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2023 Cubs: Know your enemy, NL Central

Here’s what to look for from the Cubs’ divisional opponents this year.

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Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Last year, I didn’t really have a chance to put together my usual “Know your enemy” series due to MLB’s lockout.

But now we’re back to a normal Spring Training and season, so I can put together this series again and...

Well, let me be honest. With the new balanced schedule the Cubs are playing all 29 other teams this year for at least one series.

Sorry, but... no way am I going to write 29 of these.

So instead, I’ll give you a wrapup of each division, six articles beginning today and running through Saturday, which is the first day of Cubs Spring Training games.

Today, I’m going to cheat a little. I wrote up brief profiles of the Cubs’ NL Central opponents earlier this month in an article asking whether the Cubs had a realistic chance to win the NL Central. Since I did that work already, I’m just going to repost it here, with a tweak or two.

Cincinnati Reds

Key departures: Chase Anderson, Aristides Aquino, Kyle Farmer, Mike Moustakas, Donovan Solano, Hunter Strickland, Justin Wilson

Key arrivals: Curt Casali, Wil Myers, Luke Weaver

Last April, Reds president Phil Castellini angered the team’s fans in comments on a radio show:

When asked why fans should maintain their trust in an interview with Scott Sloan and Mo Egger, Castellini said fans should “be careful what you ask for.”

“Well, where are you gonna go? Let’s start there. Sell the team to who?” Castellini said. “If you want to have this debate — if you want to look at what would you do with this team to have it be more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists, it would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else.”

And that was before the team got off to a 3-21 start and lost 100 games. In January, he doubled down on that when speaking to a Reds fan group:

Reds president Phil Castellini, less than a year shy of making his infamous Opening Day comments, spoke to a Reds supporters club on Saturday saying the Reds operate like a “nonprofit,” calling baseball an “industry in crisis,” and bemoaning the state of a sport that has an increased number of teams out of contention on Opening Day.

The Reds are going to lose at least 100 games again.

At Wrigley Field: May 26-27-28 and August 1-2-3
At Cincinnati: April 3-4-5 and September 1-2-3

Milwaukee Brewers

Key departures: Brad Boxberger, Andrew McCutchen, Omar Narváez, Jace Peterson, Hunter Renfroe, Brent Suter, Kolten Wong

Key arrivals: Brian Anderson, William Contreras, Wade Miley, Joel Payamps, Abraham Toro, Jesse Winker

I’m not quite sure what the Brewers are doing here. It looks like shuffling the proverbial deck chairs. Narváez demolished Cubs pitching in 2021 (.333/.464/.548, three HR in 56 PA), but not so much in 2022 (.200/.250/.233 in 32 PA).

The Cubs have one of Milwaukee’s departures in Boxberger and the Brewers picked up a former Cub in Miley. The Brewers have switched catchers and second basemen as well.

The Brewers were in first place for a long time in 2022 but faded and finished seven games out. It’s hard to see them doing better.

At Wrigley Field: March 30, April 1-2 and August 28-29-30
At Milwaukee: July 3-4-5-6 and September 29-30, October 1

Again, I ask the schedule-makers: Why are these teams playing in Chicago in March?

Pittsburgh Pirates

Key departures: Ben Gamel, Kevin Newman, Roberto Perez, Dillon Peters

Key arrivals: Ji-Man Choi, Rich Hill, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Santana, Vince Velasquez

The Pirates have a really good young shortstop in Oneil Cruz, who can throw and hit a baseball really hard. It’ll be fun watching him develop.

Otherwise I don’t see any real improvements here. The Pirates lost 100 games in 2022. They might do that again.

Fun fact: One of Rich Hill’s teammates his rookie year with the Cubs (2005) was Greg Maddux, who has been retired for 14 years.

At Wrigley Field: June 13-14-15 and September 19-20-21
At Pittsburgh: June 19-20-21 and August 24-25-26-27

Last year the Cubs played the Pirates 13 times in their first 70 games. This year, barring rainouts, the first Cubs/Pirates matchup will be Cubs game number 67.

St. Louis Cardinals

Key departures: Corey Dickerson, Yadier Molina (retired), Albert Pujols (retired), José Quintana

Key arrivals: Willson Contreras

Obviously, Contreras’ performance will be very important in determining the Cardinals’ direction this year. We all know what Willson can do — and I think we also know how revered Molina was in his 19 years in St. Louis. There will be a lot of pressure on Conteras to perform.

Don’t discount the retirement of Pujols, either. He had a very good 2.2 bWAR season in his final year before retiring. They’ll have to replace that production somehow.

And you might not think losing Dickerson is “key,” but I’m glad he’s out of the Cubs’ division. At one point last year he set a Cardinals franchise record for consecutive hits (10), all against the Cubs, and overall vs. the Cubs last year he hit .581/.581/.968 (18-for-31) with four doubles, a triple and two home runs. Good riddance.

There remain questions in the Cardinals rotation, too, largely due to previous injuries.

Because of the reduction in divisional games from 19 to 13, the Cubs won’t face the Cardinals at all until May — and not in St. Louis until July.

At Wrigley Field: May 8-9-10 and July 20-21-22-23
At London, England: June 24-25
At St. Louis: July 27-28-29-30

Yep, that’s right: No games against the Cardinals in August or September, and they’ll face them in London before they play them in St. Louis.