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Updated by Scott Boot Criscione on Feb 25, 2016
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Who Should Win the NL Central

A breakdown of who should be the best team in the NL Central.

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Who Should Win the NL Central

Who Should Win the NL Central

It is that time again for us "experts" in the media to figure out who is the best team in baseball. So I decided to rank every team by their position groups and see who should win the NL Central.

Obviously being based in St. Louis and being a fan I say the Cardinals will win 162-games and allow 0-runs all season, however as a part of the media I have to do my best to be unbiased when it comes to these types of projections. So Enjoy...hopefully.

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Catchers

Catchers

Catchers:

Brewers: Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado - There is no doubt that Lucroy will get most of the starts, despite rumors of trades that will go on until the deadline, he will be their best hitter. Malonado is your traditional backup, where he does nothing to impress you. If Lucroy is on this roster all season, he will be the teams MVP, if traded midseason, still probable will be the teams MVP.

Cardinals: Yadier Molina, Brayan Pena - Far and away the best when it comes to WAR and batting average in the division. The addition of Pena gives the team what recent backups couldn't, a decent backup bat for an aging (though still elite) Molina. Even with the risk of injury from a defensive and offensive standpoint, this is an improved position from last year.

Cubs: Miguel Montero, David Ross - From a hitting standpoint a very weak spot even with Montero's homerun potential. The Cubs admit they will be giving Kyle Schwarber more time at catcher, but no specifics about how much time. So based off Montero and Ross, this squad is average.

Pirates: Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart - Cervelli came in last season and performed above many pundit’s projections. As far as Stewart goes, he is a liability both at the plate, and behind the plate. This duo will live and die by Cervelli thriving in a lineup full of solid hitters where he will get many chances to bring runs in.

Reds: Devin Mesoraco, Tucker Barnhart - Another weak offensive unit, Mesoraco's hip will hopefully be 100%. Still not going to be a duo that does much behind the plate or at it.

Rankings: Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs, Pirates, Reds

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Infield

Infield

Infield:

Brewers: Chris Carter (1B), Scooter Gennett (2B), Orlando Arcia (SS), Aaron Hill (3B) - You could also add Will Middlebrook to this cast of unimpressive characters. No one has a WAR above 0.9 (Arcia) and no one offensively will be impressive either. At least fans will enjoy Chris Carter hitting solo shots like Rex 'T-Rex' Pennebaker did in Mr.3000 (yep, I just made that reference).

Cardinals: Matt Adams (1B), Kolten Wong (2B), Jhonny Peralta (SS), Matt Carpenter (3B) - All four projected to bat just north of .260 and none of them are considered to be elite homerun hitters. This group did improve at the backup spot this offseason with Jedd Gyorko, and none of the starters have under a 1.5 WAR (Adams being the lowest). This is a deep group with some name recognition, so we will see if they all can perform at the plate.

Cubs: Anthony Rizzo (1B), Ben Zobrist (2B), Addison Russell (SS), Kris Bryant (3B) - This is probable the best infield in baseball. There are two MVP candidates in this group (Rizzo and Bryant) not even in the prime of their careers. This team will thrive if all four are 100% healthy, even if the rest of the team was bad (which they will not be) these four alone could take the Cubs to the playoffs.

Pirates: John Jaso (1B), Josh Harrison (2B), Jordy Mercer (SS), Jung-Ho Kang (3B) - I like Kang, I love Harrison, it's the other two I am not impressed by. If Kang comes back healthy and doesn't get killed on a dirty play again, this is a good infield, but not great. Maybe if the Pirates get some magic out of Jaso I would like this infield more.

Reds: Joey Votto (1B), Brandon Phillips (2B), Zack Cozart (SS), Eugenio Suarez (3B) - If Joey Votto remains a Red after the trade deadline I would be shocked. However, until then this is a cast that will be okay if intact all season. Votto will stand on first one way or another while he hopes someone hits behind him.

Rankings: Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Reds, Brewers

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Outfield

Outfield

Outfield:

Brewers: Ryan Braun (LF), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (CF), Domingo Satana (RF) – Only one player in this group of outfielders is projected to hit over .250, that would be Braun. Nobody has a positive Fielding rating. Outside of Braun much of the group are backups or minor leaguers at best.

Cardinals: Matt Holliday (LF), Randal Grichuk (CF), Stephen Piscotty (RF) – While hopes are high about a full season from all three of these guys. There are concerns about injuries to Grichuk and Holliday, and could Piscotty really take the hot second half he had late last year and translate it over a whole season?

Cubs: Kyle Schwarber (LF), Jason Heyward (CF), Jorge Soler (RF) – This outfield can hit, and not just for average, but for power. Even though the Cubs have a buffalo in Left, Heyward will look to cover up for that slight flaw. If this group doesn’t hit over 60 homeruns combined this season, they would be a letdown offensively.

Pirates: Starling Marte (LF), Andrew McCutchen (CF), Gregory Polanco (RF) – While the Cubs may hit more homeruns, the Pirates dominate on the defensive end with Polonco and Marte having very favorable fielding ratings. To back their fielding numbers, this group can hit as well. Maybe not as good as the Cubs, but they are close.

Reds: Adam Duvall (LF), Billy Hamilton (CF), Jay Bruce (RF) – Having the fastest player in baseball at center field (Hamilton) is a bright spot on what is a mediocre outfield. It’s not a good thing when your best hitter is projected to hit .250, and that is also Hamilton, who is known for his weak bat.

Ratings: Pirates, Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds

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Starting Pitcher

Starting Pitcher

Starting Pitching:

Brewers: Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta, Matt Garza, Chase Anderson, Taylor Jungerman – This projected starting five, and the rest of the potential starters projected by Fangraphs, get the honor of not a single person projected to have an ERA under 4.04 (Ariel Pena). No one is projected to pitch 200-innings. Not ideal stats for a starting staff.

Cardinals: Adam Wainwright, Jamie Garcia, Michael Wacha, Mike Leake, Carlos Martinez – No one on this staff pitched a full season for the Cardinals in 2015. However, all of these pitchers are considered to be top of the line pitchers, with Leake being the worst of the bunch in terms of skillset. If that is your worst pitcher, then congrats on your playoff bound team.

Cubs: Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks, Jason Hammel – The top of this rotation is solid, the bottom two are an issue. It also has to be asked will Lackey still remain as good as he has been in a hitter friendly park, compared to the pitcher friendly Busch Stadium? Hopefully their insurance policy in Adam Warren doesn’t have to go into play, because after him the pickings are not good. This staff (come playoffs) should be in good if not great shape.

Pirates: Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, Jeff Locke, Ryan Vogelsong – This is the projected starting staff based off innings pitched. But to be clear, this will not be the rotation all season. Regardless of the recent history of making so-so pitchers good, Vogelsong and Niese may be supplanted by the likes of Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon. I do not see this starting staff being bad, but it’s a stretch to say they will be great as of right now.

Reds: Anthony DeScalfani, Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, John Lamb, Homer Bailey – How do we put this lightly… If DeSclafani is your projected best pitcher you’re going to have a bad time. While at one-point last year the Reds staff was basically their AAA staff. That experience mixed with the addition of Brandon Finnegan and the return of Homer Bailey maybe helps some. But not much.

Ratings: Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates, Reds, Brewers

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Relief Pitching

Relief Pitching

Relief Pitching:

Brewers: Bullpens aren’t always a list of names known league wide. Except when your best pitcher in the bullpen is Will Smith, who should enjoy a nice season last year. But jokes aside, he is projected to have the best strikeout-ratio, WAR, and innings-pitched for this staff. The rest of the group are for now somewhat forgettable outside maybe Jeremy Jeffress, or Corey Knebel.

Cardinals: While the starting staff is great, the bullpen may be even better. Rosenthal is an all-star caliber closer, and Kevin Siegrist seems to be back to his old self after having setbacks two years ago. Then you add double-play master Seth Maness and one of Asia’s greatest closers of all time in Seung Hwan Oh. This looks like a bullpen that is set to be one of the league’s best. It also may be the most used bullpen if the starters can’t stay healthy.

Cubs: Something the Cubs can hang their hat on is the fact none of their top nine projected bullpen pitchers are estimated to have over a 4.00 ERA. They also have a nice top three in Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Justin Grimm. In addition to a handful of other decent names, this staff won’t blow many games in the later innings.

Pirates: Another team where no one is projected to get over a 4.00 ERA that matters. This will be a staff that is anchored by Mark Melancon and Tony Watson. While with almost every single team in baseball that is a great thing. They also have some decent names in Neftali Feliz, Eric O’Flaherty, and Kyle Lobestein. If this staff is asked to go long into a game or extra innings, may be an issue, but a standard 3-4 inning game should be no problem.

Reds: I know I’ve dogged the Reds a bit in this, but this staff’s projected most used pitcher in JJ Hoover has bad projections all over the place, Negative WAR (-0.1) second worst ERA forrelievers who pitch over 25-innings. Hopefully they look to Tony Cingrani or Jumbo Diaz to close games or be the late inning guys. Because they have the best stats overall, including a combined 1.3 WAR… the team has a combined 1.4 WAR in their bullpen including Cingrani and Diaz.

Rankings: Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates, Reds, Brewers.

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So who is the best?

So who is the best?

So who wins based off rankings, lowest score tells us it’s...

Cardinals score: 1,2,3,1,1 = 8

Cubs score: 3,1,2,2,2 = 10

Pirates score: 4,3,1,3,3= 14

Brewers score: 2,5,4,5,5 = 21

Reds score: 5,4,5,4,4 = 22

The Cardinals WIN! Not by much, but where they lack headlines, they added pieces through health. The Cubs will outslug the Cardinals most days, but when it comes to these teams what made the difference was pitching and catching. So here is a quick summary of why each team ended up where they did.

The Cardinals win the division due to great pitching and solid catching but will have issues with health both at starting pitcher, and outfield.

The Cubs have a great team, but will their team will be winning a good portion of their games with their bats, expect this bullpen to go under the radar as a top 10 staff.

The Pirates are on the outside looking in, despite a great outfield and good pitching they will need career years from much of their core to beat the Cubs or Cards.

The Brewers may be a few years behind the Reds in rebuilding, so for now that still makes them better. Unless they lose Braun or Lucroy. Then they'd be near 100 losses easily.

The Reds stockpiled young players, but did they stack young talent? Many of their trades have been about quantity, not quality, because of that this will be a rough season.