The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

2017 NL Central preview


Photo courtesy of Daniel Gillaspia via 

2016 RECORD: 103-58,
No. 1 in NL Central

The story of the National League, NL Central, and baseball as a whole begins and ends with the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs won a thrilling seven-game World Series over the Cleveland Indians, for their first world championship since 1908.

This year, Chicago returns with a similar cast. A year after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2015, third baseman Kris Bryant avoided the sophomore slump and won the NL MVP award, hitting .292, slugging .554, and hitting 39 home runs. On the opposite side of the infield, first baseman Anthony Rizzo had a similar offensive season, ending up fourth in the MVP voting. He’s averaged 32 home runs over the last three seasons.

The major changes for the Cubs come in the outfield and in the bullpen. Center fielder Dexter Fowler departed the Cubs after one season, signing with the arch-rival St. Louis Cardinals in the off-season. He’ll be replaced by a platoon of Jon Jay and Albert Almora. Over in left field, Kyle Schwarber finally makes his return, after missing almost all of last season due to an ACL tear. The slugger hit 16 home runs in 69 games in 2015, so the Cubs are excited to see what he can do in a full slate of games.

Closer Aroldis Chapman, acquired from the New York Yankees at the trade deadline, left the Cubs in the off-season when he re-signed with the Yankees. To replace him, the Cubs traded outfielder Jorge Soler to the Royals in exchange for Wade Davis. Over the last three seasons, Davis has a remarkably low 1.18 ERA, with 47 saves. Davis should fill the closer’s role in Chicago very well.

The starting rotation is very solid. 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta struggled in the second half of last year, posting a 4.31 ERA over his final seventeen starts. During the first half of the season, he was dominant, throwing the only no-hitter of 2016 back in April. The Cubs hope Arrieta can regain his Cy Young form from 2015.

Jon Lester finished second in the Cy Young balloting last year, winning 19 games with a 2.44 ERA. He’s about to enter his age-33 season, so the Cubs hope that he’ll avoid slowing down for at least one more year.

Overall, though, with all the talent in Chicago, there’s no reason why the Cubs can’t repeat as world champions.

2017 PREDICTION: 99-63, No. 1 in NL CENTRAL


2016 RECORD: 86-76,

After five straight seasons of making the playoffs, the Cardinals disappointed last year, finishing 17.5 games behind the Cubs and missing out on the postseason. This year, they return with a very similar lineup, with the only big change being the aforementioned acquisition of outfielder Dexter Fowler from the Cubs.

The starting rotation, which once looked so promising in St. Louis, now appears to be shallow. Opening day starter Carlos Martinez had an excellent season last year, posting a 3.04 ERA with 177 strikeouts. He’s quietly become one of the best pitchers in the National League, and his success will be a big factor in the Cardinals’ contention this year.

Besides him, however, there isn’t much out there. Veteran Adam Wainwright struggled last year, and missed almost all of 2015 after tearing his Achilles tendon. The once-promising Michael Wacha is still battling for a rotation spot after posting an ERA north of 5.00 last year. Lance Lynn was great in the past, but will be returning after missing all of last year due to Tommy John surgery. If he can return to his good form, he profiles as a strong No. 2 guy behind Martinez.

The offense lacks a significantly strong bat. The outfield consists of Fowler, Randall Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty. Grichuk had a low batting average last year and hardly ever walked. His prime value comes from his power: he hit 24 long balls last season in 478 plate appearances. Piscotty was considered one of the top prospects in the St. Louis system prior to his arrival in the majors, and turned in a decent campaign in his first full season in the big leagues last year.

Veteran catcher Yadier Molina, entering his 12th season as the Cardinals’ starting catcher, and first baseman Matt Carpenter, who hit 21 home runs in just 129 games last year, are also crucial offensive components.

Don’t expect the Cardinals to catch the Cubs this year, but they profile as a wild card contender.

2017 PREDICTION: 87-75, No. 2 in NL CENTRAL


2016 RECORD: 78-83,

Following a disappointing 2016 season, Pittsburgh comes into this season loaded with question marks. The biggest one is outfielder Andrew McCutchen. After a string of excellent seasons, including an MVP-winning year in 2013, the longtime Pirate struggled badly last year, with major drop-offs in virtually every offensive category. He’ll switch from center field to right field this year, with fellow outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco also switching places.

Marte will play center this year, and Polanco will patrol left field. Marte profiles as one of the best, if not the best, outfielder in the National League. Last year, he hit .311 while stealing 47 bases and winning a Gold Glove for defense. His 4.9 wins above replacement (WAR) was 10th among all position players in the National League, and he’s had a score of as high as 5.4 in that category.

The pitching staff in Pittsburgh is young and exciting. The No. 2 starter, Jameson Tallion, was the second pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, in between outfielder Bryce Harper and infielder Manny Machado. Tallion made 18 starts last year, posting a solid 3.38 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 104 innings. He’ll slide in the rotation behind Gerrit Cole, who seeks to rebound off a discouraging 2016 season.

The No. 3 spot in the pitching rotation will be held by Ivan Nova, who was acquired from the Yankees at the trade deadline last year. Nova showed significant improvement from his Yankees form in 11 starts for the Pirates last year, and fans are excited to see what he can do with a full season in Pittsburgh.

If everything breaks right for the Pirates, they could be seen in the wild card game this fall. If not, it’ll be another premature ending to the year.

2017 PREDICTION: 84-78, No. 3 in NL CENTRAL


2016 RECORD: 73-89,

The Brew Crew was one of the most unexciting teams in baseball last year, treading water in the NL Central throughout the year. The club dumped catcher Jonathan Lucroy at the trade deadline last year as part of a rebuilding effort. It’s safe to say that this is a team in transition.

Perhaps the most exciting player on the team is shortstop Jonathan Villar, who led the National League in stolen bases last year. Villar played a full season for the first time last year, and had lifetime highs in every major offensive category.

Villar will be accompanied in the infield by some new acquisitions, such as third baseman Travis Shaw. Shaw was picked up from Boston in the offseason, and hit 29 home runs for the Red Sox last year. First baseman Eric Thames was dominant in South Korea over the past three seasons, winning the MVP award in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2015.

The ace of the Brewers projects to be pitcher Junior Guerra. As a 31-year-old rookie last year, he went 9-3 with an impressive 2.81 ERA. He will be Milwaukee’s opening day starter. He’ll be backed up by Zach Davies, who posted a 3.97 ERA despite a fastball that rarely goes above 90 miles per hour.

With such stiff competition in the division, and an overall mediocre team, Milwaukee isn’t expected to make much noise this year.

2017 PREDICTION: 71-91, No. 4 in NL CENTRAL


2016 RECORD: 68-94,

Pitching defined last year’s terrible Reds team. Their staff combined to give up a record 258 home runs while collectively posting an ERA of 4.91.

Last year’s ace pitcher, Dan Straily, departed in free agency. Anthony DeScalfani, who probably would have started opening day, will miss some time due to a UCL sprain. Raisel Igelsias will also be sidelined after injuring himself while falling out of the shower. That leaves the role of staff ace to Brandon Finnegan, acquired from Kansas City in 2015 when the Reds dealt Johnny Cueto. It’s safe to say Finnegan has not yet reached Cueto levels, as he allowed 29 home runs in just 172 innings last year. Still, he had a respectable ERA of just under four, and he’s still young, entering his age-24 season.

The leader of the Reds’ offensive will be first baseman Joey Votto. He is head and shoulders above any other position player, leading the National League in on-base percentage and OPS+, while finishing seventh in the NL MVP voting. He isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, despite playing in in age-33 season, and figures to turn in another productive season this year.

The rest of the offense will be led by outfielders Adam Duvall and Billy Hamilton. Duvall had a breakout season last year, slugging 33 home runs while knocking in 103 runs. His on-base percentage last year was a mere .297, so he will have to work on walking in order to become a more complete player. Center fielder Hamilton has been heralded for a long time due to his blazing speed. In three full seasons, he’s averaged 57 steals a year. In years past, he struggled to get on base, but posted a career-high on-base percentage of .321 last year.

Regardless of how well the offense does, however, the disaster that is the Cincinnati pitching will keep this team anchored at the basement of the division.

2017 PREDICTION: 67-95, No. 5 in NL CENTRAL

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Greyhound Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
2017 NL Central preview