The 3rd Man In

2014 MLB Predictions: National League Central

When the weather starts to warm and the grass starts to green, you know it is right around the time the baseball season begins. This year it might be a bit chilly in the northern states on Opening Day, but who is going to complain with baseball officially underway. The season is never won early, as it is a 162 game journey, but here is how I see the National League Central shaping out to be:

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

*Denotes Wild Card Winner

Last season the National League Central was the premium division in baseball with three teams winning at least 90 games and making a playoff appearance. Three teams will not make the playoffs again this season, but it will be an extremely competitive division.

First lets just get the Cubs out of the way. While the Cubs have a deep farm system filled with potential superstars, they are still a year or two away from competing.

This will lead to four teams competing for the division crown.

The Cardinals are one of the elite franchises in baseball, and seem to take players off the street and turn them into household names overnight.

The Red Birds did lose Carlos Beltran and David Freese this offseason, but their farm system has an abundant amount of young prospect that are ready to compete at the Major League level. They also added a couple of veterans to sure up their middle infield.

As long as St. Louis can stay healthy, with their young players taking another step forward, they will be crowned NL Central champs.

Right behind the Cardinals will be the scrappy Pittsburgh Pirates who finally put it all together and ended their 20-pus-year playoff drought a season ago.

This offseason the Pirates did lose a few players via free agency headlined by veteran righty A.J. Burnett. The Bucs however still have a young, talented lineup featuring reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, along with some promising players waiting in the wings if needed.

Gerrit Cole will be the X-factor for the Pirates, and if he can put it altogether, he will be the difference in their starting rotation.

In third place will be the Milwaukee Brewers. It was a challenging season a year ago after losing key players to injury and slugger Ryan Braun to 65-game suspension, but with their free agent acquisitions they will be back in playoff contention.

The biggest move made this offseason by Doug Melvin and Co. was bringing in right-hander Matt Garza to solidify their starting five. Garza is a competitor and he will really take the Brewers starting rotation to the next level.

With another year of experience, and players returning from injury this could be a dangerous team. If the Brewers can stay healthy, they will shock many people and be in contention for one of the NL Wild Cards the entire 162-game schedule.

While the Brewers will out perform people’s expectations, the Reds will disappoint many people finishing in fourth place. This spring their pitching staff took a pounding as starter Mat Latos, and relievers Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Broxton all suffered injuries and will start the season on the shelf.

The Reds will also have to try and fill the voids left by successful veterans Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo. While Billy Hamilton looks capable of being the starting centerfielder, their team has many question marks.

Cincinnati is not a bad team, but their biggest problem is the division they play in. With three other talented teams who possess fewer question marks entering the season, the Reds unfortunately look like they will be sitting right above the Cubs in the standings.

The NL Central will be an exciting division to watch throughout the season with four teams capable of making the playoffs. The St. Louis Cardinals will continue their dominance winning the division, while the Pirates will fall just short and will claim a NL Wild Card.

Make sure to check back for the rest of my predictions on the MLB standings for the 2014 season.

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