Cubs

Cubs Still the Favorites in NL Central

By Jordan Swofford

Ah, it’s good to have baseball back!

Each week, I’ve went through divisions and gave predictions & fantasy advice for all 30 teams. Just in case you’ve missed any:

AL West
AL East
AL Central
NL West
NL East

Let’s finish this out and talk some NL Central!

The Favorites: Chicago Cubs

Record: 92-70 (1st in NL Central)

I typically like to hate on teams that win, but it’s something about between flying the W and singing ‘Go Cubs! Go!’  at the top of their lungs after every win makes me love this fan base. Plus they have one of the most loyal fan bases after that extreme losing streak from 1908-2016 and I respect the hell out of that. 2 years later and this video still gets me hyped about baseball!

The two-time defending NL Central champions have one of the deepest and most versatile rosters in the game. Joe Maddon utilizes everyone in his roster, which can be iffy for fantasy owners on mid round value players.

The offense is once again built around franchise cornerstones Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, while the pitching staff must fill an important hole created by the departure of free agent right-hander Jake Arrieta. Oh wait, they got Yu Darvish.

Necessities:

3B Kris Bryant: A top-10 pick in any draft room, Bryant’s power numbers dropped from his MVP 2016 campaign, but he still hit .295, with 29 homers and 111 runs. The biggest difference was an increase in walks.

1B Anthony Rizzo: If you want a second rounder to give you 30+ dingers, 90+ runs and 100+ RBIs look no further than Rizzo as he’s done it in each of the last 3 seasons.

C Willson Contreras: Many catchers in the league get the luxury of an occasional weekly day off; not the case with Contreras as there’s no clear backup to take away playing time. A huge advantage for owners as he becomes an arguable top 3 pick among catchers.

P Yu Darvish: Yes he choked in the World Series, but have you seen that Astros Lineup? He still had 209 strikeouts last year between time on the Rangers & the Dodgers. He’ll benefit from pitching an entire season in the NL.

Sleeper:

2B Javier Baez: He’s a gamble, and owners may strike-out by taking a pick on him. He has a real latin style of play where it’s all or nothing on every one his swings. He hit 23 homers a year ago and improved his slugging percentage to .480. He also strikeout 28% of the time. DRAFT WITH CAUTION!

Contenders: Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 86-76 (3rd in NL Central)

Some team had to step forward and end the offseason bore. The surprising thing was the small-market Brewers – a franchise that’s won one division title since 1982 – were the ones to do it.

They said enough with the dominance of the Cardinals & Cubs and made some big additions with Lorenzo Cain & Christian Yelich to an already potent offense. But will they have enough firepower to challenge the division heavyweights?

yelich.jpg

OF Lorenzo Cain: He was finally able to avoid the DL for the first time in his career in 2017. The veteran outfielder should be a solid contributor of average, runs and steals. Consider him in your drafts as he’s been putting on an impressive spring hitting .368 (7-19).

OF Christian Yelich: I absolutely love this pick up by the Brewers. Manager Craig Counsell loves to swipe bags which will help Yelich who went 16-18 on the base path last year.

3B Travis Shaw: A legit player. Shaw led the team with 101 RBI and tied for the team lead with 31 homers in his first full season as an everyday player. I’m a sucker for a good lefty stroke, and his ability to put the ball in the air works well in Miller Park.

Late Round Value

OF Ryan Braun: He didn’t have any fantasy relevancy to me until the addition of Cain & Yelich. Now the aging superstar can play 1B for the first time in his career AND enjoy the RBI luxury of fastballs when Yelich & Cain are on base.

Shop for Authentic Autographed Cardinals Collectibles at SportsMemorabilia.com

Contenders: St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 83-79 (3rd in NL Central)

I really don’t see these guys as competitive, but a big trade & the ability to allow pipeline talent in the farm system, could always prove me wrong.

Value Picks:

OF Marcell Ozuna: This guy sneaks past owners because in the midst of Giancarlo Stanton’s 59 homeruns, Ozuna was right behind him with 37 of his own plus 124 RBIs and a .312 BA. He’s the big bat they need.

OF Tommy Pham: Pham was one of last season’s most pleasant surprises. Called up in early May, he went on to post a .306/.411/.520 slash line with 23 home runs and 25 steals in just 128 games.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at St. Louis Cardinals

Sleeper Pick:

SS/2B Paul DeJong: Also a May call-up, he finished 2nd in voting for NL ROY. More notable is that he hit 38 bombs between the majors and minors.

 

 

 

Best of the Rest: Cincinnati Reds

Record: 93-69 (2nd in NL Central)

The Reds haven’t been to the playoffs since 2013, and without a significant step forward by several young players they’re not likely to again this year. Starting pitching is the biggest question mark after Cincinnati finished next-to-last in the majors in team ERA last season.

As great as he is, first baseman Joey Votto can’t do it all. Losing All-Star shortstop Zack Cozart to free agency will create a void on both offense and defense.

1B Joey Votto: Votto may be the game’s best all-around hitter and he’s said last year may have been his best ever. He hit .320/.454/.578 with 36 homers, 106 runs, 100 RBI. Even at age 34, I don’t see any signs of him stopping.

OF Billy Hamilton: 56, 57, 58, 59. That’s all you really need to know. He has more fantasy value than reality; but he’ll continue to swipe bags this year racking up fantasy points.

https://streamable.com/m/1086557283

Rebuilding: Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 75-87 (4th in NL Central)

Was anyone else sad to watch an end of an era with McCutchen leaving the Pirates?

With the window for contention seemingly slammed shut, the Pirates accelerated their rebuilding phase this offseason by trading away star center fielder Andrew McCutchen and ace pitcher Gerrit Cole.

They may struggle to score runs even more than they did last season. Good news is, I still don’t think their the worst team in the NL.

Sleepers:

OF Starling Marte: He was suspended 80 games for a positive drug test and didn’t hit the 30-steal mark for the first time since his rookie year of 2012. His slash line was equally disappointing. He’s yet to reach 20 homers in a season, but his speed and ability to hit for average make him a fantasy asset.

OF Gregory Polanco: Polanco had a power breakout in 2016 with 22 homers to go along with 17 steals. But hamstring issues plagued him all last year and his numbers suffered. He’ll be looking for a bounce back this year.

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