The St. Louis Cardinals have already shown that the National League Central was not as much of a "cakewalk" for them as they thought it would be this year.
What's most concerning about that reality is that it's not because the National League Central has some some really strong contenders - the division has been terrible, and the Cardinals have just been even worse. So if the Cardinals cannot rise to the top when the division is as weak as it is today, then they are in real trouble if a team begins to rise amongst them.
We are beginning to see the future of the National League Central powers when you look at the Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds are becoming a legitimate threat in the National League Central
Before the beginning of the 2023 season, MLB.com had the Reds' farm system ranked as the 5th best in all of baseball. Bleacher Report had the Reds ranked 4th in their rankings refresh in May. The Reds are brimming with young talent, with the centerpiece of this rebuild taking the Majors by storm this week in Elly De La Cruz.
While many outlets have the Cardinals' farm system ranking in the top 10 in baseball as well, one can't deny the promise that the Reds have both on the Major League club and in their farm system. Their pitching staff boasts arms like Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, while their lineup right now features the likes of Matt McLain, Jonathan India, Spencer Steer, and Tyler Stephenson to surround De La Cruz.
The farm system features even more blue-chip prospects, like Noelvi Marte, Cam Collier, Edwin Arroyo, Andrew Abbott, and Christian Encarnacion-Strand. The young talent is already beginning to flood the Reds' roster, and even more is on the way.
While the Reds will never be big spenders, they do have a ton of room to grow their payroll, as they currently rank 27th in baseball with a $92 million payroll, with a large chunk going to the expiring contract of Joey Votto.
The Reds are beginning to play competitive baseball now, and will only get better.
The Reds with 14-13 during the month of May, and seem to be getting stronger as they continue to call up their young talent. I by no means think they'll compete for a playoff spot this year, but I do think they will be legit threats to the division in 2024 and beyond.
While arguments can be made for almost every team in the NL Central as having better days ahead of them, the Reds to me seem like the team destined to give the Cardinals their biggest headache as the 2020s continue on.