Welcome back for Round Four of our Community Roundtable.
Part 1 looked at the AL East.
Part 2 the NL East.
Part 3 covered the AL Central.
And this week, we peer into the bright void that is the National League Central.
The Windy City has a pair of blustery gasbags in their twin baseball organizations. Although both teams have reason to be improved in the 2014 season, further improvements by the teams in their respective divisions may not give them much chance to improve drastically in the Win column. If Wellington Castillo is legit and Starlin Castro can figure out how to draw a walk and make more contact, they might have a chance*.
*at 70 wins.
Between Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun, and Jean Segura, the Brewers have the makings of a fairly decent lineup. The difficulty for them right now, though, is that they happen to play in the National League Central, and they are decidedly the fourth-best team and it isn't really all that close to the top three.
If they could have some pitchers that could give them an average-Win season, they could be disruptive at the very least.
It will be interesting to see young speedster Billy Hamilton leading off and playing center field, but the Reds have to be concerned about losing on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo in the off-season. They still have a good deal of firepower, though, with Joey Votto, Todd Frazier, and Jay Bruce as the core of a very effective offense.
If Johnny Cueto can stay healthy, the Reds will also boast a rotation with three pitchers capable of 4+ Win seasons, including Mat Latos and Homer Bailey. Mike Leake is no slouch, either. If they played in any other NL division, they'd be the favorite. Alas, 90 wins was only good for third last year. Maybe this year...
The Pirates are reliant upon a pretty unique formula to win, a defense-oriented team in what was just a short time ago an offense-focused league. Last season it worked out to the tune of a Wild Card spot. This year, they might need to see a little more offensive production if they plan on making the postseason. With A.J. Burnett having shipped out to Philadelphia, Francisco Liriano and his always-in-flux injury concerns take the top spot of the rotation. Full seasons from Gerritt Cole and Charlie Morton might soften the impact, though, and offensive improvement is very likely.
The most charmed organization over the past decade will try and maintain its balancing act over the Pit of Regression in 2014. Matt Holliday continues to be a solid producer at the plate, even as his defense starts to slip further and further below average. Matt Carpenter had a breakout season and Yadier Molina will look to put up another 5+ Win season from behind the plate. The team also brought in Jhonny Peralta on a four-year, $53 million deal fresh off of a PED suspension in an attempt to bolster the offense.
The pitching staff beneath Adam Wainwright might need to take another step forward if the offense can't pick it up. A full season of Michael "Wokka Wokka" Wacha would help in that regard, but there might be some falloff as the team's batting average with runners in scoring position last year is not sustainable.