Let’s be honest: this is the main event this week. The only reason we even concern ourselves with whatever the other divisions are doing is because the Cardinals might have to play them in October. Otherwise, all our focus is on the National League Central, seeing whether the Redbirds can pull out another divisional title.
National League Central
St. Louis–Back-to-back division champs and they show no signs of really slowing down. With the addition of Jason Heyward and the ability to absorb an injury at most any position (save catcher and shortstop–best wishes for good health to Yadier Molina and Jhonny Peralta), this looks like a team that hasn’t broken stride. Obviously there’s a little bias, but I feel like the Cards improved and the rest of their competition stood still or took a step back.
Pittsburgh–Two years of wild-card berths have only whetted the appetites of the Pirate faithful. With Andrew McCutchen still roaming the outfield and talents like Gregory Polanco supplementing him, there’s no reason to think the postseason window has closed. A.J. Burnett returns to help out a rotation that still includes Francisco Liriano and the improving Gerrit Cole. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them take advantage of any Cardinal stumble.
Chicago–The White Walkers of Wrigley are coming. With their talented minor league system loaded with power and a free agent signing in Jon Lester that will head up a developing rotation, the Cubs were a threat even before they went out and got the best manager on the market. Many are saying the Cubbies are a possible World Series team. I don’t think they are going to make that much of an improvement this year, but there’s a strong likelihood meaningful mid-August baseball is played on the North Side for the first time in a while.
Milwaukee–A late fade last year makes people forget that, until the end of August, the Brewers led the division and never seemed to want to let go. That said, I felt like they were playing over their heads somewhat and I think that September proved that. Ryan Braun will be feared and Aramis Ramirez will give being a Sith Lord one more go, but all in all I don’t think they have the horses to stay with the big guns of the division.
Cincinnati–Is it a rebuild? Then why do you sign Marlon Byrd? Are they going for it? Then why ship off Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon? Cincy seems to be somewhat caught in the middle and baseball isn’t very kind to those kind of folks. Kickin’ Johnny Cueto is still there, but there’s not a lot surrounding him. Walt Jocketty may commit to the rebuild during the season and if so, Cueto and others might have new addresses at the end of it.
We finish up the National League with the West tomorrow!