Cubs: Predicting the MLB standings heading into the regular season
MLB standings: Can the Cubs make it two straight division crowns?
First Place: St. Louis Cardinals (86-90)
The Redbirds finished second behind the Cubs in 2020, while seeing so many of their games postponed with COVID-19 issues. Looking at the offseason moves by each team, they made the biggest with the Nolan Arenado deal. Him and Paul Goldschmidt will be a big thread in the middle of the lineup with Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong and Yadier Molina around them. Arguably the best starter in the NL Central now is their ace Jack Flaherty. The bullpen with closer Jordan Hicks, Andrew Miller and Alex Reyes could potentially make for a nice backend. While a team that can win the division, the depth and rotation behind Flaherty is questionable. Never count the out of anything.
Second Place: Chicago Cubs (82-86)
Now we come to the Cubs. This is a team that can still compete in the NL Central with the core that they have. That is, if the likes of Javier Baez and Kris Bryant can bounce back. Good seasons from them alongside Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras and newcomer Joc Pederson can make the Cubs a legit offensive threat. The defense is also looking to be one of the best, coming off a team Gold Glove season and the track record of most of these guys defensively is very good.
Biggest question? The pitching. The rotation outside Kyle Hendricks will look radically different. Yu Darvish was traded to the Padres, Jon Lester left for the Nationals and Jose Quintana left for the Angels. Now the rotation consists of Jake Arrieta (returning from Phillies), Zach Davies, Trevor Williams and Adbert Alzolay. The rotation can be decent, but not great. There are plenty of concerns on the bullpen side, including concerns over closer Craig Kimbrel looking shaky this spring. Overall this pitching staff at best can be decent, or at worst pretty bad. Not a lot of velocity with this group.
If this team does not succeed by mid-season, then a bigger teardown could be on the way.
Third Place: Milwaukee Brewers (82-85)
This is another team that is hard to count out. They made some sneaky good moves this offseason bringing in former Cardinal infielder Kolten Wong and former Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Both great gloves that will help make the Brewers one of the better defending teams in the National League. Do not count on 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich having another down season in 2021 and expect Lorenzo Cain to be back swinging well. Keston Hiura and Travis Shaw have been able to provide the Brewers some power in the past as well. Manager Craig Counsell is one of the best in the game and he always finds ways of finding diamonds in the rough and scheming his team to get the most out of them. The Brewers and Cubs could once again come down to head-to-head matchups.
Fourth Place: Cincinnati Reds (78-82)
Seems like every year the Reds are seen as a darkhorse but never put it together. They do have some very talented guys. Despite losing Trevor Bauer to free agency, the rotation still boasts the likes of Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. They acquired reliever Sean Doolittle this offseason and will have Amir Garrett at closer. The lineup is relatively the same with Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama and former Cub Nick Castellanos as the main highlights. Good, but is it good enough? They will not be an easy team to beat but we have really yet to see this team come together like predicted in offseasons past. There is a window for them to make a push with the talent they have but it all has to perform at top level and in need of being able to beat division foes consistently.
Fifth Place: Pittsburgh Pirates (58-63)
If there is one thing to be excited for as a Pirates fan, it is 24-year-old infielder Ke’Bryan Hayes. In 24 games last year he hit .376/.442/.682. It looks like there is legit talent in him. Outside that, they are in full rebuild mode. Not much else to say other than it looks to be a long road ahead for the Buccos.