There is less than a month until the newest season of St. Louis Cardinals baseball. Where do they rank among their Central division opponents this season?
While we are still waiting for the new schedule to come out, we do know which teams the St. Louis Cardinals will be playing this year. Besides 40 games against their NL Central division rivals, the Redbirds will have 20 interleague games against foes from the AL Central.
According to the latest projections on Fangraphs, the NL Central will be the closest division this season. While the Fangraphs model has the Cubs leading the pack with 32 wins, the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds are all projected one game behind them at 31. The AL Central is tightly contested as well, with the projections showing the Indians, Twins, and White Sox separated by only four games. It’s truly anyone’s year in the midwest.
We can look at projections all we want, but with the season being so short and the teams as closely packed as they are, it can be tough to decide which squads are really the best. Before Summer Camp starts up on Friday, I took a shot at sorting out all ten teams in the “Central League.”
NL/AL CENTRAL DIVISION POWER RANKINGS
10. DETROIT TIGERS 9. KANSAS CITY ROYALS 8. PITTSBURGH PIRATES
As long as they are at the bottom, you can put these teams in any order. All three are projected to be among the worst groups in baseball this year. For me, the Tigers are last because excluding Miguel Cabrera, there is no reason to watch them play. All their top prospects still need time before they will reach big leagues, and practically everyone else is way past their prime.
The Royals are next. They have a few pieces like Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler, but other than that, I’m not really sure who is going to contribute to any Kansas City victories. They might have some sneaky good starting pitching over this shortened stretch, but I don’t see it leading to a serious playoff push.
The Pirates are building a nice core around Josh Bell. The emphasis, however, is on building. In a year or two, the Pirates might be ready to compete again. With starters Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer out for the year, there is simply not enough pitching to support their young lineup.
7. MILWAUKEE BREWERS
This is where the rankings start getting difficult. Having the Brewers this low might surprise people. Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain return, Keston Hiura looks like a legitimate future All-Star, and Josh Hader might be even more dangerous when he doesn’t have to be saved for a long season.
The questions arise when you look at the starting pitching. It’s been the weakness of the Brewers for a few years now, but at a time when teams are turning towards six-man rotations and expecting a lot of fresh arms to be called upon throughout the year, I have a tough time putting my faith in the Brewers group.
There is plenty of depth on this team, and I could be way wrong on this evaluation. In this deep division, however, the lack of a true ace is a weakness that sets the Brewers apart.
6. CLEVELAND INDIANS
The Indians are only a few years removed from a World Series appearance, but this team is vastly different from the 2016 squad that almost won it all. Fransisco Lindor is a superstar. Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger lead one of the best rotations in this division. Unfortunately, those are the only sure things that I can find.
The outfield of Franmil Reyes, former Cardinal Oscar Mercado, and whoever ends up playing right field is vastly unproven. The bullpen is not a strength. And without a bounceback season from Jose Ramirez, there aren’t too really any other spots in this lineup that strike fear into the opposition. The Indians are ahead of the Brewers on this ranking because of starting pitching. They fall behind the rest of the division because their lineup might be a big swing and miss.
5. CINCINNATI REDS
Although the Reds were one of the winners of the offseason, I’m not sure how they will fare in 2020. They have incredible outfield depth, a superstar in Joey Votto, and a very deep starting rotation. Something just seems a little off.
I’m not a big fan of putting Mike Moustakas at second base. Of the five or six outfielders on the team, none of them are really known for their defense. Injuries have been a big issue for Sonny Gray. And who knows what Trevor Bauer is ever going to do. Maybe I’m undervaluing a solid overall team. But until the Reds prove that they are more than a bunch of unspectacular pieces thrown together into a tiny ballpark, I remain skeptical of them doing any better this season than the second wild card.
4. CHICAGO CUBS
Other than replacing Ben Zobrist with Jason Kipnis, this is really the same team that the Cubs had last year. Trade rumors swirled around Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras this offseason, but both players remain. Theo Epstein is hoping that good health and new manager David Ross will be able to bring Chicago back to the playoffs after missing out last season.
On paper, this squad should probably perform quite well. Questions remain around the aging starting rotation, but really there aren’t any big holes on this roster. In a regular season, the Cubs would be the clear favorite. This is not the format to be counting on players staying healthy, however, and even an experienced manager might struggle to adapt to some of the new rules. If all goes well at Wrigley, then the Cubs might be one of the best teams in the MLB. I expect an early stumble, which is what drops them down to the fourth spot.
3. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
The most popular sleeper pick to be in the 2020 World Series, the White Sox are going to be scary good over the next few seasons. The question is not whether there is enough talent on this young squad. It’s whether they are going to breakout this year or next.
Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal, and Jose Abreu are fantastic all-around players. Throw in budding stars like Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, and Luis Robert and this lineup might never get shutout. On the mound, if they stay healthy, the Sox could be scary good. Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel lead a group that will only get better with more experience. Again, I might be a year early on this. But the White Sox are looking like the real deal.
2. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
I really wanted to put the Cards in the top spot overall, but I had to settle for giving them pole position in the NL Central. Why do they deserve this spot in the rankings? Well, of any team on this list, the Cardinals might actually be the most well-rounded. They don’t rank first at many positions, but with the exception of the outfield, they are always in the top three or four.
The Cardinals’ incredible pitching depth is far and away the best in this division, and Jack Flaherty might also be the top ace. The key for the Cardinals earning this top spot will be consistent offensive production. As we all know, in years past, the Cardinal offense has been very hot-and-cold. A well-timed hot streak from Matt Carpenter, all-star production from Paul Goldschmidt, Kolten Wong, and Paul DeJong, and a breakout season from whoever ends up playing left field will be the keys for the Redbirds in 2020.
1. MINNESOTA TWINS
It’ll be tough to repeat their performance from a year ago, but it looks like “La Bomba Squad” is ready for year two. After shattering home run records in 2019, the Twins return a more experienced roster ready to defend their division title, and eager to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The central division should be scared of what’s coming from up north.
Good luck getting through Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, and Eddie Rosario each night. Oh, and former top prospect Byron Buxton is starting to put things together and prove his potential. The rotation might have some injury problems, with both Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda playing key roles, but the pitching doesn’t have to be too spectacular in order to support this powerful offense. In a year full of unknowns, one thing we do know is that a lot of runs will be scored in Minnesota.
Each team in the central faces a tough path to the playoffs. With seven legitimate playoff contenders, someone is going to be left out. Everyone is going to beat up on Detroit, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh. Success against the top central division teams will be the difference between making the playoffs and going home in September.