Every team starts the season tied for first place, and in baseball anything is possible. For the players and fans there are hopes, and even for some, dreams, that their team will be a top their division at the end of the season. With Opening Day less than a month away, here is how I see the National League Central shaping out to be:
1st - Cincinnati Reds:
The biggest news the Reds made this offseason was their decision to move flame throwing closer Aroldis Champman to the starting rotation. This move is an interesting decision because he was a lights out closer last season, (38 saves in 43 opportunities, 1.51 ERA, 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings), and he has no experience has a starting pitcher. This season the Reds will have Jonathan Broxton, who they resigned this offseason, as their closer. Broxton does have experience as a closer, and throughout his nine year career he has been an average relief pitcher at best; with an ERA of 3.10 with 111 saves in 149 opportunities in 450 innings.
Besides the news to move Champman to the rotation, the Reds resigned Ryan Ludwick to play left field, and acquired Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians. This fills a huge need at the top of the batting order and in center field. If he is able to stay healthy the entire season he will make a significant impact with the Reds. The Reds pitching staff needs to have another solid season, and if the Reds' core players are able to remain healthy, the Reds will win the NL Central .
2nd - Milwaukee Brewers:
Throughout the last decade the Brewers have struggled to develop young pitching besides, Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo. This season the Brewers have decided to go with a younger and inexperience pitching rotation behind Gallardo, and this decision by Doug Melvin, has led to a lot of criticism from baseball fans. This is one of the smartest decisions Melvin has made in his tenure as Brewers GM because instead of over paying for veteran hurlers, they are allowing their highly touted pitching prospects to develop.
Instead of over paying for starting pitching, the Brewers have used the money to revamp their awful bullpen from last season, with the acquisitions of Burke Badenhop, Michael Gonzalez, and Tom Gorzelanny. Their bullpen was so bad last season, that they had 29 blown saves in 73 opportunities, with a 4.66 ERA, which was the worst in the majors. If the Brewers bullpen would have converted half of those blown saves, they would have made the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
With a young, but talented starting rotation, a revamped bullpen, and the best offense in the National League expect the Brewers to surprise everyone and win one of the National League Wild Cards.
3rd - St. Louis Cardinals:
The Cardinals did not need to make many moves this offseason, and their few needs were to sign a left handed relief pitcher and improve their bench. The biggest free agent the Cardinals signed was left handed specialist Randy Choate to a three year deal worth $7.5 million. They also improved their bench by signing two utility men, Ty Wigginton and Ronny Cedeno. The Cardinals will be competing for a Wild Card spot the entire season, but they will come up just short because their pitching staff will be to inconsistent throughout the season.
4th - Pittsburgh Pirates:
The Pittsburgh Pirates are still trying to have their first winning season since 1992, after two straight late season collapses. The Pirates acquired multiple veteran players, including the signings of Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin. Russell Martin will be an improvement over Rod Barajas, offensively and being able to handle the pitching staff.
The Pirates traded away All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox, for a group of average veteran players. Jason Grill will start the season as the Pirates closer, even though he has no experience at closing out the ninth inning. Closing games will be a major weakness for the Pirates, and it will hurt their chances at being competitive this season. The Pirates will have an average pitching staff and batting lineup, and expect the Pirates to be around .500 this season.
5th - Chicago Cubs:
The Chicago Cubs are in a rebuilding mode, but this offseason they made it a priority to improve their starting rotation. Their biggest move was signing Edwin Jackson to a huge four year deal this offseason. They also signed Scott Feldman, Scott Baker and Carlos Villanueva to short, team friendly contracts. Besides their improvement to the starting rotation, the Cubs signed Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa, as a back up plan to Carlos Marmol.
Veteran outfielder, Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston, were signed this offseason to platoon in right field and provide an experience bat off the bench. The Cubs signed some quality pitchers, but these moves will not drastically improve their team, and they will finish last in the NL Central.