2014 MLB preview: A look at the NL Central
A look at the best, and the worst, of the National League Central
New faces, places
The Cardinals lost star outfielder Carlos Beltran, but that might not matter if Peter Bourjos, long considered a future star with the Los Angeles Angels, can finally stay healthy. Another Cardinal who is changing leagues is shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who was given a $53 million, four-year deal despite being suspended for 50 games in Detroit last year for using performance-enhancing drugs. The Reds have a new manager, former Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price, who gets his first big-league managerial job. The Brewers are betting big ($50 million over four years) that starter Matt Garza still has it after injury problems. Milwaukee also gets back disgraced outfielder Ryan Braun, but how will he perform if he is off PEDs? The Cubs got a closer in Jose Veras, but there might not be a lot of leads to protect.
Cincinnati will miss outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, but the Reds have plenty of talent and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Price can get them back into the playoffs this year while possibly upending St. Louis for the division crown.
The Pirates won 94 games last year after having not had a winning season since 1992. They’ve got a lot of great young talent, but they might miss A.J. Burnett in the rotation and the team could have a slight drop-off this year, but still expect a winning season.
Bourjos got off to a nice start last year with the Angels before the injury bug caught him again. With a healthy year and on a good hitting team, he can hit 15 to 20 homers and steal about 25 bases while hitting for a decent average.
Michael Wacha was great as a rookie for the Cardinals. The 23-year-old will likely have a great career, but he will get picked too early in most leagues for a player with just a handful of big-league starts and who relies almost exclusively on two pitches (fastball and changeup).
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh. The reigning MVP has a great combination of speed and power and is a great team leader.
The Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright missed all of 2011 with an arm injury but he is all the way back and arguably the National League’s second-best pitcher behind the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.
If Braun continues to say the right things and hits like he did before his PED scandals, he can at least win back Brewers fans.
Manager on the hot seat
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is tied with the Pirates’ Clint Hurdle for the longest tenure in the division, each starting their fourth season. Unlike Hurdle, whose team has improved each season, the Brewers have gotten worse under Roenicke after winning the division title in 2011.
The Reds had three starting pitchers deal with injuries in spring training: Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto. Latos won’t be ready at the start of the season.
Rookies to watch
Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton set a minor-league record by stealing 152 bases in 2012. He will start in center field for the Reds. Two young outfielders who could have nice careers: the Cubs’ Junior Lake, who showed good potential after being called up in July last year, and Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals’ super prospect who will start the season in the minor leagues but could get a call-up by midseason.
By the numbers
0 World Series won by the Chicago Cubs since 1908
11 World Series won by the St. Louis Cardinals since 1908
How they’ll finish