2014 NL Central Preview
2013 Record: 66-96
Key losses: OF Brian Bogusevic, Kevin Gregg RHP, Matt Guerrier RHP, C Dioner Navarro, Manager Dale Sveum
Key additions: Manager Rick Renteria, C George Kottaras, CF Justin Ruggiano, RHP Jose Veras, LHP Wesley Wright
Sportsbook Projected Win Total: 65.5
2014 Projection: The Cubs are a work in progress, just as the sign of the door says. They surprisingly held on to stud Starin Castro and appeared to be heavy on the Masahiro Tanaka singing. But having failed to land Japanese ace Tanaka, the Cubs had a quiet offseason but made some minor moves that could have some short-term rewards. I think they failed to address the starting pitching and will pay for it. They will target the big free agent pitchers next year in Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jon Lester and Homer Bailey; but that don’t help this year. The Cubs will send out Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Welington Castillo and Junior Lake in the lineup this year, but that’s not scaring anyone. They do have solid hitting prospects Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler on the way. The only wave they made was when they hired highly-respected Padres coach Rick Renteria to be their new manager. They are laying the concrete in Chicago, they are a few years away but if they address the pitching they should make noise in a few years.
Final Record: 64-98
2013 Record: 90-72
Key Losses: CF Shin-Soo Choo, RHP Bronson Arroyo*, C Ryan Hanigan, OF Xavier Paul, OF Derrick Robinson,
Key Additions: LHP David Holmberg, C Brayan Peña, UT Skip Schumaker
Sportsbook Projected Win Total: 87.5
2014 Projection: The Reds and Pirates fought it out for the final playoff spot last year and it appears it left them too tired to make moves in the offseason. They watched Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo walk and really have a weak plan B to replace them. Replacing OF Choo are rookies Billy Hamilton and Skip Schumaker. The Reds love Hamilton’s speed but he hasn’t had nearly enough at-bats to realistically expect big numbers in 2014 and Schumaker isn’t nearly the offensive threat Choo was. And replacing Arroyo’s production are ace Johnny Cueto and second-year lefty Tony Cingrani. The big issue is Cueto’s right shoulder hasn’t been healthy since late 2012 and is a major concern (anyone watched him unravel in the playoffs?). The 23-year-old Cingrani hasn’t yet pitched a full season in the majors so you would be looking at 125-150 IP tops. Also, the big move was the loss of Dusty Baker. I think he gets unfairly targeted for his teams failures, he gets the move out of his clubs and have them in position to win. At the end, I feel they can sneak into the playoff picture but I feel the losses are too much to overcome.
Final Record: 87-75
2013 Record: 74-88
Key Losses: RF Norichika Aoki, IF Yuniesky Betancourt, RHP Burke Badenhop, LHP Mike Gonzalez
Key Additions: LHP Will Smith, RHPs Matt Garza and Francisco Rodriguez, 1B Lyle Overbay, 3B Mark Reynolds
Sportsbook Projected Win Total: 78.5
2014 Projection: The Brewers had a tough 2013 campaign, with the big story being Ryan Braun. But their start player is back from the suspension and ready to lead. This team should have a better product than last year, but the additions are not enough to contend in this tough Central division. I like the trade for Will Smith, a solid lefty out of the pen. Bringing back K-Rod was a smart move and will help their bullpen become more stable this year. Matt Garza is the big splash though, as he will lead this staff and be a 15-17 win guy. They have a little depthing in the starting rotation, but no one that jumps out at you. However, Yankee cast offs in Overbay and Reynolds are really just minor upgrades who won’t make a big impact and the offense will find it hard to score runs. This is going to be a struggle in this division, don’t expect this team to crack 80 wins but they are better than the Cubs.
Final Record: 79-83
2013 Record: 94-68
Key Losses: 1B Justin Morneau, RF Marlon Byrd, 1B/OF Garrett Jones, C John Buck, C Michael McKenry, RHP A.J. Burnett
Key Additions: RHP Edinson Volquez, C Chris Stewart
Sportsbook Projected Win Total: 85.5
2014 Projection: Finally! The Pirates final got over the hump for the last 2 promising starts to their season to make the playoffs. But coming off their first winning season in 20 years, they have had a very quiet off season. I think this might come back to bite the Bucs as they have needs for upgrades or replacements at first base, OF and the rotation. For the fans of Pittsburgh, we don’t want the organization to slip back into old habits. The losses of Morneau, Byrd, and Buck are minor because they had them for half a season but these are players they needed to replace. A.J. Burnett is the big loss because he was the anchor in a young rotation. But the Pirate still have MVP Andrew McClutchen and some solid young talent behind him. But not the holes are going to show with the lack of FAs. Pittsburgh has added only reclamation project Edinson Volquez and backup catcher Chris Stewart. I expect this team to compete but making the playoffs might be a tall order.
Final Record: 84-78
St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Record: 97-65
Key additions: SS Jhonny Peralta, 2B Mark Ellis, CF Peter Bourjos
Key losses: RF Carlos Beltran, 3B David Freese, RHP John Axford, RHP Fernando Salas
Sportsbook Projected Win Total: 90.5
2014 Projection: The Cardinals had a great year last year, but it ended with a World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox. In one of the most tope heavy divisions in the league, the Cardinals were clearly head and shoulders better than anyone last year. I do not see that changing this year even with some key losses to their roster. First is how are they going to replace the production of Carlos Beltran who left for New York. They also must address the loss of David Freese, who quietly is a solid player for them. They did replace the number with one of the better FA shortstops in Jhonny Peralta. Kolten Wong is ready for the show and should show he’s one of the best young 2B in the league. The addition of solid role player Mark Ellis will only add to a deep team which was one of the better offenses in the league. The staff is still one of the best, anchored by Adam Wainwright and Miller. Replacing players is no problem for this club as they have one of the best farm system and the young talent is on deck. I expect this team to contend again, as they always do.
Final Record: 97-65
*denotes Wild Card Team