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NL Central: Stacking the Cardinals Up Player-for-Player With the Cubs and Brewers

Well, this slow offseason has left plenty of time for all of us to spend time looking deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper…and deeper…at how these three NL Central teams could stack up in 2018. There are a lot of moves left to be made and after getting into the nuts and bolts of what is holding these teams together the conclusion is those moves are going to have a MONSTROUS influence on how this division plays out.

See, as things stand now the three teams are pretty close. Anyone looking at them could squint a little and favor one over the other in certain areas but they all have weaknesses and they all have a lot of work to do.

Instead of doing a deep numbers dive – not my specialty and something that many others, including our own Bernie Miklasz are better at – I’ve decided to try to boil this down old-school. Keep in mind, this is not intended to be scientific in any way. It is not intended to be predictive of anything. It’s simply my way of expressing my opinion on these three squads and what it will take each of them to make a run in 2018.

What I did was assign a score to each player currently on the roster that is expected to play a legitimate role on the team on a scale of 1-10. A player who is a 1 is at the very bottom of the well at the Major League level. A 10 is basically Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, (a healthy) Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, etc. I didn’t see any 10’s on these three teams, for the record. But that sets the scale. Someone receiving a 5 is what I would consider to be an average player.

My grade is subjective because it has to be. One of the things I’m considering is potential upside – or downside. My grade is based on the following things: offense, defense, base running, durability, impact, stability and projection. Again, this is subjective. Analytics might expect progression where I see regression or vice versa.

I used MLB.com’s depth charts for looking at the starters and likely bench players and I used mlbpipeline.com for prospect information. The only prospects listed are those that could reasonably help the Major League roster this season.

I graded bench players on a curve – their grade is a comparison to other bench players, not to projected starters. I’m only going with the top four bench players on each team.

One more time: THIS IS NOT MEANT TO BE SCIENTIFIC OR PREDICTIVE.

It’s just, like, my opinion man…

Cardinals

Starters:

C. Yadier Molina (7)
1B. Matt Carpenter (6)
2B. Kolten Wong (5)
3B. Jedd Gyorko (5)
SS. Paul DeJong (7)
LF. Marcell Ozuna (8)
CF. Tommy Pham (7)
RF. Dexter Fowler (6)

Bench:

Randal Grichuk (7)
Jose Martinez (6)
Greg Garcia (4)
Luke Voit (4)

Rotation:

1. Carlos Martinez (8)
2. Michael Wacha (6)
3. Luke Weaver (6)
4. Adam Wainwright (4)
5. Miles Mikolas (4)

Bullpen:

CL. Luke Gregerson (6)
Tyler Lyons – L (6)
John Brebbia (5)
Matt Bowman (5)
Brett Cecil – L (5)
Sam Tuivailala (4)

Prospects:

Alex Reyes, RHP
Jack Flaherty, RHP
Dakota Hudson, RHP
Tyler O’Neill, OF
Harrison Bader, OF
Oscar Mercado, OF
Ryan Helsley, RHP
Carson Kelly, C
Austin Gomber, LHP
Yairo Munoz, IF
Max Shrock, IF

Summary:

The lineup is solid, the bench is looking pretty good (especially when you consider the depth they’ll also have at Triple-A), the rotation is kinda scary and the bullpen is very mediocre. They need work on the pitching side. The depth of high-level prospects on the team helps ease some of the concern about the back end of the rotation and the later part of the bullpen, especially with Reyes coming back in May as one of the game’s elite pitching prospects.

Biggest concerns are Wainwright, Mikolas and the 9th inning. Another proven bat to mix in would be great but I’m also really curious to see what Jose Martinez might be able to do with more significant playing time. The extra bat is a luxury to me.

They absolutely need a closer. That’s the #1 priority. My second priority would be something more certain for the rotation but if they’re adding someone to the rotation who do you think they’ll take out? Don’t answer with who you think they SHOULD take out…who WILL they take out? I don’t see any of those guys coming out of the rotation barring injury or poor performance during the regular season.

Current projection: 84-88 wins

Potential projection: 90-92 wins

Cubs

Starters:

C. Willson Contreras (8)
1B. Anthony Rizzo (8)
2B. Javier Baez (6)
3B. Kris Bryant (9)
SS. Addison Russell (7)
LF. Kyle Schwarber (7)
CF. Ian Happ (6)
RF. Jason Heyward (5)

Bench:

Ben Zobrist (7)
Albert Almora (6)
Vic Caratini (3)
Tommy LaStella (3)

Rotation:

1. Jon Lester (7)
2. Jose Quintana (7)
3. Kyle Hendricks (7)
4. Tyler Chatwood (6)
5. Mike Montgomery (4)

Bullpen:

CL. Brandon Morrow (7)
Steve Cishek (6)
C.J. Edwards (6)
Justin Wilson – L (6)
Pedro Strop (5)
Justin Grimm (5)

Prospects:

Mark Zagunis, OF
Dillon Maples, RHP
Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP
Duane Underwood, RHP
Rob Zastryzny, LHP

Summary:

The lineup is better than the Cardinals lineup, I’m comfortable saying that. If Schwarber bounces back – and I think he will – then they could be scary. Happ also brings another element of power and athleticism and he’s got upside too. The bench is okay at the top but I think the back end of the bench (and especially the Triple-A depth) gives the Cardinals an edge there. The rotation has more sure-things than the Cardinals do, that much is easy to see. There are still questions though:

Was 2017 a fluke for Lester or is the 34 year-old showing age? Is Chatwood really a good enough replacement for Jake Arrieta if they don’t sign another SP? What is Mike Montgomery as a starter?

The Cubs bullpen has some more high-end arms than the Cardinals pen currently does but neither team has a closer. I don’t trust Morrow – he was great last year but he’s got a ridiculous history of arm problems and he got worked hard in the playoffs last year. Both teams could really use a closer.

The potential edge for the Cardinals over the Cubs is with the upper levels of the minors. The Cubs have traded away all of their impact prospect depth. Now, with a deep and young Major League roster it may not matter but if they have injuries it very well could bite them. Plus, they don’t have much to trade away in-season without subtracting from the big league roster.

If the Cubs get a starter and a reliever they’re in the driver’s seat and the Cardinals will have a lot of ground to make up.

Current projection: 88-92 wins

Potential projection: 94-96 wins

Brewers

Starters:

C. Manny Pina (5)
1B. Eric Thames (6)
2B. Eric Sogard (3)
3B. Travis Shaw (7)
SS. Orlando Arcia (6)
LF. Ryan Braun (7)
CF. Keon Broxton (5)
RF. Domingo Santana (7)

Bench:

Hernan Perez (7)
Jonathan Villar (6)
Jesus Aguilar (5)
Stephen Vogt (5)

Rotation:

1. Chase Anderson (7)
2. Kyle Davies (6)
3. Jhoulys Chacin (5)
4. Brent Suter (5)
5. Yovani Gallardo (4)

Bullpen:

CL. Corey Knebel (8)
Josh Hader – L (8)
Jacob Barnes (5)
Oliver Drake (5)
Jeremy Jeffress (5)
Boone Logan (5)

Prospects:

Brett Phillips, OF
Brandon Woodruff, RHP
Will Brinson, OF
Luis Ortiz, RHP
Corbin Burnes, RHP
Mauricio Dubon, IF
Freddy Peralta, RHP

Summary:

The Brewers stack up pretty well against both the Cardinals and the Cubs and they should not be forgotten as a contender in the NL Central. The lineup could be better than I project depending on Braun (health) and Thames. Thames was a monster in April last year, hitting .345 with 11 HR, but he hit just .229 with 20 HR over the next 5 months. Is he the monster or the guy that regressed? I honestly don’t know. The bench is solid, too, and could also be helped greatly by some of the high-end prospects the Brewers will have at the upper levels of the minors.

I don’t love the rotation. Anderson and Davies are fine but the other three scare me. That said, the Brewers have been linked to some of the big-name starting pitchers in free agency so if they add someone (or make a trade with all those excellent young OF’s) then the rotation could be really good. They clearly have the best back-end of the bullpen in the division – Knebel and Hader are both lights out. Honestly, I’m curious to see if they’ll consider Hader for a rotation spot in Spring Training. He’s filthy.

They have a deep system overall and some really good players near the Majors so help is available if they need it – or if they need to make some trades.

Current projection: 84-88 wins

Potential projection: 90-92 wins

Bottom Line

Let’s not lose focus of this as a 3-team race. The Brewers were right there last year and they have all the necessary components to be there this year too.

All three teams need starting pitching. Both the Cardinals and the Cubs need a high-end back of the bullpen arm. All three lineups should be productive. The Cardinals and Brewers have a BIG edge with their farm systems but the Cubs have the most money.

Now let’s get this free agency thing moving so we can sort the rest of this stuff out!

More: Miklasz –┬áTyler Lyons, Alex Reyes and a Potential Tag-Team Closer Setup for the Cardinals