2013 NL Central predictions

NL Central

  1. Cincinnati Reds (2)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (4)
  3. Milwaukee Brewers
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates
  5. Chicago Cubs

I hate to have to pick the Reds, but they just don’t have any weaknesses heading into 2013.  They addressed their biggest need by getting Shin-Soo Choo to play CF and be the leadoff hitter.  Think of it this way, they replaced a .213 hitter with an OBP of .277 in Drew Stubbs with a career .289/.381 hitter in Choo, who is in his prime at age 30.  Choo averages 20 SB’s and 19 HR’s over a 162 game average as well.  I’m not going out on a limb when I say Choo will score more runs than anyone in MLB in 2013.

The Reds lost Joey Votto for 51 games in 2012 and still finished 9 games ahead of the Cards.  Go ahead and mark Votto down for the NL MVP.  The Reds offense isn’t a great one considering the park they play in, but again, having Choo will be a big boost to that.

Here’s the lineup with slash lines for AVG, OBP, OPS and HR.  Shin-Soo Choo, age 30 (.283, .373, .815, 16) 2B Brandon Phillips, age 31 (.281, .321, .750, 18).  SS Zack Cozart, age 27 (.246, .288, .687, 15).  3B Todd Frazier, age 27 (.273, .331, .829, 19).  1B Joey Votto, age 29 (.337, .474, 1.041, 14 (in 111 games)).  LF Ryan Ludwick, age 34 (.263, .334, .877, 26).  RF Jay Bruce, age 25 (.252, .327, .841, 34).  C Ryan Hanigan, age 32 (.274, .370, .703, 2).  As you can see, the Reds have an offense of solid players and a few superstars, and everyone except Ludwick is in their prime.

With Aroldis Chapman staying the closer, the Reds may have the best BP in the NL.  Walt Jocketty re-signed Jonathan Broxton to a 3 year, $21 million deal to be the closer.  Apparently, he didn’t check with Dusty Baker though, as Baker demanded that Chapman remain in the BP, which is what Chapman wanted.  After Chapman and Broxton, the Reds have Sean Marshall (2.51 ERA, 74 K’s in 61 IP), Jose Arredondo (2.95 ERA, 62 K’s in 61 IP), Logan Ondrusek (3.46 ERA, 39 K’s in 54.2 IP) and a nice long list of more power arms.

The Reds starting rotation didn’t have one starter who missed a start in 2012.  Adding Mat Latos proved to be another strong move by Jocketty.  Here are the Reds starting 5 and their 2012 stats:

Johnny Cueto—19-9, 217 IP, 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 170 K’s

Mat Latos—14-4, 209.1 IP, 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 185 K’s

Bronson Arroyo—12-10, 202 IP, 3.74 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 129 K’s

Homer Bailey—13-10, 208 IP, 3.68 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 168 K’s

Mike Leake—8-9, 179 IP, 4.58 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 116 K’s

The Reds were tied for 2nd in team ERA in 2012 at 3.34.  Their offense scored 669 runs (9th in the NL), but having Choo leading off and Votto for a full year will put them in the top 3 IMO.  The Reds have the 15th ranked farm system, with speedster Billy Hamilton (155 SB’s in 2012, MiLB record) ready to take over an OF spot if someone goes down.

The Cardinals are heading into the regular season more than a little banged up.  Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal are out for the year.  David Freese will start the season on the DL.  Jason Motte has either a strain or a tear in his elbow, depending on what report you believed when it first happened.  Carlos Beltran has a bad toe, though he says he’s good to go.  Jaime Garcia’s shoulder will be in question all year.  Lance Lynn is struggling with consistency and velocity after dropping 40 pounds, though he looked better today.  Even with all that, the Cards have answers with the depth from their #1 rated farm system.

Adam Wainwright will be here to mentor all of the young power arms for the next 6 years.  This was a great deal for the Cards and AW.  The only question about Wainwright is if he’ll return to 2009-2010 form, and I believe he will.  If the Cards are going to make a serious run at the NLC crown, he’ll have to.  The Cards will go with a rotation order of Wainwright, Garica, Lynn, Jake Westbrook and Shelby Miller.  There are a lot of question marks in there, but it has the potential to be a top 5 staff.  Joe Kelly will start as a long reliever in the BP and will be the first to provide insurance to the rotation if someone goes down.  Michael Wacha will start the year in Memphis, but I don’t think the Cards will hesitate to bring him up if the health of the SP’s really takes a turn for the worst.  Yadier Molina says Wacha is ready now and so far he looks like the steal from the 2012 draft.

The Cards were second to only the Brewers in runs scored in 2012, 11 runs back at 765.  Many complained of an inconsistent offense, but it was the middle relief that blew many games before the acquisition of Edward Mujica that magnified a problem that didn’t really exist.  The Cards were 31-17 in blowout games, and the Reds were 20-13.  The WS winninig SFG were 24-18, so again, this issue was blown out of proportion.  Where the Cards really had problems was in the 1-run games where they were 21-26, the Reds were 31-21, and the Giants were 30-20.  That problem looked to be solved for 2013 with the addition of Trevor Rosenthal in the BP for a whole year to use in a fireman role, but with Motte out, it opens the door to some questions again.  Still, the Cards BP should be a strength in 2013….Fernando Salas is healthy, Mujica is here for the start and Eduardo Sanchez looked good in ST.  Sanchez will start the year as the closer in Memphis, but if he can return to 2011 form, it will be another bullet to call upon if needed.

Matt Adams has made the team, and provides great insurance for an injury to Carlos Beltran.  If Beltran goes down, Adams plays full-time at 1st and Allen Craig moves to RF.  If Matt Holliday goes down, I don’t think the Cards will hesitate to bring up Oscar Taveras.  What seems to have most fans uneasy is Pete Kozma as the everyday shortstop.  So far, he just looks like a late bloomer.  The SS position is his and I don’t see the Cards making a trade unless he completely tanks, and even then I think they’ll turn to other in-house options like Ryan Jackson or Greg Garcia.

If Freese comes back as scheduled for the home opener on April 8th, Matt Carpenter will see most of the action at 2B.  By all accounts, he’s made the transition easily, and the Cards want his bat in the lineup as much as possible.  While Freese is out, Carpenter will play 3B and Daniel Descalso will play 2B.  Descalso has completely revamped his swing and worked on taking the ball the other way, and has had success in ST, for what it’s worth.

Ty Wigginton is having a rough spring, but he’s not going anywhere.  The Cards committed to him on a 2-year contract, so he’ll be the power RHB off the bench with the occasional spot start at a corner position.  Jon Jay will need to improve on his 2012 stats of a .224 AVG and .289 OBP on the road, especially since he’s going to be the leadoff hitter all year.

Overcoming injuries isn’t a new concept to this group of guys.  With solid depth in the minors ready or close to ready for action, the Cards should stay in the hunt all year.  I can see a scenario in which the Cards finish anywhere from 1st to 3rd in the NLC, but the Reds have fewer question marks and will remain at the top if they stay healthy.  I do think the Cards get in as at least a wildcard again in 2013.

The Brewers are an interesting team.  After looking them over again, I think they will have a chance to be in the race a lot longer than I originally thought.  I think they got a good deal with Kyle Lohse at 3 years and $33 million.  They scored the most runs in the NL last year with 776.  They’re going to lose some of that thump on offense to start the season, as Corey Hart will be out until May.

Yovanni Gallardo will lead the staff, followed by Lohse, Mike Fiers, Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada.  There’s a lot of potential there behind Lohse and Gallardo.

The Brewers seem confident John Axford will return to form as a top 10 closer.  After having 70 saves in 2010-2011 with a 2.21 ERA and 162 K’s in 141.2 IP, Axford had a 4.67 ERA in 2012 with a 1.44 WHIP.  The Brewers were also awful in 1-run games in 2012, going 24-32.  They lost Mat Gamel at 1B over the winter to a knee injury, and lack depth at that position.  After Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez, the lineup lacks power until Hart returns.  Everything will have to break right for the Brewers, but they have a chance to hang around if injuries strike the Reds and continue with the Cards.  The Brewers have the #23rd ranked farm system.

The Pirates are getting close.  After collapsing down the stretch the last 2 years, they’ll try to finish over .500 for the first time since 1992.  They added veteran catcher Russell Martin in the offseason.  1B Garrett Jones (.274, 27 HR’s), 2B Neil Walker (.280, 14 HR’s), and 3B Pedro Alvarez (.244, 30 HR’s) all came up big in 2012 to go along with superstar Andrew McCutchen.

A.J. Burnett found a home in Pittsburgh and pitched up to his abilities (16-10, 180 K’s in 202.1 IP), Wandy Rodriguez was a solid addition last year as the #2 starter and John McDonald made me a believer as the #3 starter.  The Pirates will take a chance on Jonathan Sanchez as the #4 starter, and they have depth with the #7 ranked farm system.  LF’er Starling Marte is someone scouts are very high on and look for a breakout year from, and actually think he’s good enough to move McCutchen to a corner OF spot.

It might have made sense to trade closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox for a nice package of minor leaguers, but that move won’t help the Pirates in 2013.  Jason Grilli will be a good closer, but losing Hanrahan hurts the depth of their BP, which was their biggest strength in 2012.

The Cubs will finish last again.  They’ll be without Matt Garza to start the year due to a lat strain.  Jeff Samardzjia will take over as the ace until Garza returns, with newly acquired Edwin Jackson as the #2.  Starlin Castro will continue to be one of the best young SS’s in the game, and Anthony Rizzo is a future star at 1B.  GM Theo Epstein will continue to try and trade Alfonso Soriano for the right package, and the rebuilding will continue.  The Cubs have the 12th ranked farm system, and will try and make a run when it becomes a top 5 system….until then, the Cubs have no chance.

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3 Responses to 2013 NL Central predictions

  1. Jim G says:

    I’d like to say your wrong, but I think the Reds win it also.

  2. bstanley says:

    I think the Brewers are ahead of your Cards, you guys are a frail bunch.

  3. WainwrightandMiller says:

    Can’t say I disagree, but one thing you failed mention was the incredible luck the Reds had last year with walkoff wins. The Leauge has also seen Chapman now and Cueto pitched over his head. I still like the Cards, but the Reds are the safe pick. Have a little more faith J.D.

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