With baseball having the long grind of a 162-game season, it is tough to focus solely on one given thing unless it is your favorite team or player. However, if you are a casual fan and had the choice of one division to watch in 2020, it is hard to ignore how competitive the NL Central is going to be.
Now, it is true that the NL Central doesn’t have any of the perceived World Series favorites in the National League (the Dodgers, Braves, Nationals in no particular order). With that being said, the Central has to be the division that ends up coming down to the final week of the regular season and the most likely to go to a Game 163.
If you go by the PECOTA projections, the Cincinnati Reds are the favorites and they had the best offseason in the division. They strengthened their infield by signing Mike Moustakas to bring another power bat to the infield with Eugenio Suarez, and added experience to their outfield with the signing of Nicholas Castellanos.
On the pitching side, David Bell’s team has one of the top rotations in the league with Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer. Wade Miley was added into the rotation as a veteran to help the younger players. The concern is going to be in the bullpen behind Raisel Iglesias and whether or not the Reds can handle being a team with expectations for the first time since Dusty Baker was manager.
Last year’s division champ, the St. Louis Cardinals, are not getting much love. They did lose outfielder Marcell Ozuna in free agency, so that might hurt their lineup to a degree. This is still a veteran-based team, but keep an eye on Dylan Carlson as a prospect that can emerge in the St. Louis outfield as much as possible.
Anytime that you have Jack Flaherty at the top of your rotation, you always have a chance to contend for a division title. The Cardinals always seem to have a strong rotation. The question is their bullpen.
With Carlos Martinez now a starter, there’s a lot of pressure on Andrew Miller and Giovanny Gallegos right out of the gate. Gallegos had a strong end to the 2019 campaign, but now the expectations are a little bit higher. Plus, Miller is having issues finding his command right now, which is a little bit of a red flag (according to Chuck King of AP).
For the Cubs, the question is can new manager David Ross lead this team back to the postseason after their collapse in September last year. On paper, the Cubs have a strong lineup with the likes of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant (unless he’s traded), and Anthony Rizzo, among others. The questions are whether or not they can get elite starting pitching and whether Craig Kimbrel bounces back after an abbreviated 2019 season.
As for the Brewers, it’s going to be fun watching second baseman Keston Hiura in his second season to help Christian Yelich out in that lineup. But can Milwaukee get enough from their starting rotation and do they have enough at the deadline in their farm system to make a trade if needed?
In the end, this division could come down to the Pittsburgh Pirates. When I say that, I mean it is the team that can beat the Pirates the most. Last year, Pittsburgh went 9-27 against the Brewers and Cardinals while having a winning record against the Cubs (12-7).
Derek Shelton has a tough first year ahead of him as the manager in Pittsburgh. However, can the Pirates play spoiler in September as Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman continue to improve as position players in the the infield and Mitch Keller is under more spotlight in the rotation.
All in all, the NL Central should be a fun race to watch in 2020 and it is tough to find a consensus winner in this division. That always makes for fun drama.