Like the NL East, the Central features four teams that are evenly matched and made upgrades to their rosters this season, and a fifth that is just glad a 60-game season means they’ll avoid 100 losses.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals had a quiet offseason coming off of a Central Division title and will once again attempt to rely on a strong defense to keep them in games. Kolten Wong, Paul DeJong and Tommy Edman all field their positions extremely well and save plenty of runs for the pitching staff. Veteran catcher Yadier Molina is nearing the end of his career, but has long been a good defensive catcher. The team does need more hitting, though. Paul Goldschmidt struggled in his first season with the Cardinals. St. Louis could get a spark from top prospect Dylan Carlson, an outfielder who could contribute this season and provide a sorely needed bat.
The Cubs, whose poor performance late in the season cost them a playoff spot, have the opposite problem of the Cardinals – their defense is porous. The team fired manager Joe Maddon and replaced him with David Ross, a recently retired former Cubs player, in the offseason, hoping he can help some struggling regulars have bounce back seasons. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward, and Javier Baez in the lineup plus a rotation led by Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, give Chicago as much talent to work with as any team in the division.
No team in the division spent money more aggressively to improve than the Reds, and in doing so shored up multiple positions. Outfielders Shogo Akiyama and Nick Castellanos plus infielder Mike Moustakas bring an influx of power to a team that struggled to score runs a year ago, even if all are questionable defensive players at their positions. The rotation should improve with the addition of Wade Miley and Pedro Strop adds a power arm to the bullpen. Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Trevor Bauer give the Reds a strong top four in their rotation, if Bauer can recover from a poor 2019 season. Former All-Star Joey Votto is also still around, but his production slipped significantly last year. If he has anything left at age 36, the Reds offense will be even more formidable.
The Brewers are built around MVP Christian Yelich, and have enough supporting talent around him to make another strong push for the playoffs this season. The team will rely on Yelich’s offense, but a young pitching staff that, if they improve, offers even more upside. Brandon Woodruff, the best bet of that group to improve, was injured much of last season and still had a very good 3.62 ERA. With plenty of rest and full health, he could anchor the staff. The team is also hoping veteran outfielder Lorenzo Cain rebounds after a down season a year ago, and second baseman Keston Hiura builds on a promising rookie season.
The Pirates have only just begun the process of restocking their farm system after firing the team’s general manager and manager in the offseason, so the roster won’t be able to entice fans with a collection of talented young prospects just yet. But the Pirates do have some intriguing players, even if they aren’t quite prospects anymore. Josh Bell provides power in the lineup, and Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman both hit for average and get on base. The team’s starting pitching will likely struggle with a mix of middling veterans and untested hard-thrower Mitch Keller.