Welcome to the second week of Central Intelligence, the column of the happenings around the NL Central (published each Monday morning).  Last week, I gave you a preview of each team. This week, we will roll out the preseason NL Central power rankings, I’ll give you my predictions, the All-NL Central preseason team, and the preseason NL Central position player and pitcher of the year.  Let’s begin!

Preseason NL Central Power Rankings

1. St. Louis Cardinals

Redleg Nation Cardinals Preview

The Cardinals are just about everyone’s preseason pick to win the NL Central, and as much as I like to go against the grain, they are just far too talented not to be at the top of the preseason power rankings.  The Cardinals without question have the best, and deepest lineup in the division.  Their starting pitching and bullpen are at worst, even with the rest of the division.

Best case scenario: Cardinals are just as good as they are on paper, win 100+ games, get hot going into the playoffs, and win the World Series.

Worst case scenario: Cardinals young pitchers (Miller, Wacha, Rosenthal, and Martinez) have major sophomore slumps, the Reds get healthy and barely edge them out in the division, and the Cardinals lose the “coin-flip” wild card game.

This week’s schedule:

Mon, Wed, Thurs at Cincinnati; Fri-Sun at Pittsburgh

2. Milwaukee Brewers

Redleg Nation Brewers Preview

The Brewers will be a lot better in 2014 than they were in 2013.  Bruan is back and they have added Matt Garza.  The Brewers lineup will be one of the best in baseball and their starting pitching is solid.  If you are discounting the Brewers in 2014, you might end up being surprised.  There are questions marks: will Gomez and Segura be able to repeat their 2013 performances, and can their bullpen be good enough to survive?

Best case scenario: The Brewers lineup absolutely demolishes NL pitching, the starting pitching lives up to it’s potential, and the Brewers find their way in the wild-card game. They get hot, win the wild-card game, win the NLDS, before losing to the Dodgers in the NLCS.

Worst case scenario: Ryan Braun struggles in his return, the rest of the young lineup struggles, the bullpen loses this team a ton of games, and they finish 5th in the division, below the Cubs.

This week’s schedule:

Mon-Wed vs. Atlanta; Fri-Sun at Boston

3. Pittsburgh Pirates

Redleg Nation Pirates Preview

The Pirates broke through in 2013, and have all the signs of building a really good baseball team.  The Bucs lost Burnett, Byrd, and Moreneau in the off-season, yet failed to bring any significant talent in.  They do have a good core of young players, and have talented players on the way up to the majors, such as OF Gregory Polanco.  I could honestly see the Pirates finish anywhere from 1st to 4th in the NL Central this season.  That makes them an extremely fascinating team to watch.

Best case scenario: Gerrit Cole wins the Cy Young, the young Pirates lineup has as good a year as last, the Cardinals young pitchers (Miller, Wacha, Rosenthal, and Martinez) have major sophomore slumps, and the Pirates barely win the NL Central.  They win the NLDS, before losing a hard fought NLCS to the Dodgers.

Worst case scenario: The Pirates have a major sophomore slump, similar to the Reds back in 2011.  Their pitching struggles without Burnett, and their young lineup goes through growing pains.  The Pirates finish 4th in the NL Central.

This week’s schedule:

Mon, Wed, Thurs vs. Chicago Cubs, Fri-Sun vs. St. Louis.

4. Cincinnati Reds

Redleg Nation Reds Preview

When healthy, the Reds are without a doubt in my mind much better than the fourth best team in the NL Central.  The problem is, the Reds are far from healthy to start the season. The Reds will have Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, Skip Schumaker, Devin Mesoraco, Aroldis Chapman, Mat Latos, Jack Hannahan, and Brett Marshall all start the season on the DL.  If the Reds can hang around .500 during the month of April, and get most of their players back to full health, they should be alright in 2014.  That won’t be an easy task though, as the Reds April schedule is no cakewalk: 6 games vs. Cardinals, 7 games vs Pittsburgh, 3 games vs. Tampa Bay, 3 games vs. Atlanta, 3 games vs Mets, and 6 games vs Cubs.

Best case scenario: The Reds are able to get their key injured players back on the field quickly, their young supporting cast of Frazier, Mesoraco, and Hamilton have big years to help out strong seasons from Votto and Bruce, the starting pitching is absolutely dominating, the Cardinals young pitchers (Miller, Wacha, Rosenthal, and Martinez) have major sophomore slumps, and the Reds barely edge out the Cardinals to win the NL Central.

Worst case scenario: As we have seen many times before with the Reds medical staff, their injuries end up being far worse than described.  The Reds young hitters really struggle, Hamilton has to be sent to AAA, the Reds pitching isn’t as good as we thought, and the Reds finish 4th in the NL Central.

This week’s schedule:

Mon, Wed, Thurs vs. St. Louis, Fri-Sun at NY Mets

5. Chicago Cubs

Redleg Nation Cubs Preview

The Cubs are continuing their major rebuilding phase, and their lineup will struggle.  They do have solid starting pitching that should keep them in a lot of games.  I would certainly be surprised if the Cubs finish anywhere other than the basement of the NL Central, but I would not be surprised if their young talent gets them off to a good start with a strong April. The Cubs certainly appear to be headed in the right direction, I would just be surprised if that does much for them in 2014.

Best case scenario: The Cubs young pitching keeps this team in a ton of a ball games, and they are able to avoid the basement of the NL Central with a 4th place finish.

Worse case scenario: The Cubs are even worse than we think they will be.  They finish with the worst record in MLB, even below the Astros.

This week’s schedule:

Mon, Wed, Thurs at Pittsburgh, Fri-Sun vs. Philadelphia

NL Central Predictions

1. Cardinals 96-66

2. Reds 87-75, 9 GB (2nd Wild Card Spot)

3. Brewers 82-80, 14 GB

4. Pirates 80-82, 16 GB

5. Cubs 71-91, 25 GB

Preseason All NL Central Team

(all numbers are 2014 ZiPS projections via Fangraphs)

Starting Lineup

Catcher – Yadier Molina, Cardinals: .293/.342/.433, 13 HR, 73 RBI, 4.9 WAR

1B – Joey Votto, Reds: .289/.416/.506, 25 HR, 81 RBI, 5.1 WAR

2B – Neil Walker, Pirates: .261/.330/.418, 16 HR, 74 RBI, 2.6 WAR

SS – Jean Segura, Brewers: .284/.322/.422, 12 HR, 59 RBI, 3.0 WAR

3B – Matt Carpenter, Cardinals: .272/.351/.413, 10 HR, 69 RBI, 3.4 WAR

OF – Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: .288/.375/.484, 24 HR, 86 RBI, 6.0 WAR

OF – Ryan Braun, Brewers: .300/.367/.540, 33 HR, 116 RBI, 5.3 WAR

OF – Carlos Gomez, Brewers: .260/.313/.462, 19 HR, 58 RBI, 4.0 WAR


Catcher – Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers: .276/.331/.437, 15 HR, 75 RBI, 3.4 WAR

1F – Anthony Rizzo, Cubs: .255/.336/.464, 27 HR, 96 RBI, 2.7 WAR

IF – Starlin Castro, Cubs: .280/.319/.413, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 2.4 WAR

OF – Jay Bruce, Reds: .254/.329/.485, 32 HR, 111 RBI, 3.5 WAR

OF – Allen Craig, Cardinals: .284/.338/.454, 16 HR, 84 RBI, 1.9 WAR

OF – Starling Marte, Pirates: .265/.318/.430, 13 HR, 54 RBI, 3.1 WAR

Starting Rotation

1. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: 17-9, 3.20 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.91 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, 4.1 WAR

2. Homer Bailey, Reds: 13-9, 3.56 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.64 K/9, 2.16 BB/9, 2.7 WAR

3. Mat Latos, Reds: 13-7, 3.28 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.04 K/9, 2.46 BB/9, 3.7 WAR

4. Jeff Samardzija, Cubs, 11-9, 3.56 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.74 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, 3.1 WAR

5. Gerrit Cole, Pirates: 12-10, 3.48 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 7.40 K/9, 2.87 BB/9, 1.9 WAR


Aroldis Chapman, Reds: 65.3 IP, 2.21 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 14.75 K/9, 4.00 BB/9, 1.2 WAR

Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals: 79.7 IP, 2.37 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 11.63 K/9, 2.71 BB/9, 1.4 WAR

Jason Grilli, Pirates: 50.3 IP, 2.68 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11.45 K/9, 2.86 BB/9, 0.8 WAR

Mark Melancon, Pirates: 68.7 IP, 2.75 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 8.38 K/9, 1.83 BB/9, 0.9 WAR

J.J. Hoover, Reds: 66.3 IP, 3.26 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 9.77 K.9, 3.67 BB/9, 0.4 WAR

Players of the Year

Position: Joey Votto, Reds

Pitcher: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals