Welcome back to Central Intelligence, the weekly column covering the National League Central posted every Monday morning. This is the second season of this column, and I am looking forward to another great year. This year, I am going to change things up just a bit. I’m not going to include the Reds among the teams covered (the rest of the site will cover them). I will give you news and notes about the Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, and Pirates.

Quickly, a little bit about myself for those who might not know. My name is Nick Kirby, and I have been writing for Redleg Nation since 2013.  I am a big fan of advanced statistics and sabermetrics. I will use them quite a bit in this column, but I will do my best to explain some of the different stats as I go to those of you who might not be as familiar. I will also do my best to be as unbiased as possible in this column covering the NL Central, but of course it will be from a Reds perspective.

This week, we will look back and review 2014. Next week, we will have an overall preview of the NL Central. We will skip the column the following week, as Redleg Nation will be focused on the Opening Day festivities. Monday, April 13th will be the official first week of the column in its usual form.

Here is how 2014 went (this is from the Central Intelligence 2014 Review):

The First Half

It was a wild season in the NL Central this year. The Brewers got off to a fast start, and on May 16th had a 5.0 game lead in the NL Central. The Brewers then lost 7 of 10 games, and their lead was cut to 1.5 games on May 26th. The Brewers would then win 21 of their next 31 games, and push their division lead back up to 6.5 games on June 28th. But the Brewers would collapse, losing 11 of their final 13 games leading into the All-Star break. At the break, the Brewers lead was just one game.

The Reds got off to a slow start, losing 7 of their first 10 games. The Reds would rebound from that, and finished the first half of the season winning 22 of the final 32 games. At the All-Star break, the Reds were just 1.5 back.

The Cardinals had a pretty mediocre first half (14-14 in April, 15-12 in May, and 14-13 in June), but were able to stay a float. The Cardinals benefited from the Brewers late first half collapse, and were just 1.0 game back at the break.

The Pirates got off to a really slow start. On May 18th, the Pirates were 17-25, and 9.0 games back in the NL Central. Thanks to a 17-10 month of June, the Pirates were just 3.5 games back at the All-Star break.

The Cubs were 11.0 games out of the first place before April even ended, and would never get less than 8.5 games back for the rest of the season.

The Second Half

The Brewers held on to the lead in the NL Central for dear life until August 31st, when the Cardinals tied them. The Brewers would lose their division lead on September 1st, and never gain the lead again. The Brewers went 31-49 over final 80 games of the season, and finished the year 82-80. The 2014 Brewers joined the 1969 Cubs, 2007 Mets, 2008 Diamondbacks and 2009 Tigers as the only teams to lead division for 150 days and miss the playoffs.

The Reds lost their first seven games of the second half, and their 1.5 game deficit at the All-Star break turned into a 6.0 game deficit. After winning three straight games against the Indians in early April, the Reds only trailed by 4.0 in the division. The Reds would then lose 12 of their next 14 games, and finish the season below 500.

The Pirates went 63-44 from June 1st through the end of the season. The Pirates finished the season 17-6, but fell just 2.0 games back from the Cardinals at the end of the season. The Pirates did however secure the number one wild card spot, and made the postseason for back to back years.

The Cardinals finally kicked it into high gear in September, going 17-9 and winning the NL Central for the second consecutive season.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals didn’t have a great year offensively. The finished 16th in the MLB in wRC+ (95). The Cardinals strength once again was starting pitching. The Cardinals SP finished 6th in the MLB in ERA (3.44), and 10th in FIP (3.67).

The Cardinals got a another strong season from ace Adam Wainwright (2.38 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 4.5 WAR). The Cardinals offense mostly all came from six players: Peralta (120 wRC), Carpenter (117 wRC+), Holliday (132 wRC+), Molina (102 wRC+), Jay (116 wRC+), and Adams (116 wRC+).

Team MVP: Jhonny Peralta: .263/.336/.433, 21 HR, 75 RBI, 120 wRC+, 5.4 WAR

Biggest Surprise: Pat Neshek: 67.1 IP, 1.87 ERA, 2.37 FIP, 0,79 WHIP, 9.09 K/9, 1.8 WAR

Biggest Disappointment: Allen Craig: .237/.291/.346, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 81 wRC+, 0.6 WAR (traded to Boston on July 31)

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates were so close to their first ever NL Central title, but settled for the wild card game. Although the Pirates weren’t able to get past the Giants, it doesn’t take away from another great season. Making the postseason for a second consecutive season just validates the success that the Pirates have built.

The Pirates offense was outstanding in 2014. They were 4th in the MLB in wRC+ (108), and were 3rd in the MLB in OBP (.330). The Pirates pitching was pretty good too. As an entire staff, they were 9th in the MLB in ERA (3.49), but were 18th in FIP (3.80).

Team MVP: Andrew McCutchen: .314/.410/.542, 25 HR, 83 RBI, 18 SB, 168 wRC+, 6.9 WAR

Biggest Surprise: Josh Harrison: .315/.347/.490, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 18 SB, 137 wRC+, 4.8 WAR

Biggest Disappointment: Pedro Alvarez: .231/.310/.405, 18 HR, 56 RBI, -5 DRS, 103 wRC+, -0.2 WAR

Milwaukee Brewers

There isn’t another fan base across Major League Baseball that could have possibly been more disappointed this season than the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers at one point this season had a 6.5 game lead, only to finish the season 8.0 games back.

The majority of the Brewers lineup was above average: Lucroy (133 wRC+), Gomez (133 wRC+), Ramirez (110 wRC+), Gennett (104 wRC+), Davis (107 wRC+), Braun (114 wRC), and Weeks (127 wRC+). However, injuries and poor production out of first base (83 wRC+) and shortstop (55 wRC+) made the Brewers offense actually pretty mediocre. As a team, the Brewers had a 94 wRC+, which was 17th in the MLB.

The Brewers pitching was pretty average too. They posted a 3.67 ERA and 3.89 FIP, which was 17th and 21st in the MLB.

Team MVP: Jonathan Lucroy: .301/.373/.465, 13 HR, 69 RBI, 133 wRC+, 6.3 WAR

Biggest Surprise: Mike Fiers: 14 G, 10 GS, 71.2 IP, 2.13 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 0.88 WHIP, 1.6 WAR

Biggest Disappointment: Jean Segura: .246/.289/.326, 5 HR, 31 RBI, 67 wRC+, 0.1 WAR

Chicago Cubs

There are two ways to look at the 2014 Chicago Cubs: they finished in 5th place in the NL Central for a fifth straight season, or they are really starting to build a strong core of great young players. The Cubs were never in contention this season, and made a huge trade with the Oakland A’s in early July. The Cubs traded Jeff Samardzjia and Jason Hammel, and got the A’s top prospect, Addison Russell.

Addison Russell gave the Cubs yet another top prospect. As the 2014 season ends, the Cubs have the #3 and #5 prospects in all of baseball according to MLB.com: Kris Bryant (3B) and Addison Russell (SS). Javier Baez (SS/2B) was in the top 10 prospects all year, and was called up in August.

Anthony Rizzo (153 wRC+, 5.6 WAR) turned into a legitimate star this season. The Cubs also got promising seasons from Starlin Castro (115 wRC+, 2.9 WAR), Jake Arrieta (2.53 ERA, 2.26 FIP, 4.9 WAR), and current #48 prospect Jorge Soler (146 wRC+, 0.7). The Cubs probably won’t be ready to fully compete in 2015, but they may be able to get out of the cellar. The Cubs may be a couple of big off-season acquisitions before 2016 (something their payroll will allow) to be a real competitor then.

Team MVP: Anthony Rizzo: .286/.386/.527, 32 HR, 78 RBI, 153 wRC+, 5.6 WAR

Biggest Surprise: Jake Arrieta: 25 GS, 2.53 ERA, 2.26 FIP, 0.99 WHIP, 9.59 K/9, 0.29 HR/9, 4.9 WAR

Biggest Disappointment: Edwin Jackson: 27 GS, 6.33 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 1.64 WHIP, 4.03 BB/9, 1.15 HR/9, 0.5 WAR

We are just 13 days away from the first NL Central game of 2015. The MLB season will open with the Cardinals at the Cubs on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN2. The Joe Maddon era will begin in Chicago then. We will however have a lot more to talk about before then.