Most around St. Louis Cardinals nation have focused on the competition with the Chicago Cubs in 2017, but how does the rest of the National League Central shape up?
The annual goal for the St. Louis Cardinals is to win the World Series, which starts with winning the division. The Chicago Cubs set the standard in 2016, winning 103 games and the World Series. Therefore, much of the attention surrounding the Cardinals has focused on catching the Cubs in 2017.
However, there are three other teams in the division. While they hope to catch the Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals must also take care of business against these rivals as if they hope to compete for the division title. While the NL Central will again be headlined by an exceptional Cubs team, the Pirates will also challenge the Cardinals next season.
Although this post will focus mainly on non-Cardinals teams, you can read my 2017 Resolutions post for an in-depth pseudo-preview for St. Louis.
Before diving into 2017 predictions, following are relevant stats from the 2016 standings.
A few quick observations:
- The St. Louis Cardinals finished tied for the worst home record in the NL Central with the Cincinnati Reds. Additionally, this was the first time since 1999 that the team finished below .500 at home.
- The Cubs run differential suggests they may have been unlucky to win “only” 103 games. Their Pythagorean Win-Loss Record, which suggests the number of games a team wins over the course of a season is a function of their run differential, indicates they were expected to win 107 games last season.
- The NL Central struggled defensively last year. Three of the MLB’s seven worst defensive teams were in the division.
The NL Central will likely see improvement across the board in 2017. The Reds and Brewers had the third and ninth youngest MLB rosters, respectively. For the Reds, this inexperience manifested in the pitching staff, which gave up the most home runs ever in a single season. The Brewers saw this inexperience in the field: their 136 errors were the most in the MLB.
The Pirates defense has been consistently poor for the last few seasons, so it is unlikely they will make a jump on that side of the ball. However, Andrew McCutchen suffered his worst MLB season since his rookie year in 2009. Projections see him rebounding to perform at a high level offensively to boost the Pirates lineup.
Our friends over at FanGraphs have compiled win-loss projections for the 2017 season. Following are the predicted standings, based on FanGraphs Depth Charts.
- Chicago Cubs, 94-68
- Louis Cardinals, 84-78
- Pittsburgh Pirates, 82-80
- Cincinnati Reds, 69-93
- Milwaukee Brewers, 67-95
These predictions differ only slightly from the 2016 results. However, the Pirates are projected to improve and compete with the Cardinals. A projected two game difference leaves very little breathing room. Just a few breaks or injuries could very easily result in the Pirates outperforming the Cardinals in 2016, while the Cardinals would need to do much more work to catch the Cubs.
While teams will continue to make roster moves over the next couple of months, we have a fairly clear picture of what each team will look like in 2017. Following, I go through key additions and losses for each rival club, as well as a storylines to watch next season.