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National League Central 2020 Preview

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This could be an interesting division.

Chicago Cubs v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

We continue our preview of National League teams, this time with the Central Division. Royals fans will get a good look at these clubs, as these will be the only interleague opponents for Kansas City this year. It could be a very competitive race, with four of the five clubs looking to challenge for the division.

Chicago Cubs

2019 record: 84-78

2019 pythag: 90-72

2020 ZIPS projection: 32-28

Notable additions: Jeremy Jeffress, Jason Kipnis, Josh Phegley, Steven Souza, Jr.

Notable losses: Nicholas Castellanos, Steve Cishek, Cole Hamels, Derek Holland, Tony Kemp, Brandon Kintzler, David Phelps, Addison Russell, Pedro Strop, Ben Zobrist

The Cubs won a championship in 2016, and looked to be on the verge of a dynasty, but it all could be falling apart this year. They still have many of the key pieces from that season in place, but this is the last year before free agency for Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo, and Jose Quintana, and Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Kris Bryant can test free agency after 2021. The lineup still looks solid after scoring the fifth-most runs in the league, and the top of the rotation looks good. But Jose Quintana is out indefinitely with a bizarre thumb injury, and the bullpen has a lot of question marks for new manager David Ross.

Cubs projected starting lineup

Pos. Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
Pos. Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
3B Kris Bryant .282 .382 .521 634 31 3.7
1B Anthony Rizzo .293 .405 .520 613 27 3.8
SS Javier Baez .281 .316 .531 561 29 6.0
DH Kyle Schwarber .250 .339 .531 610 38 2.1
C Willson Contreras .272 .355 .533 409 24 3.1
RF Jason Heyward .251 .343 .429 589 21 1.9
LF Ian Happ .264 .333 .564 156 11 1.0
2B Jason Kipnis .245 .304 .410 511 17 0.7
CF Albert Almora, Jr. .236 .271 .381 363 12 -1.0
Bench Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
C Victor Caratini .266 .348 .447 279 11 0.9
IF Daniel Descalso .173 .271 .250 194 2 -1.1
IF Nico Hoerner .282 .305 .436 82 3 0.1
IF/OF David Bote .257 .362 .422 356 11 1.6
OF Steven Souza, Jr. Did not play

Cubs projected pitching staff

Pit Pitcher ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
Pit Pitcher ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
RHP Yu Darvish 3.98 4.18 178.2 11.5 2.8 3.3
LHP Jon Lester 4.46 4.26 171.2 8.7 2.7 1.9
RHP Kyle Hendricks 3.46 3.61 177.0 7.6 1.6 4.1
RHP Tyler Chatwood 3.76 4.28 76.2 8.7 4.3 1.6
RHP Alec Mills 2.75 4.19 36.0 10.5 2.8 1.0
Pit Bullpen ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
RHP Craig Kimbrel 6.53 8.00 20.1 13.1 5.2 -0.5
RHP Rowan Wick 2.43 2.82 33.1 9.5 4.3 0.6
RHP Jeremy Jeffress 5.02 3.96 52.0 8.0 2.9 -0.4
LHP Brad Wieck 5.71 4.77 34.2 12.7 3.4 -0.4
LHP Kyle Ryan 3.54 3.85 61.0 8.6 4.3 1.2
RHP Casey Sadler 2.14 4.38 46.1 6.0 2.5 0.8

Cincinnati Reds

2019 record: 75-87

2019 pythag: 80-82

2020 ZIPS projection: 31-29

Notable additions: Shogo Akiyama, Nicholas Castellanos, Wade Miley, Mike Moustakas, Pedro Strop

Notable losses: Kevin Gausman, Jose Iglesias, Jose Peraza, Alex Wood

The Reds were seemingly one of the few teams trying to improve last year, but they fell far short of expectations with their sixth consecutive losing season. That streak could come to an end this year after major investments in free agency to get sluggers Nicholas Castellanos and Mike Moustakas, as well as table-setter Shogo Akiyama, who hit .303/.392/.471 with 20 home runs in Japan for Seibu last year. Trevor Bauer, who was picked up in last year’s trade deadline, will look to bounce back after a disappointing finish to last season.

Reds projected starting lineup

Pos. Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
Pos. Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
CF Shogo Akiyama Played in Japan
1B Joey Votto ..261 .357 .411 608 15 1.9
3B Eugenio Suarez .271 .358 .572 662 49 3.9
2B Mike Moustakas .254 .329 .516 584 35 2.8
RF Nicholas Castellanos .289 .337 .525 664 27 2.7
LF Jesse Winkler .269 .357 .473 384 16 0.7
SS Freddy Galvis .260 .296 .438 589 23 2.6
DH Nick Senzel .256 .315 .427 414 12 0.6
C Tucker Barnhart .231 .328 .380 364 11 0.6
Bench Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
C Curt Casali .251 .331 .411 236 8 1.2
C/IF Kyle Farmer .230 .279 .410 197 9 0.5
IF Derek Dietrich .187 .328 .462 306 19 1.0
IF/OF Josh VanMeter .237 .327 .408 260 8 0.3
OF Phillip Ervin .271 .331 .466 260 7 1.0

Reds projected pitching staff

Pit Pitcher ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
Pit Pitcher ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
RHP Sonny Gray 2.87 3.42 175.1 10.5 3.5 5.6
RHP Luis Castillo 3.40 3.70 190.2 10.7 3.7 4.2
RHP Trevor Bauer 4.48 4.34 213.0 10.7 3.5 1.1
LHP Wade Miley 3.98 4.51 167.1 7.5 3.3 1.6
RHP Anthony DeScalfani 3.89 4.43 166.2 9.0 2.6 2.5
Pit Bullpen ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
RHP Rasiel Iglesias 4.16 3.92 67.0 12.0 2.8 0.7
RHP Michael Lorenzen 2.92 3.66 83.1 9.2 3.0 2.4
LHP Amir Garrett 3.21 4.14 56.0 12.5 5.6 1.2
RHP Pedro Strop 4.97 4.53 41.2 10.6 4.3 0.1
RHP Robert Stephenson 3.76 3.63 64.2 11.3 3.3 0.6

Milwaukee Brewers

2019 record: 89-73

2019 pythag: 81-81

2020 ZIPS projection: 32-28

Notable additions: Brett Anderson, Avisail Garcia, Jed Gyorko, Ryon Healy, Brock Holt, Eric Lauer, Josh Lindblom, Omar Narvaez, David Phelps, Justin Smoak, Eric Sogard, Luis Urias

Notable losses: Matt Albers, Chase Anderson, Alex Claudio, Zach Davies, Gio Gonzalez, Trent Grisham, Yasmani Grandal, Junior Guerra, Jordan Lyles, Mike Moustakas, Jimmy Nelson, Drew Pomeranz, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames

The Brewers were four outs away from defeating the Nationals in the Wild Card game, but let it slip away in a 4-3 loss. MVP runner up Christian Yelich returns, but the Brewers overturned much of the roster, signing a number of shrewd, low-cost free agents. Young slugger Keston Hiura will look to boost the offense in his first full season, and the Brewers will hope for a strong performance from Josh Lindblom, who signed in Milwaukee after winning MVP of the KBO in Korea.

Brewers projected starting lineup

Pos. Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
Pos. Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
2B Eric Sogard .290 .353 .457 442 13 2.8
CF Lorenzo Cain .260 .325 .372 623 11 3.0
LF Christian Yelich .329 .429 .671 580 44 7.0
DH Ryan Braun .285 .343 .505 508 22 1.7
2B Keston Hiura .303 .368 .570 348 19 2.0
1B Justin Smoak .208 .342 .406 500 22 0.3
RF Avisail Garcia .282 .332 .464 530 20 2.1
C Omar Narvaez .278 .353 .460 482 22 2.3
SS Orlando Arcia .223 .283 .350 546 15 -0.3
Bench Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
C Manny Pina .228 .313 .411 179 7 0.8
1B Ryon Healy .237 .289 .456 187 7 0.0
IF Jedd Gyorko .174 .248 .250 101 2 -0.4
IF Brock Holt .297 .369 .402 295 3 1.4
OF Ben Gamel .248 .337 .373 356 7 0.6

Brewers projected pitching staff

Pit Pitcher ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
Pit Pitcher ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
RHP Brandon Woodruff 3.62 3.01 121.2 10.6 2.2 3.3
RHP Adrian Houser 3.72 3.88 111.1 9.5 3.0 1.8
LHP Brett Anderson 3.89 4.57 176.0 4.6 2.5 2.6
RHP Josh Lindbom Played in Korea
LHP Eric Lauer 4.45 4.23 149.2 8.3 3.1 1.3
Pit Bullpen ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
LHP Josh Hader 2.62 3.1 75.2 16.4 2.4 2.6
RHP Corey Knebel Did not play
RHP Freddy Peralta 5.29 4.18 85 12.2 3.9 -0.9
LHP Brent Suter 0.49 2.45 18.1 7.4 0.5 1
RHP Corbin Burnes 8.82 6.09 49 12.9 3.7 -2.2
RHP David Phelps 3.41 4.58 34.1 9.4 4.5 0.7

Pittsburgh Pirates

2019 record: 69-93

2019 pythag: 68-84

2020 ZIPS projection: 27-33

Notable additions: Jarrod Dyson, Guillermo Heredia, Derek Holland, Luke Maile

Notable losses: Dario Agrazal, Lonnie Chisenhall, Elias Diaz, Francisco Liriano, Starling Marte

The Pirates are bad. ZIPS projects only the Marlins to have a worse record in the National League. The Pirates had the second-worst pitching staff in the league last year and two of their best starting pitchers - Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon - are out for the year with injury, while last year’s closer is facing serious jail time for heinous crimes. The hitting won’t be much better with Josh Bell forced to carry a lineup that had just two hitters last year that were league-average, by OPS+.

Pirates projected starting lineup

Pos. Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
Pos. Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
SS Kevin Newman .308 .353 .446 531 12 3.1
LF Bryan Reynolds .314 .377 .503 546 16 4.1
2B Adam Frazier .278 .336 .417 608 10 2.0
1B Josh Bell .277 .367 .569 613 37 2.7
DH Gregory Polanco .242. .301 .425 167 6 -0.6
RF Guillermo Heredia .225 .306 .363 231 5 0.3
3B Colin Moran .277 .322 .429 503 13 -1.1
C Jacob Stallings .262 .325 .382 210 6 1.6
CF Jarrod Dyson .230 .313 .320 452 7 1.4
Bench Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
C Luke Maile .151 .205 .235 129 2 -0.5
1B Jose Osuna .264 .310 .456 285 10 -0.1
IF Cole Tucker .211 .266 .361 159 2 0.2
IF Erik Gonzalez .254 .301 .317 156 1 0.5
OF Jason Martin .250 .325 .306 40 0 -0.3

Pirates projected pitching staff

Pit Pitcher ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
Pit Pitcher ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
RHP Joe Musgrove 4.44 3.82 170.1 8.3 2.1 1.8
RHP Trevor Williams 5.38 5.12 145.2 7.0 2.7 0.7
LHP Steven Brault 5.16 4.76 113.1 7.9 4.2 1.4
RHP Mitch Keller 7.13 3.19 48.0 12.2 3.0 -1.0
LHP Derek Holland 6.08 6.1 84.1 8.8 4.8 -1.1
Pit Bullpen ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
RHP Keone Kela 2.12 3.52 29.2 10 3.3 1.2
RHP Kyle Crick 4.96 5.95 49 11.2 6.4 -0.2
RHP Richard Rodriguez 3.72 5.22 65.1 8.7 3.2 0.9
RHP Michael Feliz 3.99 4.71 56.1 11.7 4.3 0.7
RHP Clay Holmes 5.58 4.97 50 10.1 6.5 -0.5
RHP Chad Kuhl Did not play

St. Louis Cardinals

2019 record: 91-71

2019 pythag: 92-70

2020 ZIPS projection: 31-29

Notable additions: Austin Dean, Kwang-hyun Kim

Notable losses: Dominic Leone, Jose Martinez, Mike Mayers, Yairo Munoz, Michael Wacha

The Cardinals return a strong team that was swept in the National League Championship Series by the Nats. Cardinals starting pitchers had the third-best ERA at 3.78, but a 4.44 FIP, perhaps in part to the second-best defense in baseball. They replace Michael Wacha with Kyung-Hyun Kim, who won 17 games with a 2.51 ERA for the SK Wyverns in Korea last year. Top reliever Giovanny Gallegos has still yet to report to camp for undisclosed reasons.

Cardinals projected starting lineup

Pos. Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
Pos. Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
2B Kolten Wong .285 .361 .423 549 11 5.2
DH Matt Carpenter .226 .334 .392 492 15 1.2
1B Paul Goldschmidt .260 .346 .476 682 34 2.4
SS Paul DeJong .233 .318 .444 664 30 5.3
C Yadier Molina .270 .312 .399 452 10 1.3
RF Dexter Fowler .238 .346 .409 574 19 1.5
LF Tyler O'Neill .262 .311 .411 151 5 0.2
3B Tommy Edman .304 .350 .500 349 11 3.9
CF Harrison Bader .205 .314 .366 406 12 2.1
Bench Hitter BA OBA SLG PA HR rWAR
C Andrew Knizer .226 .293 .377 58 2 0.2
C Matt Wieters .214 .268 .435 183 11 0.5
IF Brad Miller .260 .320 .565 170 13 1.5
OF Austin Dean .225 .261 .404 189 6 -1.2
OF Lane Thomas .316 .409 .684 44 4 0.6

Cardinals projected pitching staff

Pit Pitcher ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
Pit Pitcher ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
RHP Jack Flaherty 2.75 3.46 196.1 10.6 2.5 5.8
RHP Adam Wainwright 4.19 4.36 171.2 8.0 3.4 1.9
RHP Dakota Hudson 3.35 4.93 174.2 7.0 4.4 1.8
RHP Miles Mikolas 4.16 4.27 184.0 7.0 1.6 1.5
LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim Played in Korea
Pit Bullpen ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 WAR
RHP Giovanny Gallegos 2.31 3.05 74 11.3 1.9 2.1
RHP Carlos Martinez 3.17 2.86 48.1 9.9 3.4 0.8
RHP Ryan Helsley 2.95 4.22 36.2 7.9 2.9 0.6
LHP Andrew Miller 4.45 5.19 54.2 11.5 4.4 -0.5
RHP John Gant 3.66 3.73 66.1 8.1 4.6 0.5
LHP Tyler Webb 3.76 4.49 55 7.9 3.8 0.6

Poll

Who will win the NL Central in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Chicago Cubs
    (12 votes)
  • 29%
    Cincinnati Reds
    (26 votes)
  • 21%
    Milwaukee Brewers
    (19 votes)
  • 2%
    Pittsburgh Pirates
    (2 votes)
  • 33%
    St. Louis Cardinals
    (30 votes)
89 votes total Vote Now