No shortage of noise here this off-season either. The Cubs appear to be serious about making a run, after signing Jon Lester, trading for Miguel Montero, and bringing in Joe Maddon, without even the slightest hint of skullduggery, to manage. Nope, Rick Renteria didn’t get boned one bit there. The road to the NL Central crown still runs through St. Louis, though, because it always freaking does. That pitching is just better top to bottom than the rest of the division. The Pirates have found a way to make things interesting in recent years, but the departure of Russell Martin north of the border is going to hurt. It’s hard to tell if the Reds are looking to be a factor or slowly edging into a rebuilding era. If they’re trying to add young pieces, I’d have started by flipping productive veterans Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto rather than staff ace Mat Latos, but what do I know. And you have the team from the land of beer and sausage races.
Quick, how does a team with two of the best all-around players in the game (Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy) and a former PED-enhanced MVP who is still productive without all the junk project to finish last? Well, turns out, you have to pitch the ball too. I’d love this Brewers team, Ryan Braun notwithstanding, if they just had the pitching to keep them in games.
Projected Winner: The Cardinals. Because this is America. And three things are constant. Death, taxes, and the Cards winning the NL Central. Why? Pitching wins ballgames and they have it in spades. You could nitpick a little bit and say they have some holes in the lineup, and Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina aren’t getting any younger. But as they say, you don’t have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than your buddy. And they’re faster.
Is there a Wild Card, perhaps?: This is where the real intrigue lies. Slide any of the teams other than the Cards into one of the other National League divisions and you can make an argument that they’re a legitimate Wild Card contender. However, as it stands, they’re all going to beat up on one another 19 times each over the course of the season. The other divisions have walk-over teams, where the big boys can realistically hope to go 15-4 or even 16-3. No such luxury here though. So if all plays out the way I think it will, you’ll be looking at a division winner with a win total in the high 80s and the rest of the gang between 78 and 85. And that may not be good enough to surpass the second place team from the NL West or East that has some weak opposition to beat up on. Is the NL’s deepest division really going to be its least represented in the postseason? I don’t know, but I consulted with a fortune cookie and the little paper inside said I was destined for traveling to exotic locations…so there’s that.