My initial thought regarding the NL Central was that it was the best division in all of baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals won 100 games last year, while the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs won 98 and 97 games respectively. To put that into perspective, since 1969, there have only been 47 teams to reach the 100 win mark. The division almost had three in the same season! Wilt would chuckle, but wouldn’t be impressed. Anyways, most of the great philosophical enlightenments come from cartoons. This one being particularly relevant. Put another way, the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds are the cellar dwellers, both failing to win 70 wins last year. I guess the division is a microcosm of mankind. You got the “haves” and the “have-nots.” With two punching bags in the division, which elevates the win totals of the other teams, the NL Central cannot be considered the best division in baseball. That distinction probably goes to the AL East, but we are not here to talk about that. We are here to discuss the position battles in the NL Central. So without further adieu Pepe Le Pew….
- Substitute: Man, the Cubbies are stacked. I’m suddenly craving pancakes. Mmmmmmm. The first guy off the bench seems to be the only position battle in Chicago. Javier Baez, the 23-year-old Cuban, has true light tower power. Unfortunately, he also whiffs so much that the jetstream actually goes from east to west when he plays. In 2014, he struck out an obscene 41.5% of the time in 52 games with the big club. He’s shown improvement, though, as he whittled that K rate down to 30% last year. Baez is a versatile defender, as he can play both in the infield and outfield. That should help him figure into Joe Maddon’s diabolical plans. Like his fellow country man, Jorge Soler is a man-child that can hit the ball far, but also cause changes in the atmosphere. Unlike Baez, he does not play in the infield. The most likely outcome for Soler would be to platoon with Kyle Schwarber in left field. Baez will probably get plenty of run as he can fill in all over.
- Left Field: Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler are battling for this spot. Who? Exactly. Duvall is 27 years old and bats from the right side. In 137 major league at-bats, he possesses a .204/.268/.409 slash line with eight home runs and 46 strikeouts. He does have some pop in his bat, as he belted 30 round-trippers in Triple-A before getting the call to the show. Schebler is 25 years old and bats from the left side. In 36 at-bats with the Dodgers last year, he batted .250/.325/.500 with three home runs and 13 strikeouts. He slugged 28 home runs in 2014 for Double-A Chattanooga. This battle will, unfortunately, not be going to the death. All indications seem to indicate that a platoon is in the works, with Schebler garnering the strong side.
- Starting Rotation: Entering Spring Training, the only two locks in the rotation were Anthony DeSclafani and everyone’s sleeper, Raisel Iglesias. If he’s everyone’s sleeper, he can no longer be a sleeper right? Michael Lorenzen, John Lamb, Jon Moscot, Keyvius Sampson, Brandon Finnegan, Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed and Rookie Davis were all in the mix for the other three spots. Kind of reminds me of that old football saying, “if you have two starting quarterbacks, you don’t have one.” To muck things up, the front office went and signed Alfredo Simon, who had a 5.05 ERA, 1.439 WHIP with a 5.6 K/9 last year with the Tigers. ‘Merica. What a country. Stephenson and Davis were sent down to the minors. Lorenzen and Sampson are going to the bullpen and Lamb is injured. That leaves Finnegan, Moscot, Simon and Reed. Finnegan seems to be the “safest” option, but that’s not saying much. Simon will probably lock down a spot because he’s a veteran and has had success in Cincinnati before. That leaves Moscot and Reed for the final spot. It’s been mentioned that the Reds would prefer Reed to log some time in the minors to begin the season, but Moscot is currently injured and Reed is known as a “big ol’ donkey” and possibly the next Reds superhero. With that said, if Moscot is healthy then he will get that fifth spot. The Reds are not contending so there is no need to rush one of their young cats.
- Closer: The Brewers won 68 games last year and generated 54 save opportunites, good for 26th in MLB. For perspective, the Rays generated 87 save opportunities. Even with the low number, the Brewers still locked down 40 saves as a team. As a loyal Razzball reader, you know that SAGNOF. New manager Craig Counsell is keeping things close to the vest and not revealing who the closer will be. Sssshhhhh. Don’t tell anyone, for that knowledge will allow other teams to prepare and inhibit us from winning 69 games this year. Ok, that’s probably not the case. The alternative is that he just doesn’t know. Well, that’s not too reassuring is it? He doesn’t want to hurt feelings? That’s worse. Anyways, the two candidates are Will Smith…sorry, couldn’t resist…and Jeremy Jeffress. Let’s break it down. In 68 innings pitched, Jeffress had a 2.65 ERA, 1.265 WHIP and had a 8.9 K/9 rate last year. Smith pitched 63 innings and had a 2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and a 12.9 K/9 rate. They both had similar platoon splits: .251/.272 for Jeffress and .267/.246 for Smith. Jeffress induced more ground balls but Smith had a lower HR/FB%. Maybe this does turn into a closer platoon. Jeffress has been recovering from a mild hamstring strain and hasn’t pitched in a live Spring Training game yet, so that could be an issue. I was all aboard the Smith train early on. Now, I do believe this is going to be cluster**** for fantasy. There are only so many sunflower seeds a man can eat before boredom atrophies a man. One way for Counsell to stay invigorated is to have to make a decision on which pitcher to close in those rare occasions in which the Brewers will be leading.
- Centerfield: Keon Broxton be making his fans go….There are no women reading Razzball? My bad. What would the guy version of that song be? This? If not, the song is appropriate because he has been blazing this spring: .348/.531/.391 in 23 at-bats with six stolen bases. In seven minor league seasons, he has a .253/.333/.410 slash line with a high of 19 home runs and 39 stolen bases in a season. Who is his competition? Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Bless you. In four big league seasons, Nieuwenhuis (bless you) has a .232/.306/.389 slash line with a high of seven home runs and four stolen bases in a season. The question is not IF Broxton will play. The question is HOW HIGH?
- Leadoff: Do you want speed at the top of the lineup or someone that gets on base? Speed used to be victorious, but analytics have shown that OBP may be more beneficial. Very similar to how analytics in basketball have exposed the advantage of the corner three point shot. You can’t steal first. I’m looking at you Billy Hamilton. With that said, Gregory Polanco and John Jaso are battling for the leadoff spot. Polanco stole 27 bases last year with a .320 OBP. Jaso has never stolen more than five bases in a season, but once had a .394 OBP season. If Jaso does bat leadoff, that would move Polanco down to fifth in the batting order. More RBI opportunities, but the move could affect his runs scored and stolen bases. Jaso is a platoon player and could bat second. Nothing has been set in stone yet, so Polanco could still get some run at leadoff.
- Starting rotation: Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and Jon Niese are the top three. Juan Nicasio, Ryan Vogelsong and Jeff Locke are battling for the final two spots. I think it’s fair to say that Nicasio has a spot locked up. All he’s done this spring is throw 10 shutout innings with 16 strikeouts. Before we start crowning his a**, let’s remember that Nicasio has a career 1.470 WHIP. If he can keep the walks in check, he could be very very good. With Ray Searage as pitching coach, there’s a good possibility of that happening. So it’s down to Vogelsong and Locke for the fifth spot. Are they flipping a coin or playing rock-paper-scissors? Does it really matter? They are just be keeping the seat warm for Tyler Glasnow. Isn’t the worst thing in the whole world sitting on a warm toilet seat? Heebee Jeebees. Ok, that could be worse. I guess the Pirates could just look at Spring Training stats and decide that way. Locke has a 7.07 ERA, 1.286 WHIP with three home runs allowed in 14 innings. Stop the fight.
St. Louis Cardinals
- First base: Matt Adams vs. Brandon Moss. “Big City” vs. Paul Bunyan. A clash of the Titans. Adams is 6’3,” 260 pounds and bats from the left side. Moss is 6’0,” 210 pounds and also bats from the left side. Adams couldn’t cross the Mendoza Line against left-handed pitching, even if there were crates of Twinkies on the other side. Moss has no platoon split from a batting average perspective. He is equally mediocre against both, but crushes righties in the power department. The Cardinals traded for Moss last season and he seems to fully recovered from his hip ailment. If you’ve read any of my stuff, then you know that I usually subscribe to the philosophy of C.R.E.A.M. Moss will make $8.25 million and Adams $1.65 million.
Thanks for reading.
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