This strong division has four teams that could contend and one very obvious doormat. It’s a tough one to handicap.
Chicago Cubs - On Feb. 8 the Chicago Tribune asked of Theo Epstein’s winter, “Was this the worst off-season in Cubs’ history?” Yikes. Of course the owners appeared to throttle the aging Wunderkind worse than your greedy mobile carrier throttles you every month. It’s true there are reasons for hope — they’re certainly stocking up on talent — but it’s hard to see them contending in 2014. Can they improve upon their 2013 total of 66 wins? You’d like to unequivocally say yes but the other teams in this division are strong so you have to say … maybe.
Cincinnati Reds - The Reds lost Shin-Soo Cho to free agency but they’re excited about young Billy Hamilton. The young ‘un appears to be an on-base and base-stealing machine but of course it’s early. Having extended Homer Bailey in off-season, Reds are loaded with talent, and fat contracts. What’s popping with Johnny Cueto? Remember when he dropped the ball? Blog was bullish on ‘em last year, and division doesn’t get any easier this year. They also have some injury issues with their pitching staff — especially with Mat Latos.
Milwaukee Brewers - Who is Scooter Gennett and why is he ahead of Rickie Weeks on depth chart? With a chastened Ryan Braun coming back, Jean Segura coming off a strong 2013, and Khris Davis taking over in left field, Milwaukee appears to show Oriole-esque power potential up and down lineup. Addition of free agent starter Matt Garza leaves them with a solid — though perhaps not formidable — starting five. Most improved! There’s no reason why Crew fans can’t be optimistic.
Pittsburgh Pirates - Will Jameson Taillon get up to the big club this year? Looks that way. The Buckos are deep with starting pitching. That bodes well for ‘em. But Blog is skeptical about their offense and whether it can drive them to another 94 wins. Can Pedro Alvarez keep up his furious home run pace and get on base a little more and lay off the chunky chews?
St. Louis Cardinals - They’ve assembled a ferocious and young pitching staff. Really it’s the best in the Majors. You could argue they maybe didn’t “add a bat,” except they did! Addition of Jhonny Peralta might be a slight defensive downgrade but dude’s good for 20 dongs. Red Birds also have set up competition in center field by bringing in Peter Bourjos to compete with super sub Jon Jay and at first base with Matt Adams and Allen Craig in the mix. Can they get to 100 wins?
Predicted order of finish:
* wild card hunt