MLB 2017 Season Preview
National League Central
FanPicks examines the National League Central division for the upcoming Major League Baseball season. Get ready for fantasy baseball.
Last season, the Cubs had one of the best defenses in baseball history, blending dominance of the strike zone with excellent fielding across the diamond. They’ll allow more runs in 2017, but with a healthy season from Kyle Schwarber and continued development from other young hitters, they might also score more. Few teams are bulletproof, and fewer still immune to the vagaries of baseball’s long season and the thin margins that decide most games. Still, there’s no reason to predict anything other than a second straight NL Central title for this group.
The Reds would be happy to get back over .500. That’s going to depend largely on the bullpen, which was so bad early last year that the team was out of it by May. The hope is righthanders Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen. They are converted starters with top-shelf stuff and they can fix the pen. The club goes to spring training with no defined closer, although Iglesias saved six games in eight tries down the stretch. The rotation has some depth if the young pitchers step up. The Reds have added quantity. They’ve traded for nine starters since the deadline in 2014. They need some quality to compete this year. The offense was eighth in the National League in runs last year, so with better pitching, the record should improve. Still, there are far too many ifs to expect the Reds to contend.
With the Central Division-rival Cubs expected to run roughshod for the foreseeable future, the Brewers’ plan to rebuild from the ground up comes at a good time. As a small-market team, their best chance for sustained success is stockpiling as many young high-ceiling players as possible, letting them develop and then rolling them out in the major leagues. It’s an approach that takes remarkable patience, but one that can bear real fruit if done correctly.
The Pirates seemingly have little chance of overtaking the Cubs in the NL Central this season, though they plan to give it a shot. However, if they fall too far behind in the standings, they are likely to shift into rebuilding mode and sort out which young players — especially starting pitchers — fit into their long-term plans and try to add more prospects by trading outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
St. Louis Cardinals
After a decade as a regular resident and sometimes king of October, the Cardinals are no longer the organization within their division that others aspire to be. This team still has stars like third baseman Matt Carpenter and is banking on a style better suited for their ballpark to prove that 2016 was a brief eclipse. Overcoming top prospect Alex Reyes season-ending injury will be tough, but the Cardinals are still intent on showing the rest of the league, especially a certain team in the Windy City, that the sun hasn’t set on their empire.