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Live Toasts 2013 NL Central Preview

This is the fourth installment of Live Toast's 2013 MLB divisional previews. After looking at the NL East, AL West and AL East today we look at the 2013 NL Central. This season marks the first time since 1997 there will be just five teams in the division, as the Houston Astros joined the AL West.

Last year the Cincinnati Reds and their 97-65 record dominated the NL Central, but it was the Wild Card-winning St. Louis Cardinals that made it to the NLCS, where they lost to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants. The NL Central did not see major movement during the off-season, with many teams returning a similar roster as last years. Nevertheless, its silly to think the NL Central will be a replay of last year. You can envision four out of the five teams making a run at the playoffs, and just one injury or breakout season could be the different come September.

Cubs Preview · Reds Preview · Brewers Preview · Pirates Preview · Cardinals Preview

2013 Cincinnati Reds Preview

The Reds ended last season in heart-breaking fashion, blowing a 2-0 series lead to the Giants in the NLDS. The Reds haven't won a post-season series since 1995, but the loss could provide some experience for the young team to learn from. While Cincinnati is one of the younger teams in the NL, it is also one of the most balanced. The Reds have a strong pitching staff and bullpen, as well as an offense that features some of the most exciting players in the game. Right now the Red look poised to pick up where they left off as one of the best teams in the bigs.

Reds Offensive Outlook

Three-time All Star and 2010 MVP Joey Votto is the most important offensive player on the Reds, however knee issues held him to 111 games last season. He was still able to bat .337 with 14 home runs. The Reds are hoping Joey Votto can stay healthy after the two knee surgeries. Votto was having a great season before surgery, and wasn't able to find his groove upon return. The big offensive addition to the Reds is CF Shin-Soo Choo, who gives the Reds a leadoff hitter they needed.

Reds 1B Joey VottoThree-time All Star and 2010 MVP Joey Votto is the most important offensive player on the Reds, however two knee surgeries held him to 111 games last season.

Two-time All Star Brandon Phillips hit .281 with 18 home runs, the same number he hit in 2011 when he batted .300. Jay Bruce had 34 home runs and 99 RBI last season along with a .841 OPS. Ryan Ludwick had a solid 2012 after a few off seasons and if he keeps it going it will make the Reds that much more dangerous. Todd Frazier played all over the field last season and in 128 games hit .273 with 19 home runs, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting.

With a lot of power comes a lot of strikeouts, and the Red could stand to improve their on base percentage, which was near the bottom of the NL last year at a .315 team average.

Reds Pitching Outlook

The Reds pitching is expected to again be among the leagues best. The team's 3.34 ERA was tied for the second-best in the NL, just .01 behind Washington. They were near the top in most pitching categories with an average of 8.4 hits per nine innings. The staff was also incredibly durable, with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo all throwing more than 200 innings with an ERA under 3.75. Add to those four Aroldis Chapman, who struck out 122 batters in just 71 2/3 innings last season, and the Reds look like they have the best rotation in the NL Central. However the rotation didn't suffer much in the way of injuries, something that they will lucky to duplicate in 2013.

The Reds bullpen was also one of the teams strengths last season, but will miss Chapman is his move the to the rotation. Jonathan Broxton is slated to become the clubs closer as Aroldis Chapman moves into the rotation.

Reds Key Off-Season Moves

  • Signed free agent 3B Jack Hannahan (Indians), C Miguel Olivo (Mariners), 2B Emmanuel Burriss (Giants), RHP Armando Galarraga (Astros), SS Cesar Izturis (Nationals), LHP Manny Parra (Brewers), RHP Clay Hensley (Giants), and RHP Loek Van Mil (Indians).
  • Acquired via trade CF Shin-Soo Choo and 3B Jason Donald (Indians).
  • Did no re-sign free agents C Dioner Navarro (Cubs), RHP Andrew Brackman (White Sox), SS Wilson Valdez (Giants), LHP Bill Bray (Nationals) and RHP Ryan Madson (who was injured all last season and was signed by the Angels).
  • Traded: CF Drew Stubbs and Didi Gregorius to the Indians.

2013 Milwaukee Brewers Preview

The Brewers took a while to heat up last season, but were one of the best teams in the NL as the season ended. However it was not enough to get the Brewers back into the playoffs. Milwaukee dropped by 13 wins last season, from 96 in 2011 to 83 past season, with a big part of that being the pitching. Additionally, the team was forced to drop payroll during the 2012 off-season, in part because of a drop in attendance. The Brewers still have an impressive offense, but unproven pitching could end up sinking the team's playoff hopes.

Brewers Offensive Outlook

The Brewers were among the best offensive clubs in the league last season, despite loosing Prince Fielder during the 2011 off-season. PED controversy not withstanding, 2011 MVP Ryan Braun is one of the best in the game. 3B Aramis Ramirez batted .300 with 27 home runs, 105 RBI and a whopping 50 doubles. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy hit .320 with 12 home runs, and an .881 OPS in 96 games.

Brewers center fielder Corey HartCorey Hart hit .270 with 30 home runs and 83 RBI and is an offensive force, but will start the season on the DL.

Rickie Weeks ended the season strong after faltering out of the gates. The speedy outfield was a part of why the Brewers were able to lead the NL with 158 stolen bases. Corey Hart hit .270 with 30 home runs and 83 RBI and is an offensive force, but will start the season on the DL. CF Carlos Gomez was vastly improved last season, bringing his batting average up to .260 from .225 the year before and his home run totals to 19 from 8. He also has great speed, both on the bases and in the outfield.

SS Jean Segura was a highly touted prospect when he joined the Brewers in the Zack Greinke trade, if he improves on a solid rookie campaign he could prove to make a difference for the Brewers.

Brewers Pitching Outlook

Pitching was a major issue last year, and unfortunatley the Brewer's haven't done much to address that. Yovani Gallardo is only proven pithcer on the staff, as Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf have all signed elswhere or been traded. Gallardo was an All Star in 2010 and had a great 2011 but was not stellar in 2012. Marco Estrada had a solid end to the season with a 2.03 ERA in his last eight starts. As a rookie, Mike Fiers had an insane 3.75 strikeout rate, averaging 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings and should be better after a year of experience.

23-year-old Wily Peralta started just five games, throwing 29 innings with a 2.48 ERA and 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Mark Rogers (3.93 ERA in seven starts) should be the fifth starter, but Chris Narveson could take the spot.

The bullpen has to improve if the Brewers are going to contend, as the Brewers lost 26 games in the final inning last season. Closer Josh Axford has a great 2011 but was not able to keep it up, compiling just six saves with his ERA jumping to 4.65.

This is a very young pitching staff that will need to rely on Gallardo to lead them. The young starters are projected to be solid MLB pitchers, and if that turns out to be true in 2013, the Brewers will again be a force in the NL Central.

Brewers Key Off-Season Moves

  • Signed free agent RHP Jim Hoey (Blue Jays), 3B Bobby Crosby (Diamondbacks), 3B Donnie Murphy (Marlins), RHP Kelvim Escobar (with Mets in 2009), LHP Tom Gorzelanny(Nationals), and LF Rene Tosoni (Twins).
  • Aquired via trade RHP Burke Badenhop (from Rays).
  • Did no re-sign free agent RHP Jose Veras (Astros), RHP Shaun Marcum (Mets), C Yorvit Torrealba (Rockies), 1B Travis Ishikawa (Orioles), SS Josh Wilson (Diamondbacks), LHP Juan Perez (Blue Jays), LHP Manny Parra (Reds), SS Edwin Maysonet (Cubs), C Jason Jaramillo (Astros), and RHP Kameron Loe (Mariners).

2013 Cardinals Preview

The Cardinals were not able to punch a return ticket to the World Series last season, blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Giants in the NLCS. With much the same team the Cardinals have a great shot at another post-season appearence. A superb pitching staff and some talented offensive players make the Cards one of the more dangerous teams in the NL.

Cardinals Offensive Outlook

Last season the Cardinals had to figure out a way to replace the offense of Albert Pujols, but they were able to do just that. The Cardinals offense was among the leagues best, with a .271 team batting average and 765 runs scored (both 2nd best in the NL), and had a league-high .338 on base percentage. Matt Holliday had a .295 batting average with 27 home runs and 102 RBI. Carlos Beltran had 32 home runs and 97 RBI to go with a .269 batting average. Yadier Molina hit .315 and jacked 22 homers and has become perhaps the most important player on the roster. Not only do the Cardinals rely on his bat, but he can steal bases and, perhaps most importantly, does extremely well handling the pitching staff.

Allen Craig came through big for the club when Lance Berkamn went down last season, batting .307 with 22 home runs in 119 games. Add in World Series MVP David Freese's 20 home runs and 79 RBI and its no mystery why the Cardinals were so potent at the plate.

Cardinals Pitching Outlook

With Chris Carpenter likely out for the season and probably not coming back ever, the Cardinals starting rotation looks to feature Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn in the 1 - 4 positions. At 28-years-old Wainwright is the Cards's veteran pitcher who nearly threw 200 innings last season with a 2.42 ERA, 1.051 WHIP and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Lefty Jaime Garcia was spotty last season because of shoulder issues, but if he can get in a full healthy year, the Cardinal's rotation would benefit tremendously. Westbrook's numbers where not stellar last season but he has looked sharp in spring training. Lance Lynn joined the rotation when Chris Carpenter was hurt and proceeded to play in the All Star Game en route to winnign 18 games.

The catching of Yadier Molina provides a veteran backstop who is one of the game's best at handling the staff. The Cardinals will be lucky if the team gets through the season without any significatn injuries, but should any of the starting rotation stall the Cardinals have a number of young arms waiting in the minors for their shot in the show.

Closer Jason Motte had 42 saves last season with a 2.75 ERA and 10.8 strikeouts per innings.

One important issue for the Cardinals is the defense behind a staff that relies on ground balls. Particularly with shortstop Rafael Furcal missing the entire season, the defense will have to improve on last year.

Cardinals Key Off-Season Moves

  • Signed free agent 3B Ty Wigginton (Phillies), C Rob Johnson (Mets), SS Ronny Ceden (Mets) LHP Randy Choat (Dodgers) and LF Justin Christia (Giants).
  • Did no re-sign free agent 1B Lance Berkman (who went to the Rangers) C Bryan Anderson, (White Sox), RHP Kyle McClellan (Rangers) and 1B Mark Hamilton (Red Sox).
  • Traded 2B Skip Schumaker (to the Dodgers).

2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview

The Pirates again were very good out of the gates last season, but the team couldn't hold it together past the All Star break, leading to a 20th season with a loosing record. But there's plenty of reason for optimism in Pittsburgh and the fans are starting to come back. A talented core of young players hopes to build on the gains they made last season, and with Andrew McCutchen on the team anything is possible.

Pirates Offensive Outlook

Two-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen has been great, leading the NL with 194 hits and finishing third in NL MVP voting. Switch-hitting 2B Neil Walker was having a great season in 2012 until a dislocated finger and lower back stiffness in August held him to 129 games. He is vital to protecting McCutchen and will be key to how far the Pirates can go in 2013.

Pirates All Star Andrew McCutchen Two-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen has been great, leading the NL with 194 hits and finishing third in NL MVP voting last season

Many fans are hoping outfield prospect Starling Marte can help boost the offense. He was great in the minors, but in 47 games last season batted .257 with five home runs and a .300 on-base percentage.

The Pirates signed catcher Russell Martin, who brings some power to the lineup, although his average could be better. Martin should also bring some leadership to the young clubhouse. Pittsburgh also brought in 3B Brandon Inge, however he has not had much success at the plate in recent years.

Pirates Pitching Outlook

Pitching was one of the Pirate's strengths last season, and despite a tough second-half, ended up with a respectable 3.96 team ERA. 29-year-old Russell Martin will help the staff, and he could be what helps the team maintain its focus down the stretch. AJ Burnett has been the staff ace and after going 16-10 should continue to be one of the Pirate's more important pitchers. Wandy Rodriguez has to work on his consistency but is a solid #2. James McDonald was 9-3 before the All-Star break but faltered down the stretch. If he can be consistent and productive for the entire season it would be a big help as the Pirates try to content for the division lead.

The Pirates brought in veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano in hopes of improving the rotation in 2013. Liriano's stock has fallen a long way since his All Star season with the Twins in 2006, but he could be a factor once again.

The Pirates traded their All-Star Closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox, and in 2013 will turn to Jason Grilli (2.91 ERA 1.142 WHIP and 13.8 Ks per nine innings) to close.

Pirates Key Off-Season Moves

  • Signed free agent 3B Brandon Inge (Athletics), C Russell Martin (Yankees), LHP Francisco Liriano (White Sox), LHP Jonathan Sanche (Rockies), OF Felix Pie (Braves), CF Darren Ford (Mariners) and LF Jerry Sands (Red Sox).
  • Aquired via trade RHP Zach Stewart, RHP Stolmy Pimentel RHP Mark Melancon and 2B Ivan De Jesus (Red Sox), RHP Jeanmar Gomez (Indians) LHP Andy Oliver (Tigers) and RHP Vin Mazzaro and 1B Clint Robinson (Royals).
  • Did no re-sign free agent LHP Erik Bedard (Astros,) RHP Chad Qualls (Marlins,) C Rod Barajas (Diamondbacks,) LF Drew Sutton (Red Sox,) RHP Kevin Correia (Twins,) 1B Jeff Clement (Twins,) LHP Hisanori Takahashi (Cubs,) RHP Evan Meek (Rangers,) 3B Dallas McPherson (Dodgers,) and RHP Daniel McCutchen (Orioles).
  • Traded RHP Joel Hanrahan and 2B Brock Holt (Red Sox), 3B Yamaico Navarro (Orioles), RHP Chris Resop (Athletics) and C Ramon Cabrera (Tigers).

2013 Chicago Cubs Preview

The good news for Cubs fans is that the club will likely be better than last year; however after loosing more than 100 games, that won't be hard. But with the Astros no longer in the division, the Cubs will need some help to avoid the NL Central cellar. Both the Cubs's pitching and defense were awful, and this might not be the year the team makes any huge improvements. With some monster contracts still on the books, the Cubs's President Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer don't have much flexibility.

Cubs Offensive Outlook

The Cubs were of worst offensive teams in the NL last season. Everything about the offense has to improve, run production, average, power and especially on base percentage. Alsonso Soriano was good last season, hitting .262 with 32 home runs and 108 RBI. 23 year old SS Starlin Castro, already a two-time All-Star, was signed to a seven-year, $60 million extension, a sign that the front office believes in him. His average has been close to .300 the past three seasons, and his home run totals climbed from 10 to 14. He needs to work on his glovework however, as he had close to the league lead in errors.

Anthony Rizzo, (who Epstein knew as a prospect with the Red Sox), should become one of the most important players on the Cubs. He can hit for average and power but still has a lot of learning to do. Prospect Brett Jackson is one of the more highly-regarded prospects in the organization and could join the big-league club sooner rather than later.

Cubs Pitching Outlook

With three proven pitchers in Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson, the Cubs starting rotation should be much improved over last year's team, when 30 starting pitchers combined for the third-worst ERA in the league, without anybody on the staff getting 10 wins or more. Pitching was a priority for Epstein and Hoyer, which is evident in their off-season signings, and the pitching staff looks like it should be way up in wins.

Hopefully Matt Garza's (5-7, 3.91), health problems are behind him and he can be the true ace fans and front office expect him to be. But Garza will not be on the Opening Day roster and will likely not join the rotation until May. Chicago paid $52 million over 4-years for Edwin Jackson, he's averaged close to 200 inning per season and should be a reliable pitcher. Jackson was a big part of the Cardinal's 2011 World Series champion rotation and brings some veteran experience to the Cubs. Jeff Samardzija was the best pitcher for the Cubs last year with a (9-13, 3.81 ERA). The Cubs also added Scott Baker, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva.

Closer Carlos Marmol had 20 saves with 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings, but with a 3.42 ERA. The Cubs brought in set-up man Kyuji Fujikawa from Japan, and he could very well wrest the closer role from Marmol or inherit it if Marmol is traded.

Cubs Key Off-Season Moves

  • Signed free agent RHP Edwin Jackson (was with the Nationals), RF Nate Schierholtz (Phillies), LHP Dontrelle Willis (Orioles and Phillies), SS Brent Lillibridge (Indians), RF Scott Hairston (Mets), RHP Carlos Villanueva (Blue Jays), RHP Scott Feldman (Ranges), C Dioner Navarro (Reds), Cory Wade (Yankees), RHP Kyuji Fujikawa (Hanshin Tigers), LF Darnell McDonald (Yankees and Red Sox), LF Brian Bogusevic (Astros), LHP Hisanori Takahashi (Pirates), 2B Alberto Gonzalez (Rangers), SS Edwin Maysonet (Brewers), 1B Brad Nelson (career minor leaguer), and RHP Andrew Carpenter (Blue Jays).
  • Aquired via trade RHP Barret Loux (Rangers) and claimed RHP Sandy Rosario off waivers from Boston Red Sox.
  • The Cubs did no re-sign free agent RHP Chris Volstad (Rockies), RF Joe Mather (Phillies), RHP Randy Wells (Rangers), RHP Justin Germano (Blue Jays), LF Reed Johnson (Braves), RHP Rodrigo Lopez (Phillies), RHP Manny Corpas (Colorado Rockies), 2B Alfredo Amezaga (Dodgers), RF Brad Snyder (Diamondbacks) and 2B Blake DeWitt (Braves).
  • Traded CF Tony Campana to the Diamondbacks and RHP Jacob Brigham to the Rangers.

AL East Preview · AL Central Preview · AL West Preview · NL East Preview · NL Central Preview · NL West Preview

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