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The Wood Word

The news site of Marywood University

The Wood Word

MLB Division Previews: NL Central

Photo credit/ Sabrina Resuta, Vincent Goldschmidt

Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers have been finding a way to make their way into the postseason, making five of the last six playoffs, with three NL Central titles including last season. This Brewers team will be without two key arms, but added a big bopper to the lineup.

In his first season in Milwaukee, catcher William Contreras produced his best season, popping 38 doubles and 80 RBIs en route to his first Silver Slugger award. Christian Yelich had a bounce back season, after three bad seasons for his standards and will look to return to his MVP-caliber form that he had when he first landed in Milwaukee. Joining the middle of the Brew Crew’s lineup is Rhys Hoskins, who missed last season with a knee injury, but has proven that he can produce plus power, producing 25-plus doubles and home runs in four of his professional seasons. MLB’s number two prospect Jackson Chourio will get a chance to get everyday reps, with the upside to launch 25-plus home runs and steal 40-plus bases. Shortstop Willy Adames regressed in 2023, but will look to return to the form he brought for his first year and a half with the Brewers.

The starting rotation will look significantly different without Corbin Burnes, who was dealt to the Orioles, and Brandon Woodruff is expected to be sidelined recovering from shoulder surgery. Freddy Peralta will be the ace of the rotation, after striking out a career high 210 batters last season. In his return to Milwaukee, Wade Miley proved to be a viable arm, despite being in the twilight of his career. Lefty pitching prospect Robert Gasser has a chance to crack the rotation, after a great season with the Nashville Sounds. The Brewers have arguably the best closer in baseball in Devin Williams, who’s been nominated to back-to-back All-Star games and finished his last four seasons with an ERA at 2.50 or lower.

Despite the losses to the rotation, Milwaukee is in great shape to repeat as NL Central champions.

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St. Louis Cardinals
After four straight playoff appearances, St. Louis finished dead last in the NL Central. After retooling over the offseason, the Cardinals have a chance to return to the top of the division.

Following his 2022 MVP season, Paul Goldschmidt’s numbers dipped, but he still produced at a solid level. Despite earning his third straight All-Star game selection, Nolan Arenado saw his offensive production regress, while finishing the season without a Gold Glove award for the first time in his career. Catcher Willson Contreras continued his solid production at the plate in his first season with the Cards. Jordan Walker was inconsistent in his rookie season, but when he was producing, he looked like a future All-Star caliber player. Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar and Tommy Edman have been underappreciated pieces in the St. Louis lineup, but bring solid hitting and defense to the club. Cardinals’ top prospect Masyn Winn got a cup of coffee at the big league level and will be the everyday shortstop for the upcoming season.

The Cardinals pitching staff was abysmal in 2022, prompting them to prioritize pitching in the offseason. AL Cy Young runner up Sonny Gray is the new ace of the club, after signing a three-year deal with the Cards, though a recent injury might cost him some time to start the season. St. Louis also added Kyle Gibson and reunited with Lance Lynn, who spent his first six MLB seasons with the Cardinals, in hopes they can return to a more successful form that both have proven they are capable of in the past. After an All-Star 2022 season, Miles Mikolas struggled last season, producing a career worst 10.1 hits per nine innings. Despite being sidelined for a large amount of time last season, closer Ryan Helsley was elite in the innings he was on the mound.

With a revamped rotation and a roster ready to prove last season was a fluke, St. Louis can and will be a contender.

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds improved by 20 games from 2022 to 2023. Though they most likely won’t improve by another 20 games, Cincinnati is a team that has the potential to make a lot of noise in the NL Central, if not the whole National League.

Though he still has adjustments to make if he wants to be a superstar in the MLB, Elly De La Cruz has all of the tools to be a generational superstar and will look to take that step forward. Jonathan India hasn’t been able to match his 2021 NL Rookie of the Year numbers, though he is still a reliable bat in the Reds’ lineup. Spencer Steer showed off his pop, knocking 37 doubles, 23 home runs and 86 RBIs. Joining the lineup is Jeimer Candelario, who was a doubles machine, punching 39 two-baggers. First baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand will get an opportunity to be an everyday asset for Cincy. Center Fielder TJ Friedl had a career best season in 2023, even garnering an MVP vote. Reds’ top prospect Noelvi Marté showed his potential to be the future face of the Reds last season in his brief MLB stint and will look to prove that it was more than lightning in a bottle.

The starting rotation has many young arms with big upside, including Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, who will look to stay both healthy and consistent in 2024. Andrew Abbott showed ace-level excellence in his rookie season. Frankie Montas joins the rotation after an unceremonious tenure with the Yankees and will look to return to his efficiency he showed in his time with Oakland. Closing out games in 2024 will be flamethrower Alexis Díaz, who clinched 37 saves and earned his first All-Star nomination.

Cincinnati is a young, somewhat unproven team, with a lot of potential. It may still be a year or two before Cincinnati is a legitimate contender, but this might be the beginning of what could be the next Reds dynasty.

Chicago Cubs
The Cubs narrowly missed the postseason, finishing just one game behind the Marlins and Diamondbacks in the Wild Card standings. Chicago will be in a similar position in 2024, with the upside to win the division for the first time since 2020.

In his debut season in the Windy City, Dansby Swanson still produced his Gold Glove caliber defense, though he will look to produce similarly to his 2022 All-Star season. His double play partner, Nico Hoerner, was elite up the middle, taking home his first Gold Glove award, while stealing a career best 43 bases. Joining the Cubs on a one-year, prove it deal, Cody Bellinger looked like his former Rookie of the Year and MVP self and returned to the Cubs on a three-year deal. Ian Happ earned his second straight Gold Glove award, while improving his eye at the plate, drawing a career best 99 walks, good for fourth in baseball last season. Right Fielder Seiya Suzuki improved from his rookie season, with all of his offensive numbers improving last season. Chicago’s top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong will already be a huge boost to one of baseball’s best defenses and if he is able to produce offensively as he did in the minors last season, could be a favorite for NL Rookie of the Year.

Justin Steele will headline the rotation, after a season that saw him become an All-Star and finish top five in Cy Young voting. After a couple of subpar seasons, Kyle Hendricks was able to regain his effectiveness and will look to continue that trend. Chicago added Japanese lefty Shota Imanaga, who is coming off a season which saw him produce a 2.46 ERA. Adbert Alzolay and newly acquired Héctor Neris will be the guys to slam the door out of Chicago’s pen, after both are coming off career best years.

The Cubs are going to come into the season with the pain of falling just short last season still on their mind and it’s very unlucky that history repeats itself.

Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates have remained irrelevant from the last eight seasons, with just one season in that time span finishing with a winning record. Though bright futures are projected to come, it won’t be this season.

Ke’Bryan Hayes is coming off a career year, which saw him set highs in hits, doubles, triples, home runs and RBIs, as well as earning his first Gold Glove. Shortstop Oneil Cruz missed nearly the whole season in 2023, but is healthy and looking to live up to the hype he had when he first debuted. After signing an eight-year extension with Pittsburgh, Bryan Reynolds quietly produced another solid season, finishing with 31 doubles and 24 long balls. Pittsburgh will look for Henry Davis and Ji Hwan Bae to find consistency at the dish after struggling in their rookie seasons. Slugger Jack Suwinski saw his walk rate and power numbers increase, as well as his strikeout rate, which will be something he’ll look to clean up in 2024.

Mitch Keller had a tale of two halves, being elite in the first half, leading to an All-Star nod, before a catastrophic second half of his season. Martín Pérez and Marco Gonzales join the Pirates, looking to recover from mediocre 2023 seasons. 2023 first overall pick Paul Skenes is projected to make some starts for Pittsburgh and will look to be the future ace of the organization. The late game duties will be given to David Bednar and Aroldis Chapman, who were two of baseball’s most dominant relievers last season.

Though this season might not be Pittsburgh’s year, it is a good time to gauge how far the team is away from being a threat.

All stats are from Baseball Reference as of March 4, 2024

Contract the writer: [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Vincent Goldschmidt
Vincent Goldschmidt, Sports Editor
Vincent Goldschmidt is a sophomore Multimedia Communications Major, on the track of Sports Media, and is the Sports Editor for the Wood Word. Along with his Wood Word work, he hosts a sports talk show, He Knows Ball, on VMFM 91.7, serves as the Sports Director and a Sports Anchor for TV-Marywood, and commentates for Marywood Athletics.
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