Well, sure. Anything is possible, right? A little over a year ago, the Chicago Cubs were the class of the National League Central Division. Then, Milwaukee showed up and won the NL Central in 2018. St. Louis and Cincinnati have had off-seasons that make them instant contenders and the Pittsburgh Pirates had the best record within the division (43-33) in 2018. Can the Cubs keep pace with their peers in 2019?
The Bad News
Other than retaining starting pitcher Cole Hamels, the Cubs have made no significant offseason moves to date. Hamels was acquired by trade at midseason last year and finished 9-12 on the season. Chicago will also be without closer Brandon Morrow for the first part of the 2019 season and have done nothing to address the issue. Morrow suffered a bone bruise in July and never pitched again in 2018. He had offseason elbow surgery.
The Cubs haven’t really had to make a bunch of offseason moves. Their roster is already built for a championship. Don’t forget the Cubs’ roster includes Ben Zobrist, 2016 World Series MVP, Kris Bryant, the NL MVP in 2016, and Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez who combined for 59 home runs and 212 RBIs last season. Oh, and the Cubs are still in the mix in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes.
The Cardinals got serious about keeping up with the rest of the division by trading for former Arizona slugger Paul Goldschmidt and signing left-handed reliever Andrew Miller. Goldschmidt is a six-time All-Star who has a career .297 batting average. He hit .290 with 33 home runs and 83 RBIs for the Diamondbacks last year. Miller was one of the most sought after relief pitchers and signed with St. Louis in December. He instantly gives the Cardinals’ bullpen credibility.
The Cincinnati Reds made by far the biggest noise in the offseason by acquiring three stars from the Los Angeles Dodgers – Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Alex Wood. Puig and Kemp upgrade the Reds’ outfield. Puig hit .267 with 23 homers and Kemp batted .290 with 21 home runs and 85 RBIs last season. Where the Reds, who finished last in the division in each of the past four seasons, are weakest is in the pitching staff. Wood, who was 25-10 over the past two seasons in Los Angeles, gives Cincinnati a top-notch No. 1 starter.
MLB’s Toughest Division
The NL Central is the toughest division in baseball. It was the only division to have four teams over .500 last season. All but the Reds won at least 82 games. The Cardinals and Pirates, who finished third and fourth, would have finished second in the NL East and the AL Central.
Do the Cubs have what it takes to win the division in 2019? Absolutely. They have as much offensive firepower as any team in baseball. Their pitching staff is also one of the best in the majors. Jon Lester went 18-6 and Kyle Hendricks was 14-11 in 2018. The addition of Hamels was a boost and if Yu Darvish can come back from an injury, the Cubs could dominate the division in 2019.
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