(This is one post in a series of posts where I will be predicting the outcome of each MLB division. The final post will include full 2016 MLB postseason predictions.)
In 2015 the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs were the three best regular season teams in Major League Baseball, and it wasn’t really that close. The Cardinals are just completely ridiculous. They are like the Yankees in that they are God’s other chosen team. Every season, things seemingly work out for them. They overcome every injury and obstacle. In 2015, they overcame the statistical regression of their veteran catcher Yadier Molina, and they overcame injuries to veteran outfielder Matt Holiday. They also consistently get the most out of the players they acquire. Case in point would be John Lackey posting the best ERA of his career in 2015 as a 36 year old Cardinal. They won one hundred freaking games! They had the 24th ranked offense, but they had the league’s best pitching staff. Before the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes, they had an offense at the bottom of the barrel and a pitching staff at the very top too. Just like the Cardinals. Yet the Mets could barely maintain a .500 record without Cespedes. The Cardinals cruised to a hundo wins. Now that’s God’s work. Not to mention the fact that they had the best pitching staff with Adam Wainwright missing the whole damn season. The acquisition of Jason Heyward and his sabermetric mojo seemingly helped add to that win total. But I attribute it to voodoo magic or something. And I guess a little credit goes to the emergence of young outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk.
The Pirates have had their young core in place for a few years now, and they keep winning a ton of games. But they keep losing MLB’s stupid one game Wild Card playoff. An entire damn season of domination wasted. Poor Pirates. They are just as talented as their division rivals. They just need some damn luck. And maybe this year Jung Ho Kang won’t get crippled by a takeout slide in September. But judging by the new rules he probably will.
The Cubs were a very similar team to the Mets before the 2015 season. They’d both been rebuilding for a nice long stretch, and they finally had their young talent ready to produce at the major league level. The only difference being the Mets had the talented young pitching and the Cubs were brimming with talented position players. In order to really compete, the Mets needed a big impact bat. The Cubs needed the big time arm. The Mets signed useless old man Michael Cuddyer. The Cubs actually filled their need with Jon Lester. The result? The Mets were mediocre until they got the big bat at the trade deadline. The Cubs dominated all season. The Cubs immediate jump from worst to almost first surprised people. But ironically it was the Mets young pitching that defeated them in the NLCS. So the Cubs went into the offseason knowing at a minimum they had to bolster their rotation. And in addition to their rotation, they decided to bolster every other part of their team.
Cincinnati and Milwaukee were in the bottom third of the league in hitting and pitching. They were terrible, and they were terrible from day one. Both teams had been in denial about their demise, but in 2015 they hit rock bottom. This offseason, both organizations officially checked themselves into a baseball rehabilitation program (aka a rebuild) and will take all the necessary steps to get better. Here’s what I see in 2016:
NL Central: 1) Chicago Cubs (x) 2) Pittsburgh Pirates (wc) 3) St. Louis Cardinals 4) Cincinnati Reds 5) Milwaukee Brewers
When Theo Epstein entered this Cubs roster into his robot projection computer, it exploded. No doubt about it. Every projection system has the Cubs winning 140 games, and then the computer starts to smoke and ultimately shorts out. And I understand why. They won 97 games last season. Their young position player studs should all improve. They retained Dexter Fowler. And they added two players that the sabermetric experts adore in Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. Oh and they also added John Lackey to their rotation. Oh and Lackey and Heyward came directly from the division rival Cardinals. So yeah I see why the computers shorted out. Their lineup should be elite from top to bottom with Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Anthony Rizzo at it’s core. After breaking out in his age 29 season and winning the Cy Young, Jake Arrieta seems poised for another elite season at the top of their rotation and should get paid the big bucks very soon. According to Wikipedia, Jake is known as a “workout freak” who does pilates and incorporates kale juice into his diet. I’ll have to get me some of his kale Popeye smoothies so I can totally “emerge” as I approach 30.
Jon Lester and John Lackey give the Cubs strong veteran starters behind Arrieta. I don’t see Lackey matching the 2015 numbers he had with the Cardinals particularly at Wrigley Field. His ERA was much higher at the hitter friendly Fenway Park when he was with the Red Sox, and I could see the same thing happening in Chicago. They don’t have any studs behind their big 3 in the rotation. But they have so much depth on offense that they can really pull a trade for a starter at any time during the season. I don’t think the Kyle Schwarber experiment in LF is going to pan out. The guy is a big fat DH. I expect a lot of embarrassing belly flops out there for him with balls rolling all the way to the wall all season long. It’s got Lucas Duda outfield experiment written all over it. Addison Russell is going to be a star. The Mets lucked out that he was injured for the NLCS. The Cubs bullpen is full of former starting pitchers which is so trendy right now. Starting pitchers in the pen is so big in this year’s summer bullpen collection by MLB. Trevor Cahill and Adam Warren are two such examples. The computers are not wrong. The Cubs are going to be elite. They are going to battle with the Cardinals and Pirates all season long in the same way they did last year. But they will take the division this time.
The Pirates won 98 games in 2015. Andrew McCutchen is going to be an MVP candidate per usual. Gerrit Cole is going to be a Cy Young candidate as well. Francisco Liriano is a great number 2. They replaced A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ with Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong. A little mid-rotation starter musical chairs. Who cares. They straight up let Pedro Alvarez walk to Baltimore, but they seemingly like the platoon they have at 1B now with John Jaso and Sean Rodriguez. Neil Walker is now a Met. But they were pretty deep in the infield already and Josh Harrison is great for 2B. They also just signed David Freese to bolster the infield depth. The ace in the hole here is top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow is coming. And he’s coming in 2016. The Pirates definitely see him having a major impact for them this season. He could bring that rotation to the next level. It’s part of the reason they were willing to sacrifice some offense in Alvarez and Walker.
The Cardinals lost Jason Heyward and John Lackey to the Cubs. Matt Holiday is getting old. They have two first basemen in Brandon Moss and Matt Adams aka Fat Adams and only one base for them to play. But their rotation and bullpen are still elite even without Lackey. They signed a great replacement in Mike Leake. They have Adam Wainwright back. They signed Jonathan Broxton and Korean reliever Seung-hwan Oh for the bullpen. They had the number 3 bullpen ERA and the number 1 starters ERA in 2015. And they won 100 games. They should be in the same ballpark this season. Plus the Cardinals in general are just so #blessed like the stupid Yankees. But I still think the Cubs and Pirates find their way to the top of the Central in 2016.
Cincinnati and Milwuakee are in full rebuild mode. They are going to be unwatchable and will be trampled by the Cubs, Pirates and Cardinals all season long. Basically the same story as last season except the Reds and Brewers are now officially out of the “tanking” closet. The Brewers traded Khris Davis. They have former Met bum Kirk Nieuwenhuis hitting cleanup for them this Spring with former Met Eric Young Jr. battling for a spot on the bench. Captain Kirk hit 3 dingers in a game last season. Other than that he never did shit. Poor Brewers fans. May God have mercy on your souls.
The Reds have their white flags up and waving for 2016. They traded Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman for a plethora of prospects this offseason. The consensus was that they got hosed by the Yankees and White Sox in those trades. Whoops!
Other Divisional Predictions: