- Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are still a very good team, but the NL central will be much more interesting this season with the Brewers and Cardinals making big improvements this offseason. However, Chicago still has arguably the most dangerous lineup from top to bottom in the entire MLB. The Cubs have terrific power hitters Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber in the middle of their lineup. However, they also have solid complementary players like Addison Russell and Jason Heyward to make their lineup even deeper. They really don’t have any weaknesses in their lineup and their roster is so deep that quality players Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist don’t even have a starting role. Chicago also has an extremely deep starting rotation even though they lost Jake Arrieta this offseason. The Cubs just ended up replacing him with terrific starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and they also added Tyler Chatwood to be their quality 5th starter. Chicago also returns Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana which makes their rotation arguably the best in the MLB. The Cubs bullpen looks a little bit different especially with Brandon Morrow as their new closer. However, it is likely even deeper than it was last season as they have Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., and Steve Cishek as quality late-inning options. It is very difficult to find a weakness on this roster and that is why they are once again the favorites to win the NL central in 2018.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are in a better position to compete with the Cubs for the division title in 2018 especially after the acquisitions that they made this offseason. The biggest addition that they made was acquiring Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins as he provides the elite power hitter that the team was missing last season. St. Louis already had a good lineup, but now it is great since they have terrific hitters like Tommy Pham, Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, and Paul DeJong all returning for the 2018 season. St. Louis shouldn’t have any problems scoring runs and they certainly have just as good of a lineup as any team in the MLB. The Cardinals also have a very good starting rotation led by Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Adam Wainwright. We all know what those 3 pitchers can do, but it will be young pitchers Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty that will need to step up. Both Weaver and Flaherty have tremendous potential, but they will need to make an immediate impact if the Cardinals rotation is to become great in 2018. The Cardinals bullpen is the one area that could potential hold them back in 2018. They do have plenty of depth and they have Dominic Leone and Tyler Lyons as terrific late-inning options. However, the closer role is still somewhat of an issue for the Cardinals heading into 2018. Luke Gregerson was signed in order to fill that void, but even he struggled last season and it is unknown if he will improve that role in 2018. Overall, the Cardinals should be a playoff team in 2018, but they still have a few holes that are holding them back from winning this division.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers signaled that they are ready to compete for a playoff spot in 2018 after they made some big-time acquisitions this offseason. Milwaukee now has an extremely deep outfield after acquiring Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain this offseason. The team now has Yelich, Cain, Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, and Keon Broxton all competing for 3 outfield spots in 2018 and it’s safe to say that they might have the best outfield in the entire MLB. However, the Brewers also have a very deep lineup with players like Travis Shaw, Orlando Arcia, and Eric Thames all figuring to be key contributors once again this season. Milwaukee is certainly going to score many runs in 2018, but the main area of concern is with their pitching. Their best pitcher Jimmy Nelson is injured right now and he probably won’t return until June. Zach Davies and Chase Anderson both had terrific years for the Brewers in 2018, but besides them the pitching staff doesn’t have much depth. Milwaukee is hoping that veteran pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo can be the pitchers that they once were and make the Brewers rotation great. Milwaukee has a decent starting rotation right now and it will be better once Nelson returns, but they still need to add some more depth in order to compete with the best teams in the NL. The Brewers bullpen has the potential to be good especially with elite closer Corey Knebel and quality setup man Josh Hader as their 8th-inning option. However, Milwaukee needs somebody to step up and really take control of the other late-inning role. The Brewers have a decent bullpen right now with Knebel and Hader, but the rest of the bullpen needs to prove itself in order for them to be really good. Milwaukee will certainly compete for a playoff spot in 2018 and they are better than last season, although they need to improve their pitching before they can really guarantee themselves a playoff spot.
4. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are a team that might be able to be a respectable team in 2018, but one thing is for sure and that is they are going to score plenty of runs in 2018. Joey Votto is still arguably the best hitter in the MLB and that probably won’t change much this season. However, the one thing that he does have is plenty of offensive threats alongside him as Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Scooter Gennett, and Eugenio Suarez all proved to be very capable power hitters last season. The pitching is the one thing that will likely destroy the Reds season in 2018 just like it did last season. Veteran starting pitchers Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey are back from injury and that should provide a major boost to the Reds rotation especially if they can pitch like they have before in their careers. However, the rest of the rotation is a complete unknown as they have a few young unproven pitchers that will likely will the rest of the rotation. Luis Castillo was very impressive last season, but we’ll see if he can continue that success with a full season for the Reds. Brandon Finnegan is another young pitcher that has had some success in the past, but we’ll see if he can bounce back from injury in 2018. The Reds starting rotation has tremendous potential in 2018, although it could also be the thorn in the side of the Reds just like the past couple of years. Meanwhile, the Reds bullpen has the opportunity to be decent in 2018. Raisel Iglesias is the clear leader of the bullpen as he has quietly become one of the best closers in the MLB. The Reds also added some much needed depth to their bullpen by signing veteran relief pitchers Jared Hughes and David Hernandez. Both of those guys will compete with Michael Lorenzen and Wandy Peralta for the late-inning roles for Cincinnati. We’ll see which pitchers win that competition, but just based on depth the Reds bullpen should be better this season. Cinncinnati is a team on the rise and don’t be surprised if they are at least a respectable team in 2018.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh had a few years of success, but now it is back to the rebuilding mode for the Pirates after trading away star players Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen this offseason. However, all isn’t lost for the Pirates as they still have a good outfield with Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, and newly-acquired Corey Dickerson. Marte and Polanco didn’t have very good seasons for Pittsburgh in 2018, but they still have tremendous potential and if they improve in 2018 then it could provide the Pirates with a big boost on offense. The team also has above average starters Josh Bell and Josh Harrison in their lineup and they should provide the offense with even more of a boost. Either way, the Pirates offense should still be decent in 2018 even with the loss of McCutchen and it could be really good if Marte and Polanco bounce back in 2018. The problem for the Pirates could be their starting pitching which wans’t even that good prior to Gerrit Cole’s departure. Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, and Joe Musgrove are all decent starting pitchers, although they all struggled last season as each of them had at least a 4.14 ERA. However, the Pirates absolutely need them to improve in 2018 because the team has no chance without them especially since there isn’t much depth at the back end of the rotation. Pittsburgh’s rotation could be better than most expect, but those guys need to step it up in order for the pitching staff to be successful. Meanwhile, the bullpen also has a chance to be decent for the Pirates in 2018. Felipe Rivero is a terrific closer and he became one of the elite closers in the MLB last season. However, the depth behind him is somewhat of a concern as they don’t have great late-inning options to set him up. George Kontos and Kyle Crick are decent options, but they will need to improve in order for the Pirates bullpen to be successful since they don’t have much depth. The Pirates are technically in a rebuild mode for the 2018 and don’t expect them to compete for a playoff spot. However, Pittsburgh should still be a decent team considering they still have some quality position players to carry the load.