After the moves of the last week, it seems there is a power shift taking place in the National League Central, which still looks like one of the weakest divisions in baseball.
Joc Pederson is now a member of the Chicago Cubs and Nolan Arenado is officially the third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. What does that mean for Chicago’s chances in the NL Central? Well, last year, both team’s offenses clocked in below league average in terms of OPS+.
The Cubs sought to remedy their offensive shortcomings by letting Kyle Schwarber walk and replacing him with Pederson, who, to this point, spent his entire career in Los Angeles. St. Louis made a much bolder statement, acquiring Arenado in a blockbuster trade with the Colorado Rockies.
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Pederson has a career OPS+ of 116 and Schwarber sported an OPS+ of 113, but in spite of a negligible upgrade on offense, Pederson is a far better defender. Any way you cut it, the addition of Arenado makes the Cardinals a lot better. He is an elite player on both sides of the ball regardless of a bad 2020, I am willing to give him a mulligan as countless elite players had poor showings last year).
He’ll join forces with Paul Goldschmidt to form a two-headed monster at the corners and in the middle of the lineup. This should serve as a major cause for concern for the Cubs. In terms of pitching the two teams were very close in regards to ERA+. Chicago sported a 113 and the Cardinals 112 – both well above the league average 102.
The good news is that according to Pythagorean W/L, both teams played very close to their potential so forecasting should be an easier task. The Cubs overperformed by one game and the Cardinals record hit the projection on the nose.
I’m expecting improvement from the Cubs in 2021
I would expect the Cubs to be better than they were during the 2020 campaign as I doubt Baez, Bryant, Rizzo and Contreras will have as bad of years as they did last time around. They’ll need all hands on deck if they hope to fend off St. Louis. Arenado will inject life into what was a quiet lineup last year, solidifying themselves as a serious player in the NL Central.
Prior to the Arenado move the Cubs seemed like the favorites in the Central. However, now it appears our Redbird rivals have drawn even with us in the division race. I believe the loss of Bauer is enough to remove the Reds from divisional crown competition and since Milwaukee has allowed player after player to leave and replaced them with sub-par counterparts, they join Pittsburgh as non-entities in the central.
One thing is clear, though. There has been a power shift, one that has seen the Cardinals emerge as serious contenders for the Cubs in the division.