Preview: The Cubs are coming into 2019 looking to take back the NL Central pennant. This will be a tough task since it looks like one of the tougher divisions in baseball. The Cubs return the same lineup from 2018 featuring former all-stars, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez, and 2016 NL MVP, Kris Bryant. As expected now in Chicago, the Cubs look solid at the plate and in the field. The starting pitching isn’t to be overlooked. The rotation returns Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana; all of whom turned in solid 2018 seasons. Yu Darvish seems to be the only question mark in the rotation as he turned in an unimpressive 4.95 ERA last season after his World Series meltdown in 2017. Should Darvish struggle too much this season, look for Manager Joe Madden to give LHP Mike Montgomery some spot-starts. The Cubs bullpen should be reliable as well. The back-end of the ‘pen looks very strong with Pedro Strop (2.26 ERA in 2018), Steve Cishek (2.18 ERA in 2018), Carl Edwards Jr. (2.60 ERA in 2018), and expected closer, Brandon Morrow (1.47 ERA with 22/24 saves in 2018). Barring any injuries, the Cubs bullpen will be a reliable one in 2019. Once again, Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon have the Cubs in position to compete for another World Series. The NL Central pennant race will be a tight one, and the Cubs will surely be right in the middle of it.
Preview: The Reds are probably the most improved and most interesting team in the whole MLB coming into the 2019 season. Through trades and free agent signings, the Reds added multiple pieces. These additions include Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Sonny Gray, Alex Wood, and Tanner Roark. Cincinnati’s offense will be led by Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez and should be strong. Another returning Reds starter is 2B Scooter Gennett, who is coming off two monstrous seasons at the plate, .295 BA with 27 HRs in 2017 and .310 BA with 23 HRs in 2018. If Gennett can continue his recent success, he will be a huge asset in the Reds lineup. Cincinnati will be looking for outfielder Jesse Winker to build on his 2018 season in which he hit for a .299 BA. The starting pitching rotation looks very much improved after adding Gray, Wood, and Roark. The Reds will also be hoping for a breakout season from 26-year-old right-hander, Luis Castillo. Though not many realize it, Cincy’s bullpen could be one of the better bullpens in the league. Some key relievers in the Reds’ pen are Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Michael Lorenzen, and closer, Rasiel Iglesias. The two best in this bullpen are undeniably Hughes and Iglesias, who are both coming off huge 2018 seasons. Hughes put up a 1.94 ERA with 15 holds and Iglesias posted a 2.38 ERA with 30 saves. The Reds haven’t been competitive since the 2013 season, but that’s about to change. Dick Williams has put together a team in Cincinnati that can compete for a wild card spot, and who knows, maybe they’re a dark horse to win a tough NL Central division.
Preview: After losing to the Dodgers in Game Seven of the 2018 NLCS, the Brewers will be coming into the season with a chip on their shoulder. They returned most of their starters and added C Yasmani Grandal this past offseason in hopes of defending their NL Central division title and making another run at the World Series. The offense should still be there as Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw, Mike Moustakas, Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, and 2018 NL MVP, Christian Yelich returns to the Brewers lineup. One noteworthy change, however, is the position change of Mike Moustakas who is moving from third base to second base. According to “Moose” and Manager Craig Counsell, the transition has gone rather smoothly. The starting pitching continues to be the only question in this Milwaukee roster. Their rotation is expected to be, for the most part, the same as last year’s. Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, and Brandon Woodruff all return to the rotation. What presents no question marks on this roster is the bullpen. The Brewers bullpen, contains Jeremy Jeffress, Cory Knebel, Junior Guerra, Alex Claudio, and arguably the league’s best reliever, Josh Hader (2.43 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 81.1 IP in 2018). If the Brewers starting rotation can hold up, as it did last year, they should repeat as division champs. The ceiling for Milwaukee is a World Series.
Preview: The Pirates look to be the worst team in the NL Central. Though that can be misleading as the NL Central is now one of the best divisions in baseball. A lot of familiar faces return to the Pirates lineup in 2019 including the outfield trio of Gregory Polanco (23 HRs & 81 RBIs in 2018), Starling Marte (20 HRs & 33 stolen bases in 2018), and Corey Dickerson (.300 BA in 2018). Although the lineup looks to be average at best, the rotation could be a strength for this team. Jameson Taillon has established himself as a top-of-the-rotation guy and Chris Archer will pitch his first full season in Pittsburgh. Trevor Williams also returns to the Pirates rotation after a solid 2018 season in which he posted a 3.11 ERA in 31 starts. The back-end of the rotation will likely be Joe Musgrove and either Jordan Lyles or Nick Kingham. The bullpen, led by Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, and closer, Felipe Vazquez, should be reliable for the Pirates. If the lineup can produce at a rate much higher than expected, the Pirates will have a chance to compete for a wild-card spot.
St. Louis Cardinals
Preview: After losing a close race for the second wild-card spot last year, the St. Louis Cardinals are looking to get over the hump this year and get back to the postseason after missing it for three straight years- something Cardinals fans weren’t used to. The trade for All-Star first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, should help them do so. Goldschmidt finished 2018 with a .290 average and 33 homers. Other big bats in the St. Louis lineup will be INF Matt Carpenter (36 HRs in 2018) and LF Marcell Ozuna (23 HRs in 2018). The Cards will be hoping for OF Dexter Fowler to have a turn-around season in 2019 as he is crucial to the lineup and is capable of being one of the best leadoff hitters in the league. Future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina returns behind the plate for the Cardinals for his 15th season as well. St. Louis seems to present an average, but improved, lineup in 2018. What they are most excited about is their pitching rotation. Miles Mikolas and Carlos Martinez return at the top of the rotation. Mikolas had plenty of success in 2018 posting a 2.83 ERA in 200.2 IP. Carlos Martinez missed much of the 2018 season due to injury, but he has shown that he can be a quality ace in this league. Also returning to the rotation is a former first-round pick, 23-year-old Jack Flaherty, who finished his first full MLB season with a 3.34 ERA in 28 starts. Michael Wacha is also a reliable starter in the rotation and the fifth starter will likely be Adam Wainwright, although Alex Reyes and John Gant could see some starts. The Cards will be hoping for the newly acquired reliever, Andrew Miller, to return to his 2016-2017 self to help take this already-talented bullpen to another level. Dakota Hudson, John Brebbia, and Chasen Shrive will all be key members. Closing duties are expected to be handed to the young, intimidating flame-thrower, Jordan Hicks. If Hicks improves his control, he is destined to become one of the best relievers in the league. Hicks threw the five fastest pitches of the 2018 season, including a fastball that was clocked at 105 MPH. Most people are overlooking the Cardinals in this division, but they aren’t to be. They have a well-rounded roster that can compete for this tough division and will be looking to find a way to the postseason.