Spring is in the air and April baseball is getting close. After plenty of uncertainty surrounding the 2022 season amid a lockout that lasted 99 days, we will officially see baseball beginning April 7.
The Chicago Cubs have been quite busy in recent days, adding relievers, infielders, and prized free-agent signing, Seiya Suzuki, the Japanese slugger from the Nippon Professional Baseball League.
The flurry of moves made Cubs fans dizzy as they tried to keep up with the news on their Twitter feeds, but did it improve the Cubs’ outlook for contending in the National League Central? And where do they rank among the other four NL Central foes heading into 2022? Let’s take a quick look at the good, the bad, and the ugly for the other NL Central teams and offer a quick win-loss prediction.
The Brewers won the NL Central in 2021 with a 95-win campaign, thanks in large part to sheer dominance over the other NL Central opponents (47-29 vs. the NL Central in 2021). They were impressive on the road, going 50-31, and had two Cy Young contenders. Corbin Burnes won the award, and teammate Brandon Woodruff finished fifth. Expect plenty of wins from Wisconsin’s team again in 2022.
Aside from the one-two punch of Burnes and Woodruff, Milwaukee also has a third nasty starting pitcher in 25-year-old All-Star, Freddy Peralta. The right-hander had a sparkling 2.81 ERA in 27 starts a year ago, giving the Brewers a three-headed monster at the top of their rotation. The Brewers also have one of baseball’s best closers in Josh Hader (1.23 ERA in 2021; 15.6 K/9) and one of the game’s top set-up men, Devin Williams, who had a blistering 2.50 ERA and 14.5 K/9 in the ’21 season. From a hitting perspective, a full season of Willy Adames spells trouble for everyone in the National League. The 26-year-old had a .886 OPS and 20 home runs in 99 games for the Brewers after he was traded from the Tampa Bay Rays. The Brewers also added Hunter Renfroe and Andrew McCutchen this offseason.
Not much “bad” here to speak of, frankly. Critics may point to an underwhelming back-end of the rotation with Adrian Houser and Eric Lauer not being household names like Burnes or Woodruff. But maybe they should be. Houser went 10-6 in 2021, with a 3.22 ERA in 26 starts, while Lauer produced a 3.19 ERA in 20 starts, with a 1.13 WHIP. This is a very good rotation.
“Ugly” is not a word many will use to describe the 2022 Brewers. They look fairly loaded and are clear favorites to repeat for a title in the 2022 NL Central.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals finished second in the NL Central in 2021, reaching the playoffs before losing a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Wild Card Game. St. Louis won 90 games on the backs of veteran All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt and Adam Wainwright, and newcomer Tyler O’Neill, who burst onto the scene with 34 HR, 80 RBI, 15 SB, a .286 BA, and .912 OPS, easily the highest on the team.
Goldschmidt put up a 6.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) season last year, his highest since 2017, while Wainwright turned back the clock and finished No. 7 in NL Cy Young Award voting, with a 3.05 ERA in 206 innings pitched. Nolan Arenado is still Nolan Arenado, and the slugger hit 30+ home runs and drove in over 100 runs again in 2021, his sixth time accomplishing that feat in his nine-year career. The young outfield core of O’Neill, Harrison Bader, and Dylan Carlson should keep St. Louis’ offense potent throughout 2022.
Staff ace Jack Flaherty missed two months last season with an oblique injury, making just 15 starts overall, and only four in the second half. Flaherty remains an injury concern and is currently nursing a right shoulder injury that has him shut down for 2-3 weeks, and he will begin the 2022 season on the injured list. Without Flaherty, the Cardinals’ rotation will be obviously thinner.
Things could go south for St. Louis in a hurry if Flaherty misses time this year, but also there are significant concerns about how some players may hold up for 162 games after a shortened spring training. Longtime catcher Yadier Molina is 38, Wainwright is 40, and Goldschmidt is 34. Cardinals fans will hope for (and need) good health from these superstars this year.
The Reds had one of baseball’s better offenses last year and finished four games above .500. As of August 27, the Reds were very much in the thick of things as they sat 12 games above the .500 mark. However, a poor September cost the Reds, as they went just 11-15 in the season’s final month. Rather than re-load their roster for 2022, the Reds are doing the opposite. See below.
Joey Votto remains in Cincinnati and that’s a good thing for Reds’ ticket sales, as the former MVP had a monster 2021 campaign (36 HR, 99 RBI, .375 OBP, .563 SLG). The Reds also retained front-line starters Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle, who both made 33 starts last year with sub-4.00 ERA’s. When the Reds are ready to build things back up, Castillo and Mahle figure to be a big part of it.
Nearly everyone else is gone. What a rough offseason for Cincinnati fans, as the team bid adieu to No. 3 starter, Wade Miley, No. 4 starter, Sonny Gray, and sluggers Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez, and Nick Castellanos. In Winker, Suarez, and Castellanos, the Reds will need to replace 89 home runs and 250 runs batted in. Ouch.
Before Tommy Pham signed a modest one-year deal worth $7.5 million to play for the Reds in 2022, the club had spent just $5.5 million in free-agent spending this offseason, the third-lowest in baseball. Sorry, Reds fans. Your ownership has other ideas for 2022.
How to put this lightly? The Pirates were bad in 2021. At 61-101, Pittsburgh had the second-worst record in the National League, ahead of only the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks, who went an abysmal 52-110. The Pirates’ run differential of -224 was the worst in the league and second-worst in all of baseball. The Baltimore Orioles had -297. It was not a year to remember for Pirates fans.
Bryan Reynolds was one of the best hitters in all of baseball last year, but because he played for the Pirates, no one talked about him. The 26-year-old All-Star hit .302 with 24 home runs and 90 runs batted in. He finished just outside the top-10 voting for National League Most Valuable Player. The Pirates also have six prospects ranked in the top-100 according to MLB.com, including three in the top 26. There are pieces there for Pittsburgh, but it seems like they always get traded to contenders while the team constantly re-loads.
Jose Quintana is slated to be the Pirates’ No. 1 starter in 2022. But when the rest of the rotation is JT Brubaker, Zach Thompson, Dillon Peters, and Bryse Wilson, that doesn’t give manager Derek Shelton many options.
The Pirates’ roster, as currently structured, has a combined two All-Star appearances on it (Bryan Reynolds, 2021 and Jose Quintana, 2016). They currently have a payroll of just $35 million for the ’22 season, the second-lowest of all Major League Baseball teams. It will be a very bleak year for Pittsburgh baseball.