In 2018, the National League Central division had its fair share of tough battles down the road, as the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs battled back and forth for the right to win the divisional crown. With 162 games not being enough, a tiebreaker was needed to solve the tie.
The Brewers, after going down to Wrigley and bringing a good amount of their fanbase with them, infiltrated the unfriendly confines and stole the title from the Cubs, who were the favorites and in control of the title until they fell apart in the last 15 games. With the Brewers closing the gap late in September, the Cubs were left to fight to advance in the Wild Card round against the Colorado Rockies.
With the Cubs dropping an extra-innings battle again at home, this ended their hopes of a title run pretty much before it started, a disappointing end to their season that had high expectations and the players to reach those heights.
The rest of the division was semi-competitive, as the St. Louis Cardinals took third after firing Mike Matheny before understanding that they still could make a playoff run, which ultimately ended up not happening. As was a theme in the playoffs, the Brewers clinched a playoff berth on an opponent’s field, as they won in Busch Stadium to fulfill their goal of making it back to the promised land.
The final two teams in the division, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, both had different paths to disappointment in 2018. The Pirates, who for some reason felt they had the pieces to make a Wild Card run, traded the farm for ace Chris Archer right before the Trade Deadline, which was not a good move big picture.
While Archer is a rotation leader, he is not worth the amount of top-tier prospects they shed in order to get him into black and yellow. The Pirates traded their developed farm for a small shot at glory, which (surprise surprise) backfired royally.
The Reds, on the other hand, knew that the playoffs were out of the question for 2018 and played as such, utilizing their innings to develop their roster, figure out who was a part of their future and ship out short-term pieces to help stock their farm system up once again.
In the offseason, the Reds decided to swiped with the Los Angeles Dodgers big contracts, and they brought in Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Alex Wood, among other pieces, to help this team be somewhat relevant in 2019. Joey Votto deserves a lot better than he has gotten from this franchise so far, but he is signed up for the long haul and is committed to whatever moves the team makes.
Even with the Pirates and Reds not having a real shot at the playoffs in 2019, this division is going to be very tough, potentially even the toughest in the league.
The Cardinals decided to make their offseason a playground, trading prospects to bring in slugger Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks, a shocking move more so for the Diamondbacks than anything. Moving a cornerstone like Goldschmidt is not an easy task, but one that immediately gives the Cardinals much better odds to make more noise.
Other than that, the Cardinals signed Andrew Miller to help solidify their bullpen, even with his injury history. Miller may be overworked, as Miller and flamethrower Jordan HIcks are the two main pillars of that bullpen, but they need more arms.
Adding Goldschmidt and Miller to the roster are important pieces for a team looking up at both the Cubs and Brewers, and they have the pieces to surprise and shock this season. But their other two direct teams in the competition will not make their 2019 season an easy one.
For the Cubs, the name of their game is money, as they are limited on cash and having issues creating any sort of room for player upgrades. Even with Daniel Murphy leaving for the Rockies, they still do not have any sort of meaningful cap space to make the needed moves to improve their odds of winning the division.
The Brewers, as a small-market franchise, have relied on smaller deals and mid-season trades to boost their odds in the past, but now are ponying up the cash to bring in players. Re-signing Mike Moustakas to play second base, which he has never played, is a bold move but he is used to the clubhouse and is a great veteran presence.
The most underrated signing of the offseason was the Brewers bringing in Yasmani Grandal to bolster their catching ranks, as defensive-minded Manny Pina moves to backup and postseason hero Erik Kratz is on the outside looking in.
With the Brewers, Cubs, and Cardinals all vying for the top spot in the division, the Pirates and Reds are still competitive teams that would be a second-place team in most other divisions. That is a testament to how good this division is and how solid they are from top to bottom.
While the Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves should be the dominant factors in the NL West and East, respectively, it is anyone’s game in the Central, making it a very interesting race to monitor throughout the year. An injury or a slide in the standings for one team can be the difference between first and third.
Keep an eye on this division, as the race can easily come down to the last week of the regular season.