CAN CINCINNATI WIN THE NL CENTRAL?
2013 was the last season when the Cincinnati Reds were in the playoffs. 2012 was the last season when they won the division. Can they win their division or at least return to the playoffs this season? Cincinnati focused on doing just that since the trade deadline last year and it may actually work.
Cincinnati has by far the best rotation in the division. St. Louis has Jack Flaherty and not much else; Pittsburgh and Milwaukee have no real ace (unless Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff breaks out); Chicago has the shaky Yu Darvish and a solid Kyle Hendricks leading their staff. Cincinnati has Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer in his contract year. Gray and Castillo would be the best SP on all of the other teams.
Cincinnati also looks good on the hitting side: 2B Mike Moustakas, 3B Eugenio Suarez, RF Nick Castellanos are the middle of their order with solid bats all around them. Milwaukee has LF Christian Yelich, 2B Keston Hiura (who needs to avoid a sophomore slump and who overachieved last season) and question marks; St. Louis depends on the declining 1B Paul Goldschmidt bouncing back; Pittsburgh is just bad and the Cubs are the only real competition with 1B Anthony Rizzo, DH Kyle Schwarber, 3B Kris Bryant and SS Javier Baez leading the way.
The bullpens are another story, with Milwaukee having an elite closer in Josh Hader; St. Louis still figuring out who will be theirs; Pittsburgh having a below average group and Chicago having a weak bullpen that hangs on closer Craig Kimbrel bouncing back from the worst season of his career. Cincinnati’s bullpen isn’t great either, but their bullpen ERA was only slightly higher than St. Louis’s and Chicago’s last year and both of those bullpens got worse, while Cincinnati’s got better.
Ultimately, the team that wins the NL Central will be the one that figures out how to put all of this together. According to Sports Betting Dime’s MLB postseason odds, Cincinnati’s chances of getting into the postseason are just behind those of the Cubs and are currently good enough for the second Wild Card, with a negligible gulf between them and both St. Louis and Milwaukee.
In conclusion, I think that Cincinnati has a very good chance at winning the NL Central this season and may indeed finally break their drought.