With the exception of the Reds, who have made several notable moves, this hasn’t been an action-packed offseason in the National League Central. Cincinnati was a fourth-place team a season ago and is currently mired in a six-year playoff drought, but the club has made an earnest attempt to transform itself into a playoff contender since the 2019 campaign concluded. Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama have all come aboard in free agency to bolster the Reds’ position player group. Meanwhile, a rotation that was already strong in 2019 has tacked on Wade Miley to complement Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani, and the bullpen has pulled in Pedro Strop.
The Reds only won 75 games last year, but at last check, the majority of MLBTR voters expect them to amass 80-some victories this season. In the NL Central, where there doesn’t appear to be a dominant team, it may only take 80-plus wins to claim the division. The Cardinals’ 91 led the way last year, but they’ve made no truly headline-grabbing acquisitions in recent months, they’ve lost outfielder Marcell Ozuna to the Braves and now one of their most reliable starters, Miles Mikolas, is dealing with arm troubles early in the spring.
Along with the Cards, the 2019 Central boasted two other plus-.500 teams – the Brewers (89 wins) and the Cubs (84). It wouldn’t be a surprise to see either team contend for the playoffs again this year, but it’s difficult to argue that they’ve gotten better since last season. The Brewers have made quite a few changes, especially in the infield (Brock Holt’s their latest pickup), but they also lost two of their best position players in Moustakas and catcher Yasmani Grandal earlier in free agency.
The Cubs, meantime, have been stunningly quiet for a deep-pocketed team that collapsed down the stretch in 2019. Seismic changes were expected after they laid an egg last year, and maybe they’ll still come (a Kris Bryant trade seems like the most realistic way to shake things up). For now, though, their roster looks a lot like the 2019 edition. There’s still plenty of talent on hand, but there’s no more Castellanos, who emerged as one of the Cubs’ main threats at the plate after they acquired him from the Tigers prior to last July’s trade deadline.
Aside from the Pirates, who are more likely to compete for the No. 1 pick than a playoff berth this year (and whom we’ll leave out of this poll), it wouldn’t seem unrealistic to pick any of the NL Central’s teams to win the division. This year’s PECOTA projections (via Daniel Kramer of MLB.com) have the Reds grabbing the division with 86 wins and the Cubs totaling 85 en route to a wild-card spot. The system gives the Reds 66.2 percent preseason playoff odds, the Cubs 51.5 percent, the Cardinals 24.4 percent and the Brewers 20.3. We still have several weeks to go before the season opens, but as of now, which of those clubs do you think will finish on top?
(Poll link for app users)