Next up for Doubleday Double Talk’s 2018 MLB season predictions will be the National League Central.
In 2018, the National League Central will be harder to predict than ever, with the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers making big moves this offseason and bolstering their already star-studded lineups. Will the Cubs be able to stay on top? Could the Brewers pull off an upset? Here to provide answers to these questions, are none other than your faithful Doubleday Double Talk writers Giuseppe Vitulli and Daryll Dorman.
So without further delay, here are Daryll and Giuseppe’s predictions for the National League Central.
1. Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers finished 6.0 games behind the Chicago Cubs in 2017 and were in the race for the division until a second-half collapse took them out of both the division and Wild Card race. In 2018, after a string of offseason signings, the Brewers will be at the top of their game and I believe that they will be able to pull off an upset, and overthrow the Chicago Cubs for the division.
The Brewers signed outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich to accompany Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, and Brett Phillips in the outfield. Travis Shaw (who had a breakout season in 2017) and Orlando Arcia will man the left side of the infield with Eric Sogard at second with power hitters Eric Thames and Ryan Braun platooning at first base. The Brewers’ biggest question in 2018 will likely be their pitching staff. Their rotation is headed by Chase Anderson (who posted a 2.74 ERA in 2017), Zach Davis (3.90), and Jhoulys Chacin (3.89).
If the Brewers can put all of their pieces together in 2018, they will be a scary team, and the Cubs will have their hands full.
2. Chicago Cubs
After winning their first World Series since 1908 in 2016, the Cubs kept virtually the same team in 2017 but won 9 fewer games. After a somewhat down year (the 2016 Cubs were so good that we are scoffing at 92 wins and an NLCS appearance) I believe that even with the acquisition of Yu Darvish, the Cubs will continue their decline and fall to second place in their division.
The Cubs have superstar third baseman Kris Bryant, Addison Russel, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo for one of the best infield squads in baseball. Chicago’s outfield is not as glamorous with the overpaid and underwhelming Jason Heyward in right, Albert Almora Jr. in center, and Kyle Shwarber (who has thus far not lived up to the hype) in left, and 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist as the utility outfielder. Chicago’s pitching staff is a sound one with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, the newly acquired Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood. The Cubs will likely repeat as 90+ game winners in 2018, I’m just counting on the Brewers to be better.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals are 2-years removed from the Postseason and are desperately trying to harness the magic that got them there so consistently. Despite their valiant efforts, and the acquisition of Marcell Ozuna this offseason, I can’t see them pulling it off.
The Cardinals have a star-studded outfield manned by offseason acquiree Marcell Ozuna (LF), Tommy Pham (CF), and Dexter Fowler (RF), and a great infield with Jed Gyorko (3B), Paul DeJong (SS), Kolten Wong (2B), and Matt Carpenter (1B). St. Louis also has veteran defensive wizard catcher Yadier Molina to bring the team together. The Cardinals have a good pitching rotation as well with Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Adam Wainwright, but their bullpen is not very reliable. The Cardinals will have a good team in 2018, but it won’t be able to be very competitive with the Cubs and Brewers.
4. Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds are not in a much better situation after the 3rd season of their rebuild then they were when they started. To be blunt, the Reds will continue to play horrible baseball with Scott Schebler, Billy Hamilton, and Adam Duval in the outfield from right to left, and Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza, Scooter Gennett, and Joey Votto manning the infield from 3rd to 1st. The Reds’ 2018 will be another season down the drain and another wasted year of Joey Votto’s prime.
At least they still have Joey Votto.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates were a subpar team in 2017, but after trading away the face of their franchise in Andrew McCutchen and their ace in Gerrit Cole, the Pirates will be a tire fire to watch. It is hard to see the Pirates competing for anything in 2018, not even fourth place in the NL Central. Pirates fans will have very little to root for in 2018 and Pittsburgh is heading towards its 3rd consecutive losing season. At least the draft pick will be high.
1. Chicago Cubs
The key to the NL Central in 2018 just might be…Tyler Chatwood. You know that feeling when you put a donut on your bat as you do your on deck swings, then take it off and you feel like you can hit the ball a mile? Chatwood is going from a pitchers nightmare of Coors Field to not exactly Petco Park – but to sea level for crying out loud in Chicago. He has struggled with injuries in the past – but has made 25 or more starts the last two seasons and will be pitcher #3 or 4 in the Cubs rotation. Last season he struck out a career-best 7.3/9 innings and this will serve him well. Anecdotally, I saw him pitching great in a Spring Training game this week. I like Yu Darvish and of course, Quintana in the rotation – and their offense should be just fine – especially if Kyle Schwarber 2.0 is a thing and just maybe Jason Heyward goes to the bench. The Cubs didn’t do all that rebuilding for just one World Championship…
2. Milwaukee Brewers
The team that aside from their Midwest brethren Minnesota Twins won the off-season, looks to build on a great 2017 that saw the team with the lowest payroll in baseball competing until the bitter end. I love their additions and while I have serious questions about the rotation, the offense should be there and improved. They take other teams rejects like Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Visalia, CA native Stephen Vogt – and give them the chance to be stars. I have a feeling this might be the year if they hang close they WILL go out at the trade deadline to make the playoffs in 2018.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
I almost feel like the Cardinals are bound to finish second or first in this division just because they always seem to…Tommy Pham was a quiet 20-20 player last season who also hit over .300, and with another former Marlin Marcell Ozuna in left and Dexter Fowler in right, this outfield is athletic and has some power. All of a sudden Adam Wainwright is 36 years old though and 3rd on the SP depth chart and Luke Gregerson seems first in line to lose the closer job in 2018. In the end, I think their rotation has too much instability and not a big fan of the bullpen. Mike Matheny might be managing for his job by June.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
While this team lost franchise cornerstones in Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, I still think they have a lot of talent left on the roster. Joe Musgrove is a pitcher to watch who they received for Cole, with other young arms like Jameson Taillon and Chad Kuhl in the rotation. The outfield is now made up of Corey Dickerson, Gregor Polanco and Starling Marte, who should feel some blame for the teams slow 2017 start after his PED violation. Okay – but not good enough to really challenge in the division.
5. Cincinnati Reds
Every once in awhile we see a glimpse of a pitcher early in their career and just think we glimpse greatness. Such was the case watching Francisco Rodriguez in late 2002, a young David Price in 2008, and was Brandon Finnegan with the Royals in 2014. His second year as a starter saw him injured again last year except for 4 starts, but the Reds are a great place for him to extend himself and see what he has to offer in the future. He is only 24. Homer Bailey is lucky to be a Reds favorite because nowhere else would he still be thrown out there as the number 2 starter when he hasn’t had an ERA under 5.50 in the last three seasons and started 2, 6, and 18 games respectively. As Giuseppe pointed out as well..they still do have Joey Votto at least.
Make sure to tune in tomorrow for Daryll and Giuseppe’s predictions for the National League West.