With less than two weeks to go until the start of the 2018 season, it is a good time to break down the National League Central Division to determine how things might shake out this year. While Cubs fans might feel better about their re-worked bullpen or the shape that Kyle Schwarber is in, along with the addition of a certain starting pitcher, it is important to keep in mind the improvements that the other NL Central teams made over the offseason. Whether the Brewers or Cardinals made up enough ground to topple the Cubs is yet to be seen.
As Cubs fans should know, no team should ever be discounted before a game has been played. However, any impartial observer would say that both the Cardinals and the Brewers are positioned to compete for the division title in 2018. The Reds are in the middle of a rebuild where they have stockpiled some good young position players but are obviously lacking in the pitching department. The Pirates, on the other hand, are coming off an offseason which saw them ship out both Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Anything can happen, but the Buccos seem to be just starting down the road to a long rebuilding process.
The 2017 version of the Milwaukee Brewers proved to be a surprise to the Baseball World. They finished 6 games out in the NL Central and led the division for a good portion of the first half. By all accounts, the Brewers had a successful offseason, adding outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. While Cain and Yelich will be improvements to the Brewers offense, the big question mark for them is still the pitching staff because they were unable to land any of the big name free agent pitchers.
The St. Louis Cardinals are an interesting team heading into 2018. After finishing a disappointing 83-79 in 2017, the Cardinals made some big moves in the offseason. They traded two of their seasoned outfielders, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, traded for Marcell Ozuna, and stockpiled a bunch of good arms that only need a bit more experience in the minors. Like most teams, the Cardinals season might hinge on their starting rotation. If Carlos Martinez can put together a full season that lives up to expectations, the Cardinals might be right in the mix come September.
Taking all of that into consideration, the Cubs are still the clear front runners heading into 2018. They look to only have improved over the offseason and the team as a whole looks laser focused this Spring. While anything is possible, the Cubs have the pieces to add another Central Division title to their resume and make a run into October.
Stats from espn.com
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