MLB Season Previews: NL Central

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

In projected order of finish

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Paul Goldschmidt
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

To review: 2018 record (88-74); third in NL Central.
What’s new: Additions include 1B Paul Goldschmidt, LHP Andrew Miller. Gone are 1B Matt Adams, RHP Bud Norris.
Cause for concern: If everybody hits their projected numbers the Cardinals will be fine, but there are enough guys that make you wonder what you are going to get like Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez on defense, Carlos Martinez’s health (and role) and the young arms of Daniel Ponce De Leon and Dakota Hudson.
Projecting 2019: The Cardinals added just what they needed in Goldschmidt to power the offense. The same can be said for Miller, who now partners with flame-thrower Jordan Hicks at the back end of the bullpen. And how many more runs at this does the 36-year-old Yadier Molina have? With a plus fastball and a curveball to match, RHP Alex Reyes figures to get his chance to contribute.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Josh Hader
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

To review: 2018 record (96-67); Won NL Central; Lost in NLCS.
What’s new: Additions include C Yasmani Grandal, INF/OF Cory Spangenberg. Gone are 3B Mike Moustakas, INF Jonathan Schoop, LHP Wade Miley.
Cause for concern: As good as their pitching staff is, there are still questions with young arms like Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, who will have high expectations to start the season. Brandon Woodruff will open the season as a starter after rotating from reliever to start last season.
Projecting 2019: Adding the offense of Grandal, and his experience behind the plate with a playoff rotation, upgrades an area of need. Jhoulys Chacin will head the rotation after his first season in Milwaukee last year led to a 3.50 ERA in 35 starts. 2B Keston Hiura, the club’s top prospect, is expected to hit his way into the mix at some point this season.

CHICAGO CUBS

Joe Maddon
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

To review: 2018 record (95-68); second in NL Central; Lost in wild card.
What’s new: Additions include INF Daniel Descalso, RHP Tony Barnette. Gone are INF Daniel Murphy, RHP Jesse Chavez, LHP Justin Wilson.
Cause for concern: Two seasons removed from a World Series title, the Cubs still don’t appear to have regained their edge. Last season showed what a healthy Kris Bryant means to this club. What will the Cubs get from SS Addison Russell when he returns from his suspension after domestic violence allegations?
Projecting 2019: This is still a club with as much talent as anybody in the league and a return to peak performance across the board puts the Cubs back in the mix. The pitching staff is as veteran as they get, which can be a blessing, and sometimes a curse. Once with a farm system that was the envy of the game, top prospects like C Miguel Amaya and SS Nico Hoerner are a few years away from contributing.

CINCINNATI REDS

Yasiel Puig
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

To review: 2018 record (67-95); fifth in NL Central.
What’s new: OF Yasiel Puig, OF Matt Kemp, RHP Sonny Gray, LHP Alex Wood, RHP Tanner Roark. Gone are OF Billy Hamilton, RHP Homer Bailey.
Cause for concern: Despite adding pitching in the offseason, there are still questions about the pitching, which shows just how bad it was last season as the Reds delivered a 5.02 ERA from their starters. Matt Kemp was an All-Star last year, but faded fast and top production for a whole season seems unlikely.
Projecting 2019: Yasiel Puig rides on emotion and should be well motivated in the early going, but how long does it last and just how much drama will he bring? Gray and New York never mixed well so his 4.51 ERA in a Yankees uniform figures to get better. Joey Votto, who has led the NL in on-base percentage each of the past three seasons, remains the face of the franchise. Top prospect Nick Senzel is an infielder/outfielder who knows how to hit and his versatility figures to get him into the mix this season.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Jordan Luplow (47) and center fielder Starling Marte (6) and right fielder Gregory Polanco (25) celebrate in the outfield after defeating the Washington Nationals at PNC Park. Pittsburgh won 2-0.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

To review: 2018 record (82-79); fourth in NL Central.
What’s new: OF Lonnie Chisenhall. Gone are INF/OF Josh Harrison, INF Jordy Mercer
Cause for concern: Power production figures to be down in Pittsburgh again this season, with a heavy reliance on guys like Gregory Polanco and Sterling Marte to deliver the pop. Depth is a question mark so good health is key.
Projecting 2019: A rotation with Chris Archer, James Taillon and Trevor Williams offers plenty to like. Same goes for a bullpen anchored by Felipe Vazquez and Edgar Santana. Getting enough offense will be key. RHP Mitch Keller had a 4.82 ERA in 10 Triple-A starts last season and got knocked around in big league games this spring, but figures to get a chance this season.

2019 SEASON PREVIEW SERIES

–By Doug Padilla (@DougPadilla), Field Level Media

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