NL Central Projections for the 2013 Season
The MLB season is nearing and with plentiful changes, the NL Central should give way to another exciting year. Questions remain for each team; will the St. Louis Cardinals be able to contend with their fragile and aging roster? Is this the year that the Pittsburgh Pirates will cap off the season with a winning record? Will the Reds be able to redeem themselves after a disappointing run in the playoffs?
5. Chicago Cubs
Worst Case: 66 - 96
Best Case: 82 - 80
Breakout Candidate: Anthony Rizzo
To say the Chicago Cubs disappointed in 2012 is an understatement. The club added Paul Maholm, Jeff Samardzija and Chris Volstad to the rotation last year, and although they weren't necessarily expected to evolve into a playoff contender, nobody foresaw a season in which the Cubs would compile 101 losses.
In this year's offseason, the Cubs have made a number of acquisitions again, in hopes of resurrecting their winning ways—a feeling that seems to be so distant to many fans. Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, and Chris Volstad have left the rotation and have been replaced by Carlos Villanueva, Scott Feldman and Edwin Jackson. All three additions are nothing more than mediocre and the rotation is still without a true ace.
As of now, the Chicago lineup lacks a big bat yet again, but that could change depending on one young player's performance at the plate. Anthony Rizzo has had high expectations since being called up back in 2011, and based on his minor league track record, he has the capability to hit 30-plus homers and rack up 100 RBI in a single season. Success for the Cubs' offense will largely depend on the bat of Anthony Rizzo in 2013.
The Cubs added Japanese pitcher, Kyuji Fujikawa, which gives a viable arm to the team's shallow bullpen. Due to Carlos Marmol's depreciating production as the closer over the past couple seasons, don't be surprised if Fujikawa is granted the responsibility of closing games for the club at some point in the year.
Expectations shouldn't be high for the Chicago Cubs in 2013, yet with young talent and new additions, finishing the year with a winning record is a feasible feat.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
Worst Case: 71 - 91
Best Case: 85 - 77
Breakout Player: Marco Estrada
After adding former Cy Young Award winner Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum to the rotation, as well as Aramis Ramirez's prominent bat to the lineup, the Milwaukee Brewers still failed to reach their high ceiling of expectations in 2012.
Things don't look to have gotten any finer this offseason.
Pitchers Zach Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Randy Wolf have all departed, leaving the Brewers rotation with some young and inexperienced replacements. With that being said, pitchers Marco Estrada and Mark Rogers have a fair amount of potential and could surprise in 2013.
Estrada is equipped with an above average fastball and a wicked change up. Rogers, on the other hand, has not had much experience at the major league level but is one of Milwaukee's first-round draft picks from 2004.
The bullpen was the worst in the MLB last season, posting a 4.66 ERA. The Brewers front office somewhat assessed their need in this area by adding lefties Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny. It isn't a drastic improvement but it is an improvement nonetheless.
Whether the Brewers' lineup is categorized as good or just above average will depend on the bat of second baseman Rickie Weeks. Though the Brewers did score more runs than any other team in the NL last season, Weeks' production was enfeebled.
He batted just .230 compared to his .269 average over the previous three seasons. If he can return to his old form in 2013, the Brewer offense will see an increase in run production, which they'll be in dire need of if their bullpen doesn't progress from last year.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
Best Case: 89 - 73
Worst Case: 80 - 82
Breakout Player: Starling Marte
If you remember the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates finished the year with a winning record, then you also remember when President Bill Clinton was elected to his first term or when VHS tapes were the primary source of viewing movies.
That was all the way back in 1992. The 2012 season looked to be, without a doubt, the end of the Pirates' losing ways. Andrew McCutchen was the favorite for the NL MVP award and the Pirates were legitimate playoff contenders (they were one of the two wild-card teams up until August 21st).
And then September rolled around.
For the second year in a row, the Pirates took a nosedive late in the season and went from first place to fourth in a matter of weeks.
Pittsburgh fans have reason to believe in 2013. With Andrew McCutchen coming off an MVP-caliber season, the lineup looks to have valid potential. The youthful, Starling Marte has received Carl Crawford-like comparisons due to the fact that he can hit for contact, steal bases, play the field and even possesses a decent amount of power for a leadoff man.
The Pirates also managed to upgrade the catcher position this offseason with the signing of Russell Martin. Martin is coming off his first 20-home run season and could provide the Bucs with some additional run support. Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez and Pedro Alvarez all have the potential to hit 20-plus bombs in 2013.
As far as the rotation goes, Pittsburgh looks to be in its best shape in years. AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald and Francisco Liriano make for a formidable top four. Each have the capability of posting a sub 4.00 ERA in 2013, which would without a doubt, lead to a winning season.
The Pirates will post a winning record in 2013, ending the 20-year long losing streak, but they will fall short of the playoffs due to the competitive nature of the National League.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
Best Case: 92 - 70
Worst Case: 80 - 82
Breakout Player: Shelby Miller
Many thought the St. Louis Cardinals were on the verge of replicating their 2011 season last year where they earned a playoff bid as a wild-card team and went on to bring a World Series trophy back to St. Louis. That turned out not to be the case. The Cards were sent packing after being defeated by the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 National League Championship Series.
The Cardinals will be an interesting team to watch in 2013. Even with the combination of aging, injury-proned players like Carols Beltran (36), Chris Carpenter (38), Rafael Furcal (36) and Jaime Garcia, who is dealing with shoulder problems, the team still retains enough talent to win in 2013, and considering their history (especially in recent years), they will more than likely find a way to contend for a playoff spot.
Even with the departure of Lance Berkman, the Cardinal lineup is talented enough to get it done in 2013; that is, as long as they can stay healthy, which has been a problem for players like Carlos Beltran, Rafael Furcal and even Matt Holliday in the past couple seasons.
But one thing is certain, Yadier Molina is the best defensive catcher in the game and his offensive numbers improved drastically(.322 BA, 22 HR and 76 RBI) in 2012. If Molina can produce similar numbers in 2013, the Cardinal lineup won't miss the the offensive production lost with the departure of Lance Berkman.
The rotation looks to be proficient on paper, but considering Jaime Garcia and Chris Carpenter have both seen decline and have experienced injuries in recent years, there is reason to remain skeptical. If Garcia and Carpenter perform at their best alongside Adam Wainwright, the Cards will make another appearance in the playoffs in 2013.
1. Cincinnati Reds
Best Case: 105 - 57
Worst Case: 90 - 72
Breakout Player: Zack Cozart
Adding Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds' lineup has the team primed to enter the season as the NL Central favorite. Choo can hit for average and should tally at least 20 home runs with Great American Ballpark's short-porch in right field (he has accomplished this feat twice in his big league career). Having a consistent leadoff man in Choo will result in more runs and RBI from Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.
Not only will Votto be in talks for the MVP Award again in 2013, but Jay Bruce will as well. Bruce has upped his home run and RBI total since coming into the league in 2008, and last year, he tallied 34 home runs and 99 RBI. Look for 2013 to be the year that Bruce finally compiles 40 home runs and at least 100 RBI.
Shortstop Zack Cozart spent the majority of last season in the one or two hole of the lineup, but with the insertion of the newly-aquired Choo into the leadoff spot, Brandon Phillips will take over the No. 2 position and Cozart will move to the bottom half of the lineup. As a result, Cozart's average will climb from last season where he hit a mere .246.
The Reds' redoubtable rotation from last season could possibly have gotten even better. If Aroldis Chapman can pitch half as well as he did when he was in the bullpen last year, the Cincinnati Reds will become a World Series-caliber team in 2013. Chapman isn't guaranteed to dominate in the rotation as he did in the bullpen, but he certainly has the potential to.
In the last couple months of the 2012 season, Homer Bailey looked like a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, pitching a no-hitter and even taking another one into the sixth inning of his first career playoff start. Bailey could finally become an elite pitcher in 2013 as was expected when he was drafted in the first round by Cincinnati in 2004.
With Sean Marshall, Jose Arredondo, J.J. Hoover, Logan Ondrusek and Sam LeCure returning in 2013, the bullpen still looks to be one of the best in the league despite the move of Chapman to the rotation.
Cincinnati should see another prosperous season and return to the playoffs with a chip on their shoulder after last year's demise.