NL Central Preview Capsules

The Associated Press

The Cincinnati Reds' Nick Senzel is recovered after having shoulder surgery  (AP Photo)

The Cincinnati Reds' Nick Senzel is recovered after having shoulder surgery (AP Photo)

Capsules of National League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:

St. Louis Cardinals

2019: 91-71, first place, lost to Nationals in NLCS.

Manager: Mike Shildt (third season).

He’s Here: LHP Matthew Liberatore, C Matt Wieters, LHP Kwang Hyun Kim.

He’s Outta Here: OF Marcell Ozuna, RF Jose Martinez, LF Randy Arozarena, RHP Dominic Leone.

Projected Lineup: 2B Kolten Wong (.285, 11 HRs, 59 RBI, 24 SBs), 3B Matt Carpenter (.226, 15, 46), 1B Paul Goldschmidt (.260, 34, 97), SS Paul DeJong (.233, 30, 78), DH Brad Miller (.260, 13, 25 with Cleveland and Philadelphia) or Tommy Edman (.304, 11, 36), C Yadier Molina (.270, 10, 57), LF Tyler O’Neill (.262, 5, 16), RF Dexter Fowler (.238, 19, 67), CF Harrison Bader (.205, 12, 39).

Rotation: RH Jack Flaherty (11-8, 2.75, ERA), RH Dakota Hudson (16-7, 3.35), RH Miles Mikolas (9-14, 4.16), RH Adam Wainwright (14-10, 4.19), LH Kwang Hyun Kim (6-7, 4.76).

Key Relievers: RH Carlos Martinez (4-2, 3.17, 24 saves), RH Daniel Ponce de Leon (1-2, 3.70), LH Andrew Miller (5-6, 4.45), RH Giovanny Gallegos (3-2, 2.31), RH Ryan Helsley (2-0, 2.95), LH John Brebbia (3-4, 3.59), LH Tyler Webb (2-1, 3.76), RH John Gant (11-1, 3.66), RH Brett Cecil (1-7, 3.93 with Toronto).

Outlook: The Cardinals return largely intact after getting swept in the NLCS by World Series champion Washington. The biggest competition throughout the spring was in the outfield, where only Fowler has a position locked up — mostly because of his contract. Bader had another spot under control, leaving O’Neill, Lane Thomas and top prospect Dylan Carlson competing for the last job heading into summer camp. St. Louis won’t have reliever Jordan Hicks back from Tommy John surgery after he opted out of the 60-game season, so Martinez will likely handle closing duties after doing an effective job down the stretch last year.

Milwaukee Brewers

2019: 89-73, second place, lost to Nationals in wild-card game.

Manager: Craig Counsell (sixth season).

He’s Here: LHP Brett Anderson, OF Avisaíl García, INF Ryon Healy, INF-OF Brock Holt, RHP Josh Lindblom, 1B Logan Morrison, C Omar Narváez, RHP David Phelps, 1B Justin Smoak, INF Eric Sogard, SS Luis Urias.

He’s Outta Here: C Yasmani Grandal, INF Mike Moustakas, LHP Gio González, RHP Jordan Lyles, LHP Drew Pomeranz, RHP Chase Anderson, 1B Eric Thames, RHP Zach Davies, RF Trent Grisham, RHP Jimmy Nelson, INF Travis Shaw.

Projected Lineup: CF Lorenzo Cain (.260, 11 HRs, 48 RBI, 18 SBs), LF Christian Yelich (NL-leading .329, 44, 97, NL-best .429 OBP and .598 slugging percentage), 2B Keston Hiura (.309, 19, 49), DH Ryan Braun (.285, 22, 75), RF Avisail Garcia (.282, 20, 72 with White Sox), 1B Justin Smoak (.208, 22, 61, .342 OBP with Blue Jays), C Omar Narvaez (.278, 22, 55 with Mariners), 3B Eric Sogard (.290, 13, 40 with Rays) or Brock Holt (.297, 3, 31 with Red Sox) or Jedd Gyorko (.174, 2, 9 with Cardinals and Dodgers), SS Orlando Arcia (.223, 15, 59) or Luis Urias (.223, 4, 24 with Padres).

Rotation: RH Brandon Woodruff (11-3, 3.62 ERA, 143 Ks in 121 2/3 innings), LH Brett Anderson (13-9, 3.89, 90 Ks in 176 IP with Athletics), RH Adrian Houser (6-7, 3.72, 117 Ks in 111 1/3 IP), RH Josh Lindblom (20-3, 2.50, 189 Ks in 194 2/3 IP in Korean Baseball Organization), RH Freddy Peralta (7-3, 5.29, 115 Ks in 85 IP) or RH Corbin Burnes (1-5, 8.82, 70 Ks in 49 IP) or LH Eric Lauer (8-10, 4.45 with Padres).

Key Relievers: LH Josh Hader (3-5, 2.62, 37 saves, 138 Ks in 75 2/3 IP), RH Corey Knebel (missed 2019 due to Tommy John surgery), LH Alex Claudio (2-2, 4.06, 44 Ks in 62 IP), LH Brent Suter (4-0, 0.49, 15 Ks in 18 1/3 IP), RH Bobby Wahl (missed 2019 due to torn anterior cruciate ligament), RH Ray Black (0-0, 4.50, 5 Ks in 2 IP with Giants; 0-1, 5.14, 13 Ks in 14 IP with Brewers)

Outlook: The Brewers have enough options at various positions that they should be able to deal with any injuries that don’t involve Yelich or a handful of other key players. The versatility on their roster and the depth of their bullpen could help them deal with the adoption of the designated hitter in the NL and the compressed schedule. But there also are plenty of questions. Will Hiura hit as well as he did last season? Will Cain stay healthy after an injury-riddled 2019? Can they get more production from second base? And that doesn’t even include all the uncertainty surrounding the pitching staff. All those issues will make it tough for the Brewers to earn a third straight playoff berth.

Chicago Cubs

2019: 84-78, third place.

Manager: David Ross (first season).

He’s Here: Manager David Ross, RHP Casey Sadler, RHP Ryan Tepera, RHP Dan Winkler, RHP Jharel Cotton, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, OF Steven Souza Jr., C Josh Phegley, INF Hernán Pérez.

He’s Outta Here: Manager Joe Maddon, 2B/SS Addison Russell, LHP Cole Hamels, INF/OF Ben Zobrist, RHP Pedro Strop, OF Nicholas Castellanos, LHP Derek Holland, C Jonathan Lucroy, RHP Steve Cishek, LHP Xavier Cedeno, INF-OF Tony Kemp, RHP David Phelps, RHP Tony Barnette, RHP Kendall Graveman.

Projected Lineup: 3B Kris Bryant (.282, 31 HRs, 77 RBI, 108 runs), 1B Anthony Rizzo (.293, 27, 94), SS Javier Báez (.281, 29, 85), DH Kyle Schwarber (.250, 38, 92), C Willson Contreras (.272, 24, 64), RF Jason Heyward (.251, 21, 62), LF Ian Happ (.264, 11, 30), CF Albert Almora Jr. (.236, 12, 32), 2B Jason Kipnis (.245, 17, 65 in 121 games with Indians).

Rotation: RH Yu Darvish (6-8, 3.98 ERA, 229 Ks in 178 2/3 IP), RH Kyle Hendricks (11-10, 3.46, 150 Ks, 177 IP), LH Jon Lester (13-10, 4.46, 165 Ks, 171 2/3 IP), LH José Quintana (13-9, 4.68, 152 Ks, 171 IP), RH Tyler Chatwood (5-3, 3.76, 38 games, five starts).

Key Relievers: RH Craig Kimbrel (0-4, 6.53 ERA, 13 saves), RH Jeremy Jeffress (3-4, 5.02, 1 save in 48 games with Milwaukee), RH Rowan Wick (2-0, 2.43, 2 saves in 31 games), LH Kyle Ryan (4-2, 3.54 in 73 games), LH Brad Wieck (2-1, 3.60 in 14 games with Cubs; 0-1, 6.57 in 30 games with Padres), RH Alec Mills (1-0, 2.75, 1 save in 9 games), RH Casey Sadler (4-0, 2.14, 1 save in 33 games with Rays and Dodgers), RH Ryan Tepera (0-2, 4.98 in 23 games with Blue Jays), RH Dan Winkler (3-1, 4.98 in 27 games with Braves).

Outlook: Pitching is a concern, but the Cubs have enough talent to contend for a playoff spot — especially with the shortened 60-game season. The top of the lineup ranks among baseball’s best, fronted by Bryant, Rizzo and Báez. Ross also could put backup catcher Victor Caratini at DH and move Schwarber to left field to insert even more power into the lineup. The biggest issues for Ross heading into his first year as manager have to do with his pitching staff. The rotation took a hit when Quintana had surgery July 2 to repair nerve damage in his pitching thumb, casting doubt on his availability for the start of the season. Lester is coming off a down year, and Chatwood made only five starts in 2019. The bullpen has its own set of questions, especially with Kimbrel at closer after a tough first season in Chicago. If Ross and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy can find enough answers on the mound, the lineup could lead the Cubs back into the postseason after they came up short last year.

Cincinnati Reds

2019: 75-87, fourth place.

Manager: David Bell (second season).

He’s Here: 2B Mike Moustakas, OF Nick Castellanos, OF Shogo Akiyama, LHP Wade Miley, RHP Pedro Strop.

He’s Outta Here: SS Jose Iglesias, 2B Jose Peraza, LHP Alex Wood, RHP Kevin Gausman.

Projected Lineup: LF Shogo Akiyama (.303, 20 HRs, 52 RBI with Seibu Lions in Japan), RF Nick Castellanos (.289, 27, 73, 58 doubles with Tigers and Cubs), 1B Joey Votto (.261, 15, 47), 3B Eugenio Suarez (.271, 49, 103), 2B Mike Moustakas (.254, 35, 87 with Brewers), CF Nick Senzel (.256, 4, 42 in 104 games), DH Jesse Winker (.269, 16, 38), SS Freddy Galvis (.260, 23, 70 with Blue Jays and Reds), C Tucker Barnhart (.231, 11, 40).

Rotation: RH Sonny Gray (11-8, 2.87 ERA, 205 Ks in 175 1/3 innings), RH Luis Castillo (15-8, 3.40, 226 Ks in 190 2/3 innings), RH Trevor Bauer (11-13, 4.48, 253 Ks, 213 innings in 34 starts with Indians and Reds), LH Wade Miley (14-6, 3.98, 167 1/3 innings in 33 starts for Astros), RH Anthony DeSclafani (9-9, 3.89, 166 2/3 innings in 31 starts).

Key Relievers: RH Raisel Iglesias (3-12, 4.16, 34/40 saves), LH Amir Garrett (5-3, 3.21, 69 games), RH Michael Lorenzen (1-4, 2.92, 7/11 saves, 73 games), LH Pedro Strop (2-5, 4.97, 10/16 saves, 50 games with Cubs), RH Tyler Mahle (3-12, 5.14, 25 games), RH Lucas Sims (2-1, 4.60, 24 games).

Outlook: The Reds head into the 60-game season in good shape after their winter splurge to become relevant after six straight losing seasons. Senzel and Suarez were still recovering from shoulder surgery and would have missed the start of the season as originally scheduled, but are fully healed this time around. Nobody opted to sit out, and the Reds didn’t have any notable virus issues. Adding the DH for the abbreviated season helps, allowing the Reds to use their overcrowded outfield to their advantage in the everyday lineup.

Pittsburgh Pirates

2019: 69-93, fifth place.

Manager: Derek Shelton (first season).

He’s Here: Manager Derek Shelton, C Luke Maile, 1B Will Craig, SS JT Riddle, LHP Derek Holland, LHP Robbie Erlin, C John Ryan Murphy.

He’s Outta Here: Manager Clint Hurdle, CF Starling Marte, LHP Felipe Vazquez, C Elias Diaz, OF Melky Cabrera, RHP Dario Agrazal.

Projected Lineup: SS Kevin Newman (.308, 12 HRs, 64 RBI, 16 SBs), 2B Adam Frazier (.278, 10, 50), LF Bryan Reynolds (.315, 16, 68), 1B/DH Josh Bell (.277, 37, 116), RF Gregory Polanco (.242, 6, 17 in 42 games), 3B Colin Moran (.277, 13, 80), 1B Jose Osuna (.264, 10, 36), C Jacob Stallings (.262, 6, 13), CF Jarrod Dyson (.232, 7, 27, 30 SBs with Diamondbacks).

Rotation: RH Joe Musgrove (11-12, 4.44 ERA, 152 Ks in 171 1/3 innings), RH Trevor Williams (7-9, 5.38, 113 Ks), RH Mitch Keller (1-5, 7.13 in 11 starts as rookie), LH Steven Brault (4-6, 5.16 in 25 games, 19 starts), LH Derek Holland (2-5, 6.08 in 51 games, 8 starts with Cubs), RH Chad Kuhl (missed 2019 after elbow surgery; 5-5, 4.55, 81 Ks in 85 innings in 2018).

Key Relievers: RH Keone Kela (2-0, 2.12, 1 save in 32 games), RH Kyle Crick (3-7, 4.96 in 52 games), RH Michael Feliz (4-4, 3.99 in 58 games), RH Nick Burdi (2-1, 9.35 in 11 games, missed last 4 months with neck injury).

Outlook: The Pirates are in the midst of a full-scale reboot. The organization underwent a seismic leadership overhaul in the offseason following a last-place finish in the NL Central. The truncated 60-game schedule could play in Pittsburgh’s favor. The Pirates were hovering around .500 at the All-Star break last season despite a slew of injuries before a staggering second-half collapse that cost the decision-makers for the last decade — including Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington — their jobs. Shelton takes over his first big league managing gig facing unprecedented challenges. The 49-year-old baseball lifer has a roster that doesn’t look much different than the one that stumbled to a 25-48 mark in the second half last season. There is talent in spots. Reynolds and Newman hit over .300 as rookies, and Bell was an All-Star for the first time. The Pirates will probably hit. Whether they contend will depend on if a pitching staff missing injured ace Jameson Taillon and veteran Chris Archer improves after posting a 5.18 ERA — 14th in the NL — and takes a massive step forward under new pitching coach Oscar Marin.

The Cincinnati Reds' Nick Senzel is recovered after having shoulder surgery (AP Photo) Cincinnati Reds' Nick Senzel is recovered after having shoulder surgery (AP Photo)

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