The National League Central in 2013


One of the toughest things about making out my predictions for the year ends up being the records.

I’ve said it before, in previous years… for every team that earns a win, there’s a team that gets a loss. So even if you want to go crazy and predict a massive run on 90-win seasons… or incredible improvements as more teams make trades or sign larger contracts or do a fantastic job developing their young players… the basic math comes right back into play.

Here in the National League Central, in 2013 that becomes a bit more evident than it might seem on the surface. Why? Because all things aren’t equal in 2013. Houston is gone. The Astros took a trip to the American League for this year. And when a team that loses roughly two out of every three departs, that “loss for every win” math problem changes… even if only because of how you approach it.

So let’s not go crazy about my predicting 5 fewer wins for the Reds. Ok?

Cincinnati Reds

My prediction: 92-70

2012 finish: 97-65, division winner

Worthy of note: I already told you… Houston is gone… the Astros are not even in the National League these days. That means a more interesting NL Central… where the Cubs think they are improving, and the Pirates have been improving, and… yeah… I’m not going out and giving the Reds 100 wins.

Still, this is the division where I don’t see two distinctly strong teams as options. The Reds are winning this division.

2013 changes: Brought in Shin-Soo Choo with a trade. Plans seem to have him leading off and patrolling center. Shouldn’t be a daunting task for him… while not turning into a strength, I think it will work out in a way they can handle. (At least during the season.)

With the sun shining and calm seas: The Reds are capable of representing the National League in the World Series. I’m not saying it will happen, but…

Cincinnati is one of those forgotten teams. No one really knows how good they are with everyone giving press to the Rays and Jays, Harper and Trout, and the LA payroll.

This year they’ve added Choo… which should really balance out the lineup nicely… and hopefully they can stay healthy. (If healthy, I’ve got Joey Votto taking the MVP award.) And it’s easy to forget how guys like Brandon Phillips have become solid role players.

They have two very good pitchers in Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto, along with decent end of the rotation performance and experienced depth from Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo.

Yeah… sunny blue skies… this team could represent the National League in October.

Trouble in paradise: I’ve read in a few places where people think Aroldis Chapman might get moved again. He has been placed back in the bullpen. Some feel he may be needed in the rotation. Honestly, a pitcher hasn’t been messed with this badly in the past ten to twenty years except in New York when the Yankees kept playing yo-yo with Joba Chamberlain. (The concept being Chapman is a talented pitcher… maybe the most talented on the Cincinnati staff… and yet they consistently have troubles trying to find a place for him. And so to that we add Dusty Baker -- who obviously has had lengthy and continued success as a manager, and deserves credit for that… he also seems to get into trouble when trying to handle situations like player roles when the ship isn’t sailing smooth waters.)

Look… the Reds shouldn’t be challenged. This is also not a reviewed and critiqued to a level of insanity market to play in. And even if you remove Chapman from the discussion, the Reds still have good pieces in place for both the starters and the bullpen. All I’m saying is that between Chapman’s place and Baker making the decisions, I see something yellow and waddling in the room… where there is a history of duck sightings.

(By the way… probably should be under “Worthy of note”... the Reds under Baker won 74 games in his first year of 2008, 78 in 2009, and then 91, 79, 97 the past three. This is not a team that is turning in 90-wins… or even .500 seasons… on a consistent basis.)

2013 expectations: I believe they’ll win the division with ease.

Choo may not provide it in the field… his on-base percentage at the top of the order will be phenomenal for the Reds.

They’ll also quickly be dispatched in the postseason.

St. Louis Cardinals

My prediction: 88-74

2012 finish: 88-74, playoff wild card

Worthy of note: If a team is going to make the playoffs and win it all and I’m missing them… this is it. This is the team I’m underestimating.

I don’t have them as a surprise. You don’t pick a team to win 88 or so and prepare for surprises. (Well… scratch that… you do in Toronto.)

My problem is that there is so much youth that needs to deliver.

2013 changes: Randy Choate.

(I know. I know. And it’s probably a contributing factor if it turns out I do underestimate them.)

With the sun shining and calm seas: Oscar Taveras wins the Rookie of the Year.

I don’t expect that to happen… he’s headed for the minors, though likely will be playing soon enough. Instead just understand that you have a lot of talent in the minors for the Cardinals, or even in place. And if not Taveras, then a pitcher like Shelby Miller is a good example of that.

In a way it’s hard to judge the Cardinals because they do such a great job of bringing talent up through their organization.

Trouble in paradise: Injuries have already hit their rotation (Chris Carpenter) and veteran presence (Rafael Furcal). And that’s my trouble here.

See… most of the other clubs are hitting April healthy. The Cardinals have already lost pieces for the season, and have some players that don’t stand up to everyday use. To try and make a bit of a stretch with the old story… eventually you have too many holes in the dike and not enough fingers.

2013 expectations: I just think this club is a year or two away.

Are they better than teams like Pittsburgh and Chicago? Yes they are.

Are they as good as Washington and Cincinnati? I don’t think so. I don’t think they can win 90 this season.

But they have talent. And they managed to overcome departing free agents and injuries last year to challenge the Giants for a spot in the World Series.

And… they do manage to score runs. If the pitching holds up and the defense can reach the lofty heights of just average, they will make life difficult for their opponents every night.

Milwaukee Brewers

My prediction: 83-79

2012 finish: 83-79

Worthy of note: Not much... middle of the road finish. Nothing exciting to add right now.

2013 changes: I like the addition of Kyle Lohse. It may be difficult long term… since draft picks and associated draft dollars are becoming so valuable in an ever-more-complex system. But they signed him for three years and now have a pairing for Yovani Gallardo that hopefully answers a question for the club for a couple years, in a way the likes of Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum couldn’t.

With the sun shining and calm seas: There’s a lot to like here. Unfortunately the Brewers simply haven’t been able to cap their run recently by either keeping great players or winning it all.

Carlos Gomez is young and finally finding himself. (27… he’s been to organizations like the Mets and Twins, and has seven years of professional baseball on his resume already. Yeah… good stuff.)

Trouble in paradise: Corey Hart is out for at least the first 40-games, and Ryan Braun continues to stay in the news for all the wrong reasons (thanks to the offseason reports).

Plus… this team did not have a great year in 2012. They had a great second half.

2013 expectations: Honestly, the club isn’t much different in 2013, and they won 83 last year. With Kyle Loshe around for a full season, and expectations that they can stay balanced for the whole year and not great streak to overcome bad streak, I put them in the same place.

Still… there is no depth… and there is honestly nothing to trade if they need reinforcements. This is the club… and they could easily slip below .500.

Pittsburgh Pirates

My prediction: 81-81

2012 finish: 79-83

Worthy of note: Andrew McCutchen is the best player no one talks about. (If the Pirates can get over 81-wins, that could change. (And ok… it already is changing. But realistically, when his name is mentioned A LOT of people are still asking who he is.))

2013 changes: Added Russell Martin. Traded away Joel Hanrahan.

With the sun shining and calm seas: A few years ago, I visited Pittsburgh as part of my Ballpark Tour. And I have to tell you… best stadium I’ve ever been to. Great design, comfortable, incredible sense of history, and just the complete package.

What’s nice to see is that the team finally seems to be escaping the shadows of years of losing and moving in the right direction. Spending money and making moves is part of that… such as getting Martin from the Yankees, which could be significantly more important symbolically as the Pirates try to attract talent now and in the future than it is for Martin’s on-the-field contributions.

Trouble in paradise: I like what this club is doing. I just don’t know how long they have to play with results… since during the past two seasons they have faded and faded quickly.

The Astros are paying Wandy Rodriguez a ton of money to pitch for Pittsburgh. He teams up here in the rotation-that-other-teams-pay with A.J. Burnett.

What the Pirates really need is best exemplified by James McDonald. In his fifth season, the 28-year old has had flashes of brilliance… high-strikeout games… months with an ERA under 3 (and even one last year under 2). Care to guess where things go wrong? Sure… around mid-season. Look at this breakdown of 2012: April (5 starts – 2.97 ERA), May (5 starts – 1.54 ERA), June (5 starts – 2.93 ERA), July (hold on… here we go… 6 starts – 5.97 ERA), August (5 starts – 4.45 ERA, and September (3 starts – 12.75 ERA). 2011 started out poorly, and then improved, but eventually there was still a rise from July to August and then August to September.

If the Pirates are going to win… clear .500 for the year… then they need full seasons and consistency from their roster. Gone are the days where flashes of brilliance are nice.

2013 expectations: I think they have a chance to get over .500 this year. I like the positive attitude that seems to be building… I like that players seem to have chosen to go there… and I like that attention is going to be far, far away from traditional power bases this season.

I don’t see the Pirates making the playoffs. I do see them turning into a winner.

Chicago Cubs

My prediction: 67-95

2012 finish: 61-101

Worthy of note: Keep an eye on Anthony Rizzo. The Boston and San Diego connections that run the Cubs… and also arranged the Adrian Gonzalez trade involving those clubs… managed to bring Rizzo to Chicago. And he looks like he will be a cornerstone piece for the rebuilding franchise.

2013 changes: Edwin Jackson?

Ok. I suppose. But to me it just goes to show the Cubs are playing the 2013 season to prepare for 2014 and beyond.

(Don’t misread that sentiment though. Because with Matt Garza on the roster (even though he’s likely out until May) and other pieces, the Cubs will be getting calls from those interested in trading for pitching. I do not expect both Jackson and Garza to be playing for the Cubs by August.)

With the sun shining and calm seas: Well… I’ve told you there isn’t much of a way for them to get out of the basement. Mid-70s would be great for them, and if everyone else is nearing even or better… yeah… picking up the back of the division.

But… shining sun? I suppose if Milwaukee or Pittsburgh falters, they could finish fourth in the division. I do not expect any of the other four division rivals to falter enough though.

Trouble in paradise: There is no way I expect them to get as high as fourth in the division. But with low expectations come few surprises when those low expectations are realized.

2013 expectations: A great year from the Cubs would be getting to 70 or more wins.

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