2022 National League Central Power Rankings
The National League Central has a mixed bag of teams. Some of them are in a full rebuild, some are almost ready to compete, and some have World Series aspirations. Each team was busy in the offseason, either bringing in new talent, or shipping off good players to build for the future. As the 2022 regular season approaches, the division looks to be a two-horse race, with the other three looking to play spoiler.
Last Place- Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s going to be hard to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates this year. They are one of the worst teams in MLB in every single aspect of the game. The offense is atrocious. Center fielder Bryan Reynolds’ 2021 breakout season was a welcome surprise, and Ke’Bryan Hayes has the potential to be a top ten third baseman. After those two, however, there is no one who Pittsburgh can depend on as a consistent source of production. The starting rotation and bullpen are both somehow worse than the lineup. After posting a 6.43, Jose Quintana is being advertised as the lead man of the staff. Mitch Keller has shown almost no signs that he will capitalize on the potential he showed as a prospect. There are simply no decent pitchers in the rotation. Only one person in the Pirates’ bullpen is projected to have an ERA below 4.00 by FanGraphs- David Bednar. Everyone else is projected to have an ERA of 4.30. There are some prospects that still need time to develop in their farm system. My advice to Pittsburgh fans? Hang in there.
Fourth Place- Cincinnati Reds
It was a short time in the spotlight for the Cincinnati Reds. After clinching a Wild Card berth in the 2020 season, hopes were high for Cincy entering 2021. But alas, the Reds missed the playoffs last season. And with the contracts of veterans like Nick Castellanos expiring, the Reds
decided to enter rebuild mode in the offseason. They traded veteran pitcher Sonny Gray to the Twins, and traded All-Star Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez to the Mariners. These moves have left the Reds’ roster looking underwhelming. Johnathan India and Joey Votto headline an anemic lineup. The rotation has a little bit of upside. Luis Castillo is almost guaranteed to achieve some positive regression after a horrible 2021 campaign, and Tyler Mahle certainly has nasty stuff. But both of those pitchers have risks to them, and the starters after them are completely unreliable. The bullpen was Cincinnati’s biggest weakness last season, and it doesn’t look like that is going to change in the slightest in 2022. They got a decent haul of prospects this offseason. But Cincinnati isn’t going to be a serious competitor this season. On the bright side, they won’t be as bad as the Pirates.
Third Place- Chicago Cubs
2021 was a rough season for Chicago Cubs fans. In the span of two days, the Cubs traded three core members of their 2016 World Series team. Anthony Rizzo went to the Yankees, Javier Baez got traded to the Mets, and Kris Bryant was dealt to the Giants. This bolstered Chicago’s farm system, and led pundits to believe they would be quiet in the offseason. However, the Cubs made some significant free agent signings this winter. Marcus Stroman signed for a three year contract, Andrelton Simmons signed for a one year deal, and Japanese superstar Seiya Suzuki to a five year contract. These moves leave the Cubs teetering between contenders and pretenders. Offensively, players like Suzuki, Wilson Contreras, and Patrick Wisdom can provide a spark. And the rotation has dependable arms like Stroman and Kyle Hendricks, who should see improvement in 2022. But the depth just isn’t there. The offense lacks firepower beyond their top players, the rotation is seriously questionable when looking past Hendricks and Stroman, and the bullpen has zero arms that can be relied on to shut down an offense. They certainly have some nice pieces, but the overall lack of consistency in this roster will prevent the Cubs from a playoff run in 2022.
Second Place- St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals have a good roster. Their offense is good, and the pitching is good. But that’s the issue. With the exception of their defense, every part of their team is just good. The lineup has plenty of solid players. Nolan Arenado is a star third baseman, and Paul Goldschmidt had a resurgent season in 2021. The lineup as a whole, however, isn’t elite. They’ll be able to beat up on the weaker pitchers in the league, but when a true ace takes the mound against them, runs will be hard to come by. The pitching staff is the same story. Now that Jack Flaherty is once again dealing with arm issues, nobody in the rotation is a true ace. Adam Wainwright had a vintage year in 2021, but St. Louis can’t expect those same results again. Miles Mikolas is an innings eater, and Steven Matz is good for a 3.80 ERA at best. The bullpen does have some dominant arms. However, star closer Alex Reyes is being shut down and isn’t expected to return until late May at the earliest. This means relievers like Jordan Hicks and Giovanny Gallegos will be relied on heavily, which could tax them later in the year. Overall, the Cardinals certainly have a team that is capable of making the postseason. They aren’t built to win the NL Central.
First Place- Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers were able to win 95 games last year, while having an offense that ranked 20th in OPS, and 24th in total bases. So how did they win so many games? Their pitching was phenomenal last year, and should be able to repeat their success. Corbin Burnes won the NL Cy Young Award, with teammate Brandon Woodruff coming in fifth place in the voting. Freddy Peralta also enjoyed a massive breakout season posting career bests in ERA, strikeouts, and innings pitched. The bullpen also boasts extremely talented arms. Devin Williams and Josh Hader compose one of baseball’s best reliever combos, and pitchers like Aaron Ashby and Jake Cousins are able to come in and effectively bridge the gap to Hader and Williams. The sole weakness for the Brewers is their lineup. Christian Yelich is definitely due for a bounceback year, though it is unlikely he will return to his MVP form. New acquisition Hunter Renfroe enjoyed a breakout year in 2021, but his career track record is shaky. And the other bats in the lineup are either veterans who are past their prime, or young hitters who need to seriously work on their approach at the plate. Ultimately, the Brewers will be able to win this division off of the
strength of their pitching alone. But if Yelich is able to bounce back, the Brewers are serious World Series threats.