to the Midwest US, where Barbeque, Sausages, Pierogies, and Deep-Dish Pizza live. The NL Central is a very tough division, maybe the most competitive in all of Major League Baseball. St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh all made post-season appearances last year (and the Cards went all the way to the World Series). The only thing I got wrong in my prediction last year was that I picked Reds as #1 and Cardinals as #2. My prediction last year was that the Cubs would be at the bottom, followed by Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. I predicted that the Reds would be the champions for the 2nd year in the row. St. Louis, however, topped the division with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati playing each other in the Wild Card Game.
#5. Chicago Cubs
The only thing the Cubs will be celebrating in 2014 is the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 96 years, and I don’t think this will be their year either. However, they have an amazing farm system and actually could be contenders in the not too distant future. The star of the pitching staff is Jeff Samardzija, which Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney are great defenders at 2nd and short. Jorge Soler is a rising third baseman in the Cubs system. The most exciting thing I am looking forward to in the Cubs’ 2014 season is visiting The Friendly Confines in June when the Nationals travel to Chicago for their road series.
#4. Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun was lost to the Biogenesis scandal, but is back this year. The Brewers have a lot of other good players, like Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Rickie Weeks, and Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza. I also like Aramis Ramirez. Whenever the Brew Crew hits a homer, the mascot, Bernie the Brewer, slides down a yellow slide into a mug. It looks hilarious. Also, people tailgate during games in the parking lot. Going to a Brewers game sounds like a lot of fun. I am picking them as #4, but only because the other teams in the Division are so good. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Brewers actually do better than #4, and in some of the weaker Divisions they could be a contending team.
#3. Pittsburgh Pirates
Like in 2013, I expect a close finish between St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh doesn’t have the finishing piece to a World Series contender: bullpen. Sure, they have Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, but the middle relievers could be improved. Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez are Pittsburgh’s best hitters. I am lucky enough to be planning a trip to PNC Park to see the Nationals take on the Pirates. (I can’t believe I am going to see 2 road games in the NL Central this year!). As good as the Pirates are, Stephen Strasburg doesn’t care, he just loves facing the Pirates. He has only lost to the Pirates once.
#2. Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati is a very hard word to spell. It is also a very hard team to beat. However, their star reliever, Aroldis Chapman, was hit in the face with a ball of the bat of Mike Moustakas last week and will not be able to start the season. I am hoping he gets better soon because he is fun to watch. Even without Chapman, the team’s offense makes up for it. They lost their leadoff Get On Base guy, Shin-Soo Choo, but have power hitters like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. These guys can hit long bombs out of the Great American Ballpark, over the Ohio River, and into Kentucky.
#1. St. Louis Cardinals
Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am a huge Nationals fan, and I really don’t like the Cardinals for what happened in the 9th inning of Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series. So it is very hard for me to say that I think the Cardinals will be in first place. I mean, they just went all the way to the World Series. They also upgraded their team this year, so they are probably even better than last year. Also, they have a lot of talent in their minors, so will probably continue to be very good for a long time. The Cardinals acquired SS Jhonny Peralta from Detroit and got rid of their Pete K. No one in St. Louis really liked him, and I can tell you that no one in Washington really likes him either. Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal are 2 young pitchers who have potential to be one of the best starters and one of the best closers in baseball in a few years.
This is my prediction, but as I said, the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates are all so good that I think any of them could be #1, and I also think the Brewers have a chance to upset some of these standings too if they pull it together.