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2023 Know Your Enemy: NL Central

Cardinals look to repeat as Division Champions

Milwaukee Brewers v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The second division on our Know Your Enemy series is the NL Central, probably the worst division in all of baseball. There are two decent teams, and three bad ones.

St. Louis Cardinals (2022: 93-69, 1st Place)

Blue Jays @ Cardinals March 30, April 1 & 2

The Blue Jays’ season kicks off in St. Louis to take on the Cardinals.

The Cardinals finished 2022 at the top of the division, winning it for the fifth time in the last ten seasons. They ended up falling in two games to the Phillies in the Wild Card round, losing both games as host, so they enter the 2023 campaign with the same taste in their mouth as the Blue Jays.

The Cardinals enter a new era, as Yadier Molina has finally retired after parts of 19 seasons as the Cardinals’ primary catcher. They brought in former division rival Willson Contreras to fill the gap left by the future Hall of Famer.

Yadi wasn’t the only future Hall of Famer to hang up his spikes after last season either though, as Albert Pujols came back to St. Louis for his swan song, and it went incredibly well with a 151 wRC+ in 351 PA. That’s a pretty big loss, that the Cardinals are likely to fill with internal options.

The Cardinals’ offseason was one of the quieter ones in baseball, but with the reigning MVP in Goldschmidt, one of the best third basemen in Arenado, and a solid group of players that got them the Central Division title a year ago, they didn’t need to make many changes.

Contreras was the only notable addition, while Alex Reyes, José Quintana and Corey Dickerson, plus Yadi and Pujols, are out the door.

Projected Lineup

Tommy Edman, SS
Tyler O’Neill, CF
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
Nolan Arenado, 3B
Willson Contreras, C
Lars Nootbaar, LF
Dylan Carlson, RF
Nolan Gorman, DH
Brendan Donovan, 2B

Projected Rotation

Adam Wainwright
Miles Mikolas
Jordan Montgomery
Jack Flaherty
Steven Matz

Notable Bullpen Arms

Ryan Helsley
Giovanny Gallegos
Andre Pallante
Jordan Hicks
Génesis Cabrera
Chris Stratton

Fangraphs has the Cardinals taking the division once again in 2023, with an 86-76 record.

PECOTA has them at the same 86-76 projection, but that just gets them to second place in their system.

Milwaukee Brewers (2022: 86-76, Second Place)

Brewers @ Blue Jays May 31, June 1 & 2

The Brewers finished the 2023 season in second place last year, missing out on a Wild Card spot, and missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

Unlike the Cardinals who had a pretty quiet offseason, the Brewers were quite busy. They also picked up a Contreras brother, William, to take over the catcher duties. The traded for Jesse Winker from Seattle, while signing Tyler Naquin, Wade Miley and Brian Anderson. They also bolstered their bullpen via trade, picking up Javy Guerra, Bryse Wilson and Joel Payamps.

On the way out is a pretty long list of players, including Kolton Wong, Hunter Renfroe, Esteury Ruiz, Brad Boxberger, Trevor Rosenthal, Taylor Rogers, Omar Narváez, Jace Pederson and Andrew McCutchen.

Projected Lineup

Christian Yelich, LF
Willy Adames, SS
Rowdy Tellez, 1B
William Contreras, C
Jesse Winker, DH
Luis Urias, 3B
Garrett Mitchell, CF
Brian Anderson, RF
Brice Turang, 2B

Projected Rotation

Corbin Burnes
Brandon Woodruff
Eric Lauer
Freddy Peralta
Wade Miley

Notable Bullpen Arms

Devin Williams
Matt Bush
Peter Strzelecki
Hoby Milner
Javy Guerra
Bryse Wilson
Joel Payamps

Fangraphs has them as the second best team in the division, projected to come in at 84-78.

PECOTA believes in them a bit more, placing them at the top of the division with a projected 87.4-74.6 record.

Chicago Cubs (2022: 74-88, Third Place)

Cubs @ Blue Jays August 11-13

The Cubs unloaded most of their 2016 World Series winning roster over the last few years, with Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward as the final regular players still on the roster entering this winter. Heyward was released and picked up by the Dodgers, while Contreras went to the rival Cardinals.

Their big addition over the winter was Dansby Swanson, who signed a 7 year, $177m deal as one of the premier free agent shortstops. In addition to Stroman, the Cubs handed out good sized contracts to Cody Bellinger, Jameson Taillon, Drew Smyly and Trey Mancini. They also brought in Eric Hosmer, Tucker Barnhart, Edwin Ríos, Michael Fulmer and former Blue Jay Julian Merryweather.

The big contracts boosted their payroll to an estimated $187m for 2023, back into the range that they were at following their World Series win.

Projected Lineup

Nico Hoerner, 2B
Dansby Swanson, SS
Ian Happ, LF
Trey Mancini, DH
Cody Bellinger, CF
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Patrick Wisdom, 3B
Tucker Barnhart, C
Christopher Morel, RF

Projected Rotation

Marcus Stroman
Jameson Taillon
Justin Steele
Drew Smyly
Adrian Sampson

Notable Bullpen Arms

Brandon Hughes
Michael Fulmer
Brad Boxberger
Adbert Alzolay
Rowan Wick
Julian Merryweather

Fangraphs and PECOTA both have the Cubs as the third best team, projecting them for a 75-87 record.

Pittsburgh Pirates (2022: 62-100, Tied for Fourth)

Blue Jays @ Pirates May 5-7

The Pirates had another disappointing 2022, their third straight year with a winning percentage in the 300s. They haven’t had a winning season since 2018, haven’t made the playoffs since 2015, and haven’t won the division since 1992.

They brought in a lot of veteran presence this winter, trading for or signing nine different guys on the north side of 30. The exciting one for Pirates’ fans is the return of former MVP Andrew McCutchen, while they also added fellow elder statesmen Carlos Santana, Ji-Man Choi, Austin Hedges, Kevin Plawecki, Connor Joe, Rich Hill, Vince Velasquez and Jarlin Garcia.

A lot of the winter was spent worrying about Bryan Reynolds being traded away, but that ultimately did not come to fruition. He still has three years before free agency, so there is no impending need for them to move them.

Despite being a fairly uninspiring team overall, their left side of the infield is one of the most exciting ones in the sport. Ke’Bryan Hayes is fantastic defender at third base with a lot of upside with the bat, while Oneil Cruz is a massive shortstop who pushes the limits of the Statcast measurement system with his hard hits, strong throws and top of the charts sprint speed.

Projected Lineup

Oneil Cruz, SS
Bryan Reynolds, LF
Andrew McCutchen, RF
Carlos Santana, DH
Ji-Man Choi, 1B
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
Jack Suwinski, CF
Rodolfo Castro, 2B
Austin Hedges, C

Projected Rotation

Mitch Keller
Roansy Contreras
Rich Hill
JT Brubaker
Vince Velasquez

Notable Bullpen Arms

David Bednar
Will Crow
Duane Underwood Jr.
Case De Jong
Yerry De Los Santos

The projection systems like what they did with the veteran talent additions, as both Fangraphs and PECOTA have the Pirates improving by 10 games in 2023, up to 72-90.

Cincinnati Reds (2022: 62-100, Tied for Fourth)

Blue Jays @ Reds August 18-20

Joey Votto and the Reds finished in a tie for last place in 2022, as Votto had the worst season of his career at 38. He missed about half the season with shoulder and biceps problems, and had a career worst 92 wRC+. 2023 is the final year of his massive 10 year, $225m extension, likely making it the final season of his career, and his final dance will be the biggest reason to watch the Reds this year.

Subtracted from their 100 loss season in 2022 are Mike Moustakas, Aristides Aquino, Mike Minor and Austin Romine.

Notable additions include Wil Myers, Kevin Newman, Curt Casali, Luke Maile, Chad Pinder, Luke Weaver and Daniel Norris.

Projected Lineup

Jonathan India, 2B
Tyler Stephenson, C
Joey Votto, DH
Wil Myers, 1B
Jake Fraley, RF
Spencer Steer, 3B
TJ Friedl, LF
Kevin Newman, SS
Nick Senzel, CF

Projected Projection

Hunter Greene
Nick Lodolo
Graham Ashcraft
Luke Weaver
Luis Cessa

Notable Bullpen Arms

Alexis Diaz
Lucas Sims
Reiver Sanmartin
Buck Farmer
Daniel Norris

The Reds are the worst team in the NL Central, potentially in all of baseball. Fangraphs projects them to a 67-95 record, while PECOTA thinks they’re a tiny bit better at 68-94.


Who will win the NL Central?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    (46 votes)
  • 37%
    (30 votes)
  • 2%
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    (1 vote)
  • 2%
    (2 votes)
81 votes total Vote Now


How many of the 15 games will the Jays win?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    10 or more
    (37 votes)
  • 38%
    (26 votes)
  • 4%
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    5 or fewer
    (1 vote)
67 votes total Vote Now