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A brief look at the Cubs’ NL Central rivals

How does the rest of the division stack up?

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

During a normal Spring Training, I would by now have written a brief article about each of the 20 teams the Cubs would be facing in the upcoming season.

Obviously, this is not a normal Spring Training. With the uncertainty about when things would begin, and with the large number of free agents still out there when things did finally get started two weeks ago, it wasn’t possible to do that.

Instead, here’s a brief look at each of the Cubs’ four NL Central rivals. Please note the word “brief” above. This is not intended to be any sort of in-depth preview, just an overview.

St. Louis Cardinals

Honestly, I don’t know how they do this. I’ve used the phrase “pixie dust” before and, well... there are worse explanations for how the Cardinals have made the postseason 15 times since 2000, won two World Series in that span and not had a losing season since 1999.

Most of the team that won 17 straight in September 2021 (though the Cubs managed to win two from them after the streak ended) is returning for 2022. Adam Wainwright, who is so old that one of his rookie year teammates was Larry Walker, returns for a 17th season at age 40. Don’t put it past him having a good year, either, he was a 3.5 bWAR starter in 2021. His longtime teammate Yadier Molina is also back. This is likely the last year for both.

The only free agents of any note added are Corey Dickerson, who will help out in the outfield, and Steven Matz for the rotation. They’ll need Matz to be good, because Jack Flaherty, expected to be a staff ace, is out with shoulder issues. The Cardinals say it’s only a couple of weeks, but who knows.

What can I say? This team always finds ways to be good.

The Cubs were supposed to face the Cardinals April 4 for the home opener. With the mess surrounding the schedule those games were moved. Now the Cubs won’t see the Cardinals until June 2 at Wrigley Field. That will be a five-game series, including a makeup for one of the postponed April games.

Milwaukee Brewers

The biggest changes here are the additions of Hunter Renfroe (by trade) and Andrew McCutchen (via free agency). McCutchen, who is now 35, had a good year with the Phillies in 2021 and will likely be Milwaukee’s DH. Renfroe ... well, he also should likely be a DH, but the Brewers can use only one of those at a time. He’ll play right field.

Otherwise, it’s the same team that tormented the Cubs in 2021. The Brewers went 15-4 against the Cubs last year and that included that ridiculous game where the Cubs scored seven in the first and lost 15-7 and another at Wrigley Field where Kyle Hendricks allowed nine runs in four innings, probably the worst game of The Professor’s career. The Cubs lost 17-4. The Brewers outscored the Cubs 124-67 in the 19 games played between the teams. That alone accounted for 57 runs of the Cubs -134 run differential last year.

I’m pretty sure it won’t be as bad this time.

The Cubs open the season against the Brewers April 7 in Wrigley Field. That’ll be a four-game series.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Hey, our old buddy Jose Quintana is a Pirate!

Hey, our old buddy Jose Quintana got lit up the other day for six runs in two innings in his spring debut for the Bucs.

The Pirates also picked up old friend Daniel Vogelbach, who will likely be Pittsburgh’s DH. They signed Roberto Perez to catch for them and you might remember Perez as a decent catcher for Cleveland, but he has hit .156/.253/.277 in 76 games over the last two years. So maybe he’ll fit right in.

Otherwise this is mostly the same team that lost 101 games last year. They’ll have a healthy Ke’Bryan Hayes, so that’ll help, but otherwise... I can’t see this team losing fewer than 95 games.

The Cubs’ first games against the Pirates this year will be April 12 and 13 in Pittsburgh. April 12 is the Pirates’ home opener.

Cincinnati Reds

Holy moly, what happened here?

If the 12-team playoff system had been in effect in 2021, the Reds would have been in at 83-79.

Instead of building on that base, the Reds had a pre- and post-lockout selloff. The Cubs got one of their starters, Wade Miley. Another one, Sonny Gray, is now with the Twins. Then they traded Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez to the Mariners. For now, they say, they’re not going to trade starting pitchers Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle. For now.

Things are so uncertain that as of this morning they list only four starters on their depth chart.

The bullpen isn’t bad, and it’ll need to be good with all the rotation uncertainty. That pen will include former Cub Justin Wilson.

There still are some decent bats here, including Tyler Stephenson, now the starting catcher with Tucker Barnhart in Detroit, and 2021 NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India.

And then there’s Joey Votto, rejuvenated last year. Votto has turned down trades several times — including to his hometown Blue Jays — but 10 days ago he told reds.com beat writer Mark Sheldon, regarding a trade:

That’s the type of question you’d have to ask ownership and the front office. I have never once in my career asked or even whispered anything like that. I’ve been loyal to this uniform, to this city, to the contract that I signed. On my side of things, it’s never been something I’ve ever really prompted. I have a responsibility to the person that signs my checks. That’s not my question.

Draw your own conclusions. Honestly, I’d be happy to see Votto out of the NL Central. Last year he hit .396 /.484/1.000 (21-for-53) against the Cubs with nine home runs and he is currently the leader among active players in home runs against the Cubs (46).

The Reds are a markedly worse team than they were a year ago and I’m going to say right now that the Cubs will finish ahead of both them and the Pirates.

The Cubs were supposed to open the season against the Reds in Cincinnati. Instead, those games were moved to the end of the year, so the Cubs will finish the season with six straight games against the Reds, three at Wrigley, three in Cincinnati. Their first games against the Reds will be May 23-26 at GABP.

Poll

Where will the Cubs finish in the NL Central in 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    First
    (68 votes)
  • 21%
    Second
    (150 votes)
  • 53%
    Third
    (378 votes)
  • 12%
    Fourth
    (91 votes)
  • 2%
    Fifth
    (21 votes)
708 votes total Vote Now