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The NL Central is one of the less fun divisions in baseball to talk about... a reality that travels beyond my battered Reds fandom. There are realistically only two teams here you can realistically imagine making the postseason, which has to be the fewest among any division in MLB. The American League Central might be an even worse collection of talent, but at least you can reasonably envision the White Sox, Twins or Guardians all having a shot.

Not here, though. What you get are the Cardinals constantly Cardinaling as they always do, while the Milwaukee Brewers hope everything breaks right to even have a smelling chance at the division crown. Remaining? A trio of non-contenders ranging from 'mediocre' to 'tragically indifferent to winning'. We'll talk about em all regardless, starting with those defending champs that are heavily favoured to repeat once again. Sigh.


St. Louis Cardinals (93-69, 1st, lost WCS)

Q: The offense looks to be great again, but is this the year starting pitching could finally be an issue?

A: The Cardinals do seem to have a habit of shaking out a dustbin just to have a few useful pitchers fall out, cough out dust and then help them win... in any given season. Still, they don't look as strong at the top as they have in other years. Miles Mikolas is a terrific pitcher who limits baserunners with the best of them, but then you're relying on the ageless Adam Wainwright (who will begin the season on the Injured List, despite the killer curve and rather decent vocal pipes), Jordan Montgomery (again a very good but not great arm) and then hoping Jack Flaherty can stay healthy enough to rediscover his 2018-19 form, then that Steven Matz hasn't turned back into a pumpkin permanently. 

Now... since it's the Cardinals... I'm not particularly worried about any of this completely derailing their season. They'll add someone effective at the deadline (like Jose Quintana last year) or roll with somebody unexpectedly good (like Jake Woodford, who will start the year in the rotation for the injured Wainwright). However, because I like the unexpected and don't like the Cardinals a whole lot... imagining unreliable pitching as 'the' problem to put this pre-anointed division in jeopardy for them... I'm very onboard for such madness. So I'm predicting that happens. Just for fun.

Even so, that might not matter at all... particularly if Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are as comically great as they were in 2022. Also replacing old Yadier Molina with an actual hitter in Willson Contreras will be a big upgrade. Throw in those good supporting bats like Tyler O'Neill, Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Gorman... the amazing glove of Tommy Edman... yeah it's hard to not see them running away with this thing. Blech.

Milwaukee Brewers (86-76, 2nd)

Q: Straight up, can the Brew Crew return to the playoffs?

A: Yes. Yes damnit! Lets go.

It's not going to be easy, and a heck of a lot has to go right. The 2022 Brewers were a perfectly okay team on both sides of the ball, their continuously average offense completely overshadowed by the star power in their pitching staff. And fair enough: you've got a perennial Cy Young contender in Corbin Burnes (who is somehow only 23-13 over the past two seasons), another pitcher who would front several MLB staffs in Brandon Woodruff, yet another stud (when available) in Freddy Peralta, a heck of a #4 guy in lefty Eric Lauer and then The Legend of Wade Miley rounding out your five... with other decent options (Adrian Houser, Aaron Ashby once healthy) waiting behind them.

That's some rotation depth that'll make any squad envious. Throw in a lights-out closer in Devin Williams, and what else do you need? What's that you say? Runs? Batters hitting balls where fielders don't catch them? Hmmmmm. You make a good point there, disagreeable strawman.

There are some reasons to hope that maybe, maybe... the Crew's offense can guzzle its way above the usual middle-of-the-packness and be somewhat scary. They have lost some key contributors to the 2022 squad, however, in Kolten Wong and Hunter Renfroe, traded to Seattle and the Angels respectively. Arriving in the Wong trade is Jesse Winker, presumably/hopefully to mostly DH (few MLB outfielders have a worse first step than Winker) and do his usual Jesse Winker things... mainly get on base a ton and run into a few extra base knocks here or there. Also now in the fold is young catcher William Contreras, an all-star with Atlanta in 2022 and acquired by Milwaukee in the Big Catcher Swap that resulted in former A's backstop Sean Murphy joining Atlanta. Also hoping to rise to the top of the keg is Luke Voit, likely to get plenty of chances to hit homers and show off his chest.  

Could adding Winker, Voit and Contreras be enough to jolt this attack into dangerous territory, or will we all be left dreaming yet again on Christian Yelich somehow finding his 2018-19 batting prowess? (sorry it ain't gonna happen... Yelich is a fine player but those two seasons now scream "fluke" through an echo chamber).

What may happen, however, is young outfield prospect Garrett Mitchell. He played a bit down the stretch for the 2022 squad and gave a good showing in centerfield (a .311/.373/.459 slash with 8 steals in 28 games), and has made the 2023 squad out of spring thanks to launching four out of the yard. The Brewers are a bit like the Giants in that they have plenty of useful bats that do particular things quite well, but lack a true offensive force. If Mitchell, a former first rounder, were to hit the ground running with this power-speed dynamic... it could give the Milwaukee offense that particular jolt/unique dynamic they need.

Something to watch, quite honestly, are how these emerging Brewers prospects do... like infielder Brice Turang who made the squad and could sneakily nab the second base job by May (if he hasn't already). Sal Frelick (insert joke here.. you know you want to) is a .330 hitter as a minor league outfielder, a consensus Top 50 MLB prospect, and possibly a May/June addition to this Brew Crew mix. Another top 100 prospect, outfielder Joey Wiemer, has already debuted and figures to get a decent run with the big club thanks to the injury to Luis Urias... and then the most tantalizing name of all, teenager Jackson Chourio, reached AA last season and one assumes will at least begin 2023 there. It's something to watch not just in how they perform, but also that all of these dudes (aside from Turang) are outfielders... and with Yelich still locked up for another half-decade and Tyrone Taylor emerging as a useful piece last season... well there's only enough room for some, not all, of these guys. If come late July the Brewers are in the thick of a playoff push... here is where their asset stockpile lays. 

Chicago Cubs (74-88, 3rd)

Q: A young team on the eventual upswing, or stuck in the Purgatory of Underwhelming?

A: I'm not really sure what the Cubs are up to, frankly. This is a confusing organization all of a sudden.

They were well out of the playoff mix in 2022, and yet when that trade deadline came the club chose to cling to pending free agent catcher Willson Contreras... only to watch him depart for nearly nothing (draft compensation whatever), and to a direct National League rival at that.

After allowing that to unfold, Chicago North decided to be the ones to toss a freighter of cash at free agent shortstop Dansby Swanson... a very good player, sure, but one who already plays the primary position as Nico Hoerner, arguably the Cubs best player in 2022 and still young at 25. Oooookay.

Swanson with the other offseason signings, such as adding starter Jameson Taillon and banking on Cody Bellinger remembering how to hit... somewhat suggest a team very stuck in the middle and not completely aware of it. Sure, if Bellinger is good on a one year deal he can be easily flipped... but giving Swanson a seven year deal when so many of your other best players, like Ian Happ, Marcus Stroman or Kyle Hendricks are just a year from free agency... I don't exactly get it. Keep in mind I'm not a huge fan of Swanson's game... to me he's a rich man's Santiago Espinal, possibly without even Santy's bat.

I don't see the Cubs being plucky enough to cause any kind of ruckus, even in this awful division, although I must say their pitching situation is far better than I'd figured. We all know what Stroman brings, but the 2022 Cubs got some fine innings out of Drew Smyly (106 of them! That's like rolling a twelve) and a pair of younger arms in Keegan Thompson and lefty Justin Steele. Now with Taillon, there's an entirely reasonable chance that this rotation is pretty effective in 2023... which would be cause for optimism had they not just let their great hitting catcher walk for nothing and replaced him with Tucker Barnhart (as an old Red, I do like Barnhart... but he cannot hit a lick... heck he can't even hit the lollipop he's trying to lick).

Anything is possible I suppose. Maybe they get one of Swanson's good offensive years, Bellinger rakes at Wrigley, Hoerner continues to ascend and Nick Madrigal salvages his once promising career before serious injury gunked it up. Would I bet on it? Heck no.

Pittsburgh Pirates (62-100, T-4th)

Q: The Worst Team In Baseball yet again?

A: Heck, they weren't even the worst in the National League last year...  

...but to the shock of hopefully nobody, they will again be awful in 2023. And probably 2024. Probably 2025 too. Rebuilds! Sometimes the "build" part doesn't happen quite so quickly... ask the residents of Eglinton Avenue here in Toronto.

The biggest problem with the Pirates? Well, aside from being allergic to spending any meaningful money? They can't score. Like, at all. Giving Austin Hedges regular at-bats will surely help in that regard as well.

Looking through their roster is like watching the Enterprise get a little too close to a black hole... "get us out of here, Mr. Data! The intense absence of the void is sucking us in!" Adding Carlos Santana and Andrew McCutchen is surely for decoration, particularly in McCutchen's case (it is cool to see him back in black and gold at least, a living piece of memorabilia to better days in Pittsburgh). As for Santana... I swear to gawd if the Pirates trade him to an AL playoff team the Blue Jays end up facing... I will curse the Bucs until the very end of time.

Basically, the Pirates only hope back to respectability lies below the major league team. Sure, Ke'Bryan Hayes is an interesting young player and Oneil Cruz is just so extremely bizarre to be endlessly compelling... but the next good (or hell, average) Pirates team is going to depend on the positive fortunes of second baseman Termarr Johnson (not even 19 yet), catchers Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis, pitchers Luis Ortiz and Quinn Priester, and whichever high draft picks they continue to hoard-I-mean add.

Honestly, I'm just in this to root for Rich Hill continuing to pitch well into his mid-40s... because that would be fun. Also hoping the Pirates don't trade Bryan Reynolds somewhere annoying, like anywhere in the AL East. I'm looking at you, Baltimore. That's all there is to see here, folks.

Cincinnati Reds (62-100, T-4th)

In light of my feelings towards the Reds, and in particular their first baseman (what's his name again?), I'm going to approach this preview slightly differently. Here are two distinct opposite and extreme outcomes... bet you can't guess which one is less realistic. 


The young rotation, headed by Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft, provides such a high level of stability that the rest of the team is able to piece the rest of this jigsaw puzzle together. Luis Cessa and Connor Overton are serviceable at the back end, Alexis Diaz proves to be one of the game's young and dominant end-of-game presences... meanwhile the frequently injured Tejay Antone returns mid-season to provide the Reds a devastating 1-2 punch to shorten close games, resulting in several close victories. The offense is likewise boosted by an injection of youth, with super-prospect Elly De La Cruz busting down the door to the bigs in early June, taking the shortstop job and never letting go... allowing Jose Barrero to shift over into a utility role, finally bringing his previously corpse-like bat to life. Jonathan India is healthy all season and rakes, Wil Myers delights in finally playing in a good hitter's ballpark, and that old first baseman (now healthy after rehabbing his shoulder with a winter of playing chess) has one final great season in a now certain Hall of Fame career... leading this plucky team into a surprise wild-card berth. The Reds don't advance, but the old first baseman's final at-bat is a walkoff dinger to delight the fans... allowing him to retire iconic and in red, the only major league uniform he's ever known.

It's not that crazy when put like that, eh?


The team is really young and continues to hit speed bumps along the learning curve. While unlike the 2022 team they don't start the season 3-22 (because good gawd), the pitching situation is a complete mess beyond Greene and Lodolo. None of the flyers on hitters work either, with Barrero continuing to hit like a pitcher, De La Cruz not ready, Myers looking washed and T.J Friedl and Jake Fraley quickly showing why Seattle was so quick to dump them. Come late July, Cincinnati sits 25 games under .500 and, eager to both shed money and do right by a franchise icon, send their longtime first baseman (having a modest resurgence with the bat, thanks to a winter playing chess) to his hometown team to be a LH bat off their bench during a playoff push.

I think the only consistent agreement between these two universes? That Nick Senzel is sadly a bust because he could never stay healthy.


I'm going off the map here, as a warning. Okay, not that far off the map. Here goes:

MIL - 92-70
StL - 89-73
CHC - 74-88
CIN - 70-92
PIT - 63-99

Picking the Brewers to win the division isn't the smart bet... but it's definitely what I want to happen (hey, even in my super-optimistic Reds preview I didn't go far enough to say they could do it). Milwaukee at least has the tools to do it: great starting pitching can carry a squad pretty darn far... if their offense improves even a little thanks to Contreras/Winker/Voit/Mitchell/youth movement... that's a dangerous team.

St. Louis is a safer bet, with the two superstars, position player versatility/depth and ability to grow pitching in their backyard upon command. It's way more likely that they win the division, and they're for certain a playoff team anyhow.. but that's just way less fun so I'm taking the Brewers. Brew Crew baby.

The Cubs are weird and could potentially hang in the fringes of the race longer than I'm giving them credit for. Obviously Pittsburgh will be terrible... and well the Reds... seeing as their GM is already musing publicly about trading Vott-I mean, that franchise icon first-baseman to the Blue Jays... I think I just want #19, with his shoulder finally healthy one presumes, to create a reality where that trade makes sense. If you're gonna free him... you might as well free him here.

That's the NL Central! To be honest, since I've gotten such a late start on these previews due to those factors I mentioned previously... I will likely just condense my final previews into one short piece that will come shortly. Until then... yeah boo Cardinals... despite their excellent jerseys.

A Quick Look At The 2023 National League Central (for real this time) | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Gerry - Monday, April 03 2023 @ 12:31 PM EDT (#427277) #
After the weekend that St Louis forecast looks conservative. Don't the Cardinals always find a way?
Eephus - Monday, April 03 2023 @ 02:40 PM EDT (#427279) #
Don't the Cardinals always find a way?

They do. That's what scares me.
John Northey - Monday, April 03 2023 @ 08:49 PM EDT (#427297) #
They are an amazing franchise. 4 straight playoff appearances, last sub 500 season was 2007 (78-84). Last time winning under 70 (outside of 2020) 1995 62-81 (strike of 94 bled into 1995). 1994-1995 was the last time they were sub 500 2 years in a row. 1990 was the last time they lost 90+ (70-92), last time losing 100+ was 1908 (yes, 115 years ago - before Babe Ruth played professionally, Ty Cobb was 21, Cy Young was still pitching).

The Cards have been amazing for generations. For comparison the Yankees last lost 100 in 1912 (just 4 times in franchise history - 1907, 1898, 1897), Dodgers are the only team that ties them with 100 lost in 1908 as well (and their only other time was 1905, but came close in 1992 with 99 losses). Some franchises just don't tank. The other old franchises...
Pirates: 2022 - 10 times total
Reds: 2022 - twice only (1982 the only other time)
A's: 2022 - 17 times (!)
Orioles: 2019 - 13 times (many in St Louis)
White Sox: 2018 - 4 times total
Min/Wash: 2016, 7 times total
Cubs: 2012, 3 times total (I was sure it was worse)
Detroit: 2003, 7 times total
Cleveland: 1991 - 5 times total
Braves: 1988 - 13 times
Giants: 1985 - their only time losing 100 and dead on
Red Sox: 1965 - 7 times overall
Phillies: 1961 - 14 times overall

FYI: 1908 was unique - bottom 3 teams, all losing 100+ were Cardinals, Yankees, Dodgers (Yanks & Dodgers with different names then). Reds only doing it twice surprised me, and the A's doing it 17 times sadly wasn't a surprise (the first team to tank regularly - build a great team, then sell stars to rebuild was normal under Connie Mack).
Leaside Cowboy - Wednesday, April 05 2023 @ 09:11 PM EDT (#427382) #
From 1994 to 2012, the Houston Astros were members of the N.L. Central and won 4 division titles, plus 2 wildcards.

Pittsburg has won 3 wildcards, but the Pirate's last division title was the 1992 N.L. East.

Between the Cubs / Reds / Pirates - at least one should surprise.

* * *

Stan "The Man" Musial / Bob Gibson / Albert Pujols
Frank Robinson / Joe Morgan / Johnny Bench / Barry Larkin / Joey Votto
Ernie Banks / Fergie Jenkins / Ron Santo
Robin Yount / Paul Molitor
Roberto Clemente . . . Honus Wagner
Leaside Cowboy - Thursday, April 06 2023 @ 08:18 PM EDT (#427426) #
The 1908 Cardinals lost 105 games.
The 1979 Blue Jays lost 109 games.
Ancient history!
A Quick Look At The 2023 National League Central (for real this time) | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.