The National League Central Division was not the greatest as a whole in 2017. The Cubs were able to win the division with only 92 wins. This was a far cry from 2015, when the Cubs won 97 games and were still only able to come away with the second wild card spot. So will the Central be better in 2018?

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are going to stay competitive for the foreseeable future. The real question is whether or not they’re good enough to keep winning the division. Their position player core is very young and very similar to last year. Expect bounce back years from Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist. The main losses to the club this offseason were Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis, and John Lackey. The Cubs have filled one of these holes in the rotation with Tyler Chatwood. Mike Montgomery or Eddie Butler seem likely to grab the fifth spot unless there is another free agent signing. Although this rotation probably isn’t as good as the one in 2017, the bullpen has improved. Wade Davis signed with the Rockies and that was a big loss, but the club has filled his vacancy by adding a couple of solid relievers. Righties Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek were great in 2017, and they both figure to be a major part of the back end of the Cubs bullpen in 2018.

2017 record: 92-70 (1st)

2018 projection: 95-67 (1st)

+3 wins

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have been in a clear rebuild for a couple of seasons. Veteran staples like Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce were traded in the last year and a half. Perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto remains, but that’s partly because of his lengthy contract. The Reds lineup is rather good, but their pitching staff leaves a lot to be desired. Until their young pitching pieces truly develop, the Reds will remain near the bottom of the NL Central.

2017 record: 68-94 (5th)

2018 projection: 73-89 (4th)

+5 wins

Milwaukee Brewers

Wow, what an eventful last 6 hours for the Brewers. Earlier this afternoon, they agreed to a trade for Christian Yelich. A few hours later, it was announced that they had signed Lorenzo Cain to a 5 year, $80 million contract. With Domingo Santana and Ryan Braun still with the club, how will the Brewers divide playing time. One option is to trade Santana to clear up a corner outfield spot for Yelich. In addition to adding these two stud outfielders, pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo have been added as rotation depth pieces. This team could be a force to be reckoned with.

2017 record: 86-76 (2nd)

2018 projection: 91-71 (2nd)

+5 wins

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have finally chosen to take a step back and rebuild after a couple years of being stuck in the middle. Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen were recently shipped out for a batch of young players and prospects. Don’t be surprised if utility man Josh Harrison is next in line. The Pirates do have a bright future with players like Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco, and Jameson Taillon representing a potential future core.

2017 record: 75-87 (4th)

2018 projection: 67-95 (5th)

-8 wins

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals, along with the Brewers, are clearly trying to catch up with the Cubs this offseason. They’ve traded for all-star Marcel Ozuna and traded away Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, and Aledmys Diaz for bullpen depth and prospects. Luke Gregerson was brought on to give them another option at closer. The starting rotation is still a question mark, with Lance Lynn likely leaving via free agency and Adam Wainwright on the decline. Alex Reyes, their highly touted righty, will return from Tommy John surgery in 2018 and should give them a much-needed boost. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha are also steady presences in the rotation. Don’t expect the Birds to only win 83 games again this year.

2017 record: 83-79 (3rd)

2018 projection: 89-73 (3rd)

+6 wins

 

Photo: Phelps/Chicago Now

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