Here we go…it’s time for the UCB predictions project to get out of the kiddie pool and jump into adult swim. We’ve messed around with the other, lesser divisions, but now it’s time to get down and dirty with the NL Central. Before we get going, take one last look at last year’s predictions by clicking here.
Now…let’s get to it.
1. St. Louis Cardinals. The Redbirds are everyone’s favorite team in 2014. Experts all over the country are picking them to all but run away with the division. But let’s not forget, many of these experts were fairly high on the Reds last season (not here, of course — we knew the Cards would prevail), and I don’t remember those picks working out too well in Ohio. My point is, let’s not get carried away. The Cardinals should win the Central, but let’s not pretend like they’re without weaknesses. The bullpen isn’t exactly bulletproof thus far, Allen Craig has shown exactly zero signs of restored power, and the boys in St. Louis are yet again one knee injury to Yadier Molina away from a mediocre season. All that being said…I’ll be shocked if the Cardinals don’t find themselves in the NLCS again this season as the NL Central champs.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates. Honestly, I see the Pirates as a third place team this season…but the Reds are struggling so much with injuries and age that the division doesn’t look quite as competitive in 2014 as it was in 2013. The Buccos still return a good pitching staff, a decent lineup, and the reigning NL MVP. In addition to all of that, the Pirates’ front office seems to be better positioned and motivated to acquire and/or promote reinforcements mid-season than the Reds or Brewers. And don’t forget how well the Pirates play at home. Put it all together, and they should be able to hang in there and make things interesting for the Cardinals in September.
3. Milwaukee Brewers. Shocked? Don’t be. The Reds should be in the top three, but their injuries and clubhouse leadership changes are making things interesting. And opening the door for the Brewers. With an upgraded, veteran rotation and the return of Ryan Braun, the Brewers are set to be the team in 2014 that they were expected to be in 2013. They might even contend with the Cardinals and/or Pirates, but it’s going to be very difficult for the front office to find the talent to reinforce the Brew Crew in July…which will make it very tough to be relevant in September.
4. Cincinnati Reds. Whoa. Cincy fans sure aren’t going to like me for this one…not like they liked me to begin with. But it’s not my fault this time. The Reds looked old, tired, and disjointed at the end of last season, so the deck was already stacked against them entering spring training. And then the injuries started mounting. It’s going to make it very difficult for the Reds to gain any kind of early traction, and that’s going to make it very difficult to contend with the Cardinals, Pirates, and Brewers in July. As a result, we could witness the beginning of a transition year for Cincinnati. An aging lineup, a new manager, and a fourth place finish could lead Walt Jocketty to finally pull the trigger on not only an offseason Brandon Phillips deal but also a few other moves aimed at refreshing the roster and clubhouse atmosphere. As Walt learned in St. Louis, you can only stick with the same aging veterans so long before you’re forced to get younger and more athletic.
5. Chicago Cubs. I have to admit, I put the Cubs in last place mainly out of habit. I just don’t know enough about their up and coming talent to properly evaluate their chances this year. But I do know this…they lost 96 games last year, and I can’t point to a single, significant change this season that is supposed to make them better, except for one more year of experience and development. That suggests they aren’t yet ready to escape the cellar. Maybe next season.
That’ll do it for the Central. All that’s left now is postseason predictions and major awards…well…and to actually play the games. Although with such amazing predictions in hand (*ahem*), who really needs to play games?
As always, click here to read more predictions from around the UCB.