5 Burning Questions: NL Central Edition [Official MLB Opening Day Challenge]
Our Experts Discuss the Pirates, the Cubs, the Brewers and the Cardinals
- by Asa Beal,
- Senior Analyst
Here is post #2 of the Challenge! Remember to check out the Challenge page [http://sidelinesapp.com/challenge/announcing-the-sidelines-mlb-opening-day-challenge] for the leaderboard. Also, remember that I am ineligible for the contest to ignore my name up at the top!
CARDINALS - What can’t they do? Is any other club even close when it comes to player development and roster construction?
This is an unimpeachable organization. I can’t help but hate them. They’re the Yankees of the Midwest: they’ll beat your ass with a smile on their faces. The young pitching depth is filthy. They proved their flexibility by the following brilliant series of moves: 1. trade underwhelming David Freese to the Halos for top-flight defensive CF Peter Bourjos; 2. flip versatile Matt Carpenter to 3B allowing Kolten Wong to play his natural 2B; and 3., filling Beltran’s RF void with Allen Craig giving Matt “Big City” Adams 500 at bats at 1B. Check. Mate. Mozeliak.
PIRATES - Can a surging outfield compensate for regression everywhere else?
Pittsburgh just locked up Starling Marte to a team-friendly 6-year, $31 million extension, so he’ll be playing next to reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen for years to come. The final piece of the puzzle is tantalizing prospect Gregory Polanco, who stroked 12 homers and 30 doubles to go with 38 stolen bases across 3 minor league levels last year. While the outfield projects to be elite once Polanco arrives, the infield is a mess. Alvarez provides power, but at the cost of a .296 OBP. Yikes. But the real concern: Will the defensive shifting that boosted the Bucs’ pitching production the last few years continue to provide an advantage? The combination of average range from most of the infield, the rest of the league catching up in shifting and a fragile rotation will combine to mitigate the defensive gains PIT made.
BREWERS - Can Ryan Braun redeem himself to Brewers fans?
I don’t think the majority of baseball fans will ever forgive Braun for his cheating and lies. But just as Giants fans proved with Barry Bonds, if you hit well enough the hometown fans will love you anyway. So now Braun has to prove that it wasn’t just the PEDs. If he turns in another dynamite season and the Brew Crew make the playoffs, you better believe he will return to golden god status in Milwaukee. Either way, the Hebrew Hammer has a ton of image rehab to do. Anyone who can make A-Rod a sympathetic figure by contrast is dwelling at the PR nadir.
REDS - Will Billy Hamilton emerge as the catalyst the Reds so desperately need?
After losing the OBP machine Shin-Soo Choo to Texas in free agency, Cincy’s lineup looks very thin all of a sudden beyond the thumpers in the middle: Votto and Bruce. But Hamilton could change all of that. He’ll need to do a lot better than the Golden Sombrero (4 Ks) he posted on Opening Day. If he can hold his own at the plate (say .280 AVG/.320 OBP), his speed alone could change the fate of the entire lineup. Hamilton could easily steal 100 bases if he hits that well, meaning pitchers will be constantly distracted. The Wild Card isn’t out of reach for this club, but they could really use a speedy boost in the leadoff spot, especially with their rash of pitching injuries.
CUBS - Will we see progress in Year 3 of the Epstein 5 Year Plan?
The Cubbies have stockpiled a legion of young, talented position players: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, etc. We should see at least Baez in the bigs this year. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are counting on a few of those hitters achieving MLB success to bolster a weak lineup. But the other reason to stockpile position player prospects is that they are a safer bet than young arms. I’m not the first to speculate that one of those hitters will be used as trade bait for an ace pitcher when the Cubs are closer to contention. But while it’s fun to speculate on young talent, at some point you need to show some results. I’m all for giving a front office administration their full 5 year contract to build a winner but 127-197 needs to start changing by Year 3.
The Cardinals are just an impeccable franchise and will most likely continue their team goodness this year.
I like Marte a lot and the outfield is enough to make me want to watch a Pirates game, but I think they come down to Earth a bit.
The Reds intrigue me, and could be a sneaky team.
Braun makes me throw up in my mouth.
I have always a had a soft spot in my heart for the Cubs. They aren't close yet, but they should be better - whatever that means.
Brewers - I think Ryan Braun can redeem himself, all he has to do is perform. Whether he will perform or not is an entirely different question.
@Michael Almonte I know the Cardinals will get in but I am not so sure about the Pirates
Cubs - We should start to see some progress this season for the Cubs, but I don't think they are a contender until next season.
There is no a lot to say about the Cardinals, they're just that good. I think the team to challenge them this year will be the Reds. Losing Choo will hurt but I think that Bruce and Votto will be able to keep the lineup good enough to win and I think their rotation might be one of the most underrated in the league, especially if Cueto can stay healthy for the entire season.
The Cardinals will continue to be a great team, as always. I look forward to the Pirates and Reds. I think Johnny Cueto is she for a good year, and I think the Pirates are a serious contender.
I look for Cardinals and Pirates to make the postseason once again.
As for the Cubs I think a key for them could be Starlin Castro. While he had a bad year last year he is still a very talented prospect and still young enough that significant improvement is still likely. If can be the player he was expected to be when he first came up that could accelerate the rebuilding process in Chicago.
I also like Starlin Castro and the Cubs. I think Anthony Rizzo and Mike Olt could turn out well. Another losing season for the Cubs, but the future is bright.
@Michael Almonte I know the Cardinals will get in but I am not so sure about the Pirates. What a great Opening Day win vs. the Cubs though with the Neil Walker homer in extra innings. I thought it was nice how Barry Bonds was invited to present McCutcheon with the MVP Award!
Just like @Asa Beal I can't stand the Cardinals too! As a SF Giants fan, the rivalry is strong. They will win the Central and Michael Wacha is going to get better and so are their hitters. They did a smart thing in not signing Pujols to a big long term contract. I ilke Kolton Wong, it's such a shame his own fans in St.Louis got racist and turned on him in the World Series. Fans are so fickled and now they will cheer for him often.
@Steve Ausburne I don't think Ryan Braun will care when he hears boos from all the fans in the ballparks but if he gets booed at home, he will be affected and he really needs to do well to make sure that doesn't happen.
I don't like how people try to compare Barry Bonds and Ryan Braun. The media loves to do that and Bonds was 10 times the better player than Braun will ever be.
I think the Cubs will be horrible this year but they have so many promising guys in the minors so their fans will have something to look forward to in the summer and fans will still go to Wrigley Field no matter their record.
I am not that high on the Reds and I wonder how the clubhouse will be like without Dusty Baker. Baker made a lot of bad in-game decisions and wrong bullpen choices but he was a great players' manager and got along with all 25 players.
Saw Matt Garza almost throw a no-hitter today against the Braves but their lineup has some holes. I think they will be a middle of the pack team and there is pressure on Braun to get hot soon.
Oh, and also on the Brewers..I like their rotation. First part of the lineup is impressive, but it gets bad later on...
I don't think the Brewers are talented enough on offense and there is some age issues. The rotation could be really good but that depends on which Gallardo shows up.
@Steve Ausburne Gallardo and Garza are a great 1-2 combo though!
@Derek Wizzle, I would agree if Gallardo can get back to form and Garza stays healthy. Lohse isn't bad as a solid rotation guy either. There is talent, but I think guys like Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks can't be counted on for the long term - or maybe even the short term.
And @Derek Wizzle, I would agree with you on the Bonds/Braun comparison in that Braun is most likely a larger beneficiary than Bonds in terms of how the PED's impacted his success. That said, Bonds and Braun are similar with regard to hubris and how they treated the fans and media during the ordeal - Braun's apology aside, he was clearly guilty but thought he could snow everyone.
The Cards are scary good. They are one of the best-run franchises in sports. The division is theirs to lose.
The Pirates will contend for a wild-card but come up short. But they will have a winning season and have the pieces in place to challenge the Cards in 2015.
I don't see the Reds doing much. Hamilton ends up being a bust (or at least needing more seasoning) and the bullpen will blow too many games without Chapman. I think they'll have a good second half surge but come up short.
The Brewers are a sleeper. The starting pitching is decent and the offense can hold it's own. I think they'll take the second wild card spot.
The Cubs are still in rebuilding mode and it would surprise me if they didn't finish last. They play in a tough division so they'll be better than their record indicates and should contend next season.
I'd could see the Reds and Cards battling all season with the Cards pulling away after the All-Star Break. I'd also give the Pirates a decent shot at a wild-card.
I also think the Reds will struggle slightly without Chapman late in games.
The Brewers @Asa Beal can be alright with Ryan Braun if he keeps his focus on the field and just plays baseball. The top of the their rotation is good enough to keep them in games so Braun does not necessarily have to carry them but he does have to contribute and more importantly stay out of trouble by talking too much.
@John Bertrand, Good take on the Reds and Cardinals as these two organizations are best prepared for the long haul of the 162 game regular season. The Pirates will hang around as long they pitch well and play rock solid defense.
The Cingrani vs Wacha pitching duel tonight was very good. Another 1-0 game between these two heated rivals.
Pirates vs Cubs came down to another walk off win for the Pirates. Pirates are beating a bad team like they are supposed to.
This isn't the sexiest division but it will be more competitive than the NL East.
Tough loss for the Pirates today, but it's early.
I will say that, in my heart of hearts, I want the Cubs to succeed. But in the darker recesses of my heart of hearts (my heart of heart of darkness), I want them to continue to be the lovable losers.
Being a Cubs fan myself, I'm not convinced they will be as bad as everyone thinks (but maybe I'm just an optimist). Their starting pitching is pretty underrated, and the bullpen shouldn't blow as many games this year (although they've already blown 2) after a few decent offseason acquisitions. If Castro, Rizzo, and Barney can play like MLB regulars again and the Cubs get any production from Mike Olt, Junior Lake and the midseason callups, then they could top the Brew Crew for not finishing last.
As long as McCutchen is a Pirate, they will always make serious runs to get to the playoffs.
@Quincy Rochester It takes a lot more than one good player to make a team a playoff contender. It's not like basketball where one player can carry a team, McCutchen is a great player but he needs a supporting cast around him.
@Asa Beal My baseball head wants to say the Cardinals are a great team who will be back in the post-season. My baseball heart hates the Cards more than the Dodgers. Although Scutaro and the rain (and a WS ring or two) helped wash away my bitterness, I've been anti-St. Louis since 1987.
The Cubs have been re-building since 1989, but this time, it actually looks like they're making strides. Don't see post-season play in 2014, but they look like a .500 team.
Great game tonight between the Cards and Pirates. Two young pitchers on the mound.
@Mitchell Mason do you think Gerrit Cole has the chance to pull a Jose Fernandez and dominate the NL this year? He is the prototypical big-bodied frontline starter with some really sick stuff, but that said, Fernandez had one of the best rookie pitcher seasons EVER.
@Asa Beal Absolutely. Kid has great potential.
Wow. What a bad start for the Reds.
@Mitchell Mason, the Reds have time to recover they still have plenty of talent on their roster. A lot of times teams that end up contending struggle in the first week or two of the season. Now, if they are struggling at say Memorial Day then that is when I would get very concerned.
@Mike Johnson The Cubs should be somewhat better if Tom Ricketts stays patient with the rebuilding plan of Theo Epstein they will see some gradual results this season in the win column. The franchise for the longest time had been reckless in its approach when it did spend money on high priced free agent talent. By sticking to a combination of strong player development and supplementing with great free agents then they will contend and finally bring a World Series to the friendly confines.
On the Cardinals,they clearly are the best run organization in the division and pretty much all of baseball. They develop pitching like Michael Wacha and are very effective knowing when to get rid of players such as Albert Pujols. Another key for St. Louis is the overall stability of the organization from the front office on down that stability has been huge in keeping the Cardinals in the mix for a pennant every year.
@Scott Whittum Your pretty much hit the nail on the head regarding the Cardinals organization. They have smart savvy management and and a great player development staff. The make good, well thought out moves. They are tremendous when it comes to managing resources.
Cardinals all the way. They've got one of the best hitting lineups in the game and every single one of their pitchers are top-notch. The pirates will be right there with them throughout the whole season, too. They've also got divine pitching, but I don't think they'll be able to catch up with those Cardinals.
@Scott Wittum I agree with you 100%. The cardinals are gonna be the best team in the NL Central for many years to come.
@Kenneth Elder I agree the Cardinals are an excellent model for any mid-sized market in any division to follow in building your organization up correctly. You can't completely be the cheapest organziation like the Marlins or Astros but you can spend like the Cardinals do in almost any other market and with proper player development you can compete for championships.
The Pirates if the ownership there has common sense will do everything they can to build off the momentum of last season and continue to try and enhance this team. Andrew McCutchen and Gerritt Cole are ridiculous talents that are too good to waste when you have them under club control for the next several seasons.
I think the Pirates can increase their early division lead with this series against the Cubs. Big game for Wandy Rodriguez.