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MLB’s 2020 Shortened Season, Shorter Preview: The NL Central

In a shortened MLB season, who has the best odds at taking the NL Central? The Brewers? The Cardinals? The Cubs? The Pirates? How about the Reds?

Fred Bird by Dave Herholz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

MLB’s 2020 Shortened Season, Shorter Preview: The NL Central

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

The 60 game MLB Season is upon us, and what better way to begin a shortened season than with some truncated analysis and team previews. So we’ve taken the best bits from our “30 in 30” Preview series and put them all in one, easily accessible place.

So let’s dive into the National League Central!

Chicago Cubs – Tim Olsen

This team’s offseason ran the gamut of emotions. Joe Maddon, Nick Castellanos, and Pedro Strop left the club (sadness), David Ross was brought in to manage (excitement and hope), and Kris Bryant is still on the roster (happiness). The truncated 2020 season will be dominated by speculation about what will happen with Kris Bryant.

But the team must act urgently to begin restocking their awful 29th ranked minor league through a trade like the one rumored with Bryant. This type of trade will open the team’s contention window beyond 2021, when Bryant will likely leave in free agency without the team gaining any compensation back.

Given how stacked the rest of the division is this year – it may be a tough slog for the Cubbies.

Milwaukee Brewers – Violet Jones

The 2019 Brewers hit a lot of home runs. 250 to be exact; good enough for 7th in all of MLB. Mike MoustakasYasmani Grandal, and Eric Thames supplied 88 of those dingers. Moose led the way at 35, nine shy of Christian Yelich’s team-leading 44.

Why am I mentioning the Brewers players who finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th in HR on the team, respectively? Because all three of those players will be wearing different jerseys next season. If you subtract these players and their HRs from the Brewers total of 250, you get 162. 162 HR would have placed the Brewers in a tie with the Kansas City Royals for 28th best in the league. These players also combined for 225 RBI in 2019. If you subtract that number from the Brewers 744 RBI, you get 519 RBI, dead last in MLB.

Now, before you flood the comments with “that’s not how math works, they would’ve gotten production from someone else”, I want you to know that I am aware of that. Obviously whoever filled those roles would’ve contributed. However, I used possibly flawed math to prove the point that the 2020 Brewers are going to be missing a ton of firepower from their offense.

Subsequently, they will be relying on young players and new additions to fill that void. That’s a lot to ask of Justin Smoak, Jedd GyrkoEric Sogard, and maybe Luis Urias. Who knows? Maybe Logan Morrison or Ryon Healy will fill that void. Hey, maybe management will clone Christian Yelich so he can play every position simultaneously. Until an answer exists as to where that production is coming from, though, I’m not too optimistic about the Brewers offense this season. As for the pitching…

The Brewers’ pitching staff finished at 15th in the league during the 2019 season in both ERA and FIP. It wasn’t even that one unit (relievers or starters) was held back by the other, which is sometimes the case. Believe it or not, both the starters and relievers had ERAs and FIPs that landed at or within three spots of 15th out of 30 in MLB. To summarize, the pitching staff in Milwaukee during the 2019 season was the baseball equivalent of an apathetic shrug.

For a team with dreams of contending after winning the NL Central in 2018, an apathetic shrug isn’t going to cut it. What did management do during the offseason to help with that problem? An even more apathetic shrug.

I don’t know how comfortable I feel counting out any team with Christian Yelich on the roster. There isn’t a lot to inspire confidence outside of Yelich on this Brewers team, though.

They did essentially nothing to fill the significant gaps that were created this offseason. Couple that with their weak farm system and that means they can’t realistically count on reinforcements either. The Brewers in 2020 might be the “rare” team who slammed their own contention window shut. Unless they make some big moves before spring training, I think the 2020 Brewers will be the league’s biggest buzzkill.

St. Louis Cardinals – Justin Colombo

The Cardinals won the NL Central in 2019, not because they had the hottest bats or the best gloves. In fact, the Cardinals offense did not live up to the hype in 2019, despite trading for Paul Goldschmidt ahead of the season.

Instead, it was the Cardinals pitching that held them together. And they are primed to continue their pitching strength for the next few years.

If you remove Adam Wainwright from the rotation, the average age of a Cardinals starter is 26. That’s not even counting Daniel Ponce de Leon or Adam Gomber. This team is primed to pitch well for years, and we might see some magic this season, especially from Jack Flaherty after his insane second half of 2019.

The Cardinals could very easily run away with the division again this season. If those bats catch up to their arms, watch out.

Cincinnati Reds – Violet Jones

The 2019 Cincinnati Reds were kind of a bizarre team if we’re being honest. A team who could’ve given up and embraced the tank, they instead used the season to stock up and prepare for a shot at contention in 2020. With a mid-season trade for Trevor Bauer, the emergence of Luis Castillo, and the late-season explosion of Aristides Aquino, the Reds announced to the rest of the league that they’re a sleeping giant. Their offseason moves so far have only reinforced that plan. A bona fide top-tier pitching staff and an explosive lineup could shift the balance of power in a suddenly wide-open NL Central in 2020.

I think ultimately this team is one more year away from being a true contender. They should benefit from backslides by the Brewers and Cubs to finish above .500, but I have a hard time penciling them in as a playoff team at the moment. They’re going to score runs for sure, but my hesitation comes from banking on the pitching staff replicating so many superb performances from 2019. Until I see them pitch consistently at a high level, I’m only cautiously optimistic about their chances.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Kevin Michael Morin

The Pittsburgh Pirates finished 2019 at the bottom of the NL Central. The only team with a worse record than them in the National League was the Miami Marlins. After losing long-time manager Clint Hurdle to retirement, it’s time for a change in The Steel City. After finishing 22 games back in a surprisingly weak Central division, and 20 games off the wide open Wild Card, what needs to be done in 2020 to help them climb the ladder?

It starts with new manager Derek Shelton. The team is in shambles and he has to play the role of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, hoping for a different result.

One of the biggest factors will be staving off the injury bug. As bad as the Pirates were in 2019, a big part of that was watching guy after guy go down. They had to fill so many holes there was no real consistency in the squad. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these guys were underperforming as well. But injuries didn’t help. For the most part that stuck to the pitching staff.

Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon each spent a significant amount of time on the DL, the latter only pitching seven games before doing so. When 40% of your rotation is out, that doesn’t bode well.

Beyond those two, Pittsburgh saw the likes of Kyle CrickChad KuhlGregory PolancoEdgar Santana, and youngster Jason Martin end their seasons early. Maybe it’s time to take a look at the training staff? If they can get healthy, they can compete. Will they compete for a playoff spot? Probably not. But it won’t take much to improve upon the abysmal performances PNC Park witnessed last season.

Compiled by Joe Danbusky, Justin Colombo and Kevin Michael Morin.

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