MLB 2019 preview: Projecting the NL Central

first_imgThe Cubs still appear to have the most talented roster, though they mostly sat out the offseason, while the Cardinals’ response to missing the playoffs was to acquire perhaps the most under-the-radar star in the game, Paul Goldschmidt, and sign him to a long-term extension. The defending champion Brewers shored up their lineup with Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal and rumors continue to swirl that Craig Kimbrel may end up in their bullpen as well as they look to build on an impressive season.  Related News MLB 2019 preview: Projecting the NL East Here is your 2019 preview for the NL Central:Storyline to watch — Whither the Cubs dynasty?That magical 2016 season feels awfully distant as this season dawns. The Cubs’ front office has laid out the stakes by allowing manager Joe Maddon to enter the final season of his contract with no extension in sight, setting up 2019 as a potential pivot point for the franchise. The pieces of a title contender are all there, with the core of the World Series champions still in place throughout the batting order. Whether Chicago can get back over the hump — keeping in mind that this is a team that won 95 games last year — could come down to the rotation. The two marquee staff additions last offseason, Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood, did more harm than good in their first year as Cubs, with the midseason pickup of Cole Hamels the only saving grace. The pressure will be on at Wrigley Field from Day 1, and it should be fascinating to watch how Maddon and the Cubs handle it throughout the summer. MVP candidate — Paul Goldschmidt, CardinalsOne of the most consistent hitters in baseball the last six years, Goldschmidt will find himself on a bigger stage in 2019 after being acquired by St. Louis in December. The first baseman with a .930 career OPS has twice been the runner-up in NL MVP voting, but leading the Cardinals back to the playoffs after a three-year drought could be enough to get him over the top in the voting. Paul Goldschmidt’s first at-bat in front of #CardinalsNation since signing his extension went well! ❤️— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) March 24, 2019Cy Young candidate — Jameson Taillon, PiratesConsidering their respective career arcs, it’s easy to forget Taillon was the player selected between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado at the top of the 2010 MLB Draft. While the other two got their big paydays this winter, Taillon could be poised for a breakout season after settling in at the front of Pittsburgh’s rotation with a 3.20 ERA in 32 starts last season.  The offseason wasn’t as wild in the NL Central as it was in the NL East, but this division is similarly difficult to predict heading into 2019. Four of the five teams in the Central finished above .500 last season and the one exception, Cincinnati, was among the most aggressive teams in baseball all winter in trying to upgrade from its 95-loss 2018. That could set the table for a free-for-all in a division that needed a tiebreaker to determine its champion last year.  Prospect to watch — Nick Senzel, RedsThe Reds added plenty of established talent over the winter with trades for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark, but a homegrown player could play a key role in what they hope will be a bounceback season. Senzel, 23, played second and third base last season in the minors but spent spring training learning how to play center field. An ankle injury suffered at the end of spring training will keep Senzel sidelined early in the season, but he figures to be holding down center field in Cincinnati by May, at which point the Reds will see how his bat (career .314/.390/.513 in the minors) plays at the big-league level. Center field is a new position for Nick Senzel, but you’d hardly know it based on this play. No. 1 on the #Reds Top 30:— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 17, 2019Division prediction — Cubs winThe foundation of Joe Maddon’s remarkable run in Tampa Bay and Chicago is the work he does every day in the clubhouse, not the dugout. Keeping players loose, confident and ready to buy in is at the core of his approach, and the sense of urgency at hand this year should have everyone on the same page from the beginning. It’s not that the Cubs’ proverbial window is necessarily closing, but it’s difficult to imagine so many key pieces staying together much longer. The thought here is that Maddon works his magic again and the Cubs fend off a variety of challengers to return to the NLDS — at least.last_img

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