I previously pegged the AL Central as the weakest in MLB. They have competition for that title, however, in the form of the NL Central. I address each team below in the order in which I believe they will finish.
St Louis Cardinlals. It’s been almost two decades since the Cards’ starting catcher was last someone other than Yadier Molina, but that is their reality now. However, the man behind the plate is a well known commodity in free agent signee, Wilson Contreras, late of the rival Cubs. It may seem heresy to their fans, but Contreras should be an upgrade for this season…at least with the bat. The primary concern for the pitching staff is health; the rotation is good, but John Flaherty—for example—has not had a healthy season since 2019. This is expected to be John Wainright’s last season. Stephen Matz, like Flaherty, was injured last year. The infield boasts two of the best in Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt. On paper at least, the Cardinals appear to be the class of their division.
Milwaukee Brewers. Last year they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017. I think they will do so again this year. The team’s strength is their starting pitching, particularly Corbin Burns and Brandon Woodruff. Freddy Peralta is hoping 2023 is not as injury plagued for him as 2022 was. Aaron Ashby is on the IL. In the field, Hunter Renfroe and Kolten Wong are gone. Christian Yelich appears to be declining. William Contreras appears set to be the starting catcher for the first time. The up-the-middle defense is set with Willy Adames at short and Rowdy Tellez at second. The corners are question marks as the season rapidly approaches. This looks like a .500 club to me.
Chicago Cubs. They lost Wilson Contreras to free agency. They signed Dansby Swanson to a long term deal to anchor the shortstop position. They signed former MVP but recently replacement level player Cody Bellinger to a one year prove-it deal. Also new to the North Side are Tucker Barnhart, Eric Hosmer, Jameson Taillon, and Trey Mancini. Let’s be generous and say I think some of them will help. Seizable Suzuki starts the season on the IL, as does Kyle Hendricks. Marcus Stroman returns as their top starter. If everything breaks right, they could be a .500 club.
Cincinnati Reds. The Reds won the World Series in 1990. That, coincidentally, was my first year of active duty in the USAF. I served 22 years, and I retired 11 years ago. 1990 feels like a long time ago because it was. In 2020 the Reds seemed on the brink of being competitive. Last year they seemed to say “never mind.” They started a gawdawful 3-22. I say with confidence they will not be as bad this year in April…because that would be nearly impossible. Joey Votto is clearly in the decline phase of his career. They have brought in Wil Myers, who is your average major leaguer, not bad but not someone who will set the bases afire either. The rest of their acquisitions are similar, or worse. Luis Castillo is a Mariner now.
Pittsburgh Pirates. They are the Reds’ anti-caller insurance. They return Brian Reynolds, KeBryan Hayes and O’Neil Cruz. They’ve brought in former star Andrew McCutcheon and Carlos Santana on one year deals. Also new to Pittsburgh is X-Ray Ji Man Choi. I will miss seeing him for the Rays, but have no illusions that he will greatly alter the Pirates’ fortunes. Expect to see a number of rookie debuts.