Are the St. Louis Cardinals the favorites to win the NL Central? I think so, and a big reason for that is their talent and roster depth.
There is no end in sight to the baseball lockout, but there have been free-agent signings – and a lot of them – so we have a decent idea of what each team’s rosters will look like in 2022.
My instinct tells me yes. First, the Cardinals have not lost any significant pieces off the roster. Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Jack Flaherty, Tyler O’Neill, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, among others, are all returning. The starting rotation is healthy and all five starters are in place, now featuring left-hander Steven Matz who was signed to a four-year deal. Sure, the Cardinals still have holes on the roster – two relievers and starter/offensive depth – but they have unquestionably gotten better this winter.
Can we say the same thing about the Brewers? They lost Avisail Garcia, Manny Pina and Jackie Bradley Jr. while adding Hunter Renfroe, Pedro Severino and Brett Sullivan. If anything, they got worse. The gap has certainly narrowed between them and the Cardinals, though they have one of the best managers in baseball in Craig Counsell while the Cardinals have a relative unknown in first-time manager Oli Marmol.
The managerial difference may give the Brewers the slight advantage, but if we’re comparing rosters, I would take the Cardinals’ right now. They have an otherworldly defense. The offense should be better in 2022 as Marmol utilizes more platoons. The rotation is healthy and talented. The Brewers, meanwhile, should get better contributions from Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura. Willy Adames was playing at an MVP level after being acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays. Their rotation is arguably the best in baseball while Josh Hader and Devin Williams will once again anchor the bullpen.
The NL Central figures to come down to those two teams, barring something completely unexpected. The Cubs are rebuilding while the Reds are shedding salary and the Pirates are, well, the Pirates.
I don’t expect either the Brewers or Cardinals to win the division in a landslide like last season, but if I had to pick a current favorite to win it, I’m going with the Cardinals. Yes, they may have a new manager, but I’m a big believer that talent always prevails – and they sure have a lot of it, headlined by Arenado and Goldschmidt, two of the biggest stars in baseball.