With Opening Day around the corner, theScore's MLB editors Simon Sharkey-Gotlieb, Brandon Wile, and Jason Wilson answer some of the biggest questions about the National League Central.
Yasiel Puig, Reds. The "Wild Horse" is about to be unleashed on the NL Central. Puig will surely have a chip on his shoulder after the Dodgers moved him to the Reds in their offseason salary purge, and he couldn't have landed in a better place. Not only will it be fun watching him in a hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, but the smaller outfield will make his cannon of an arm in right field that much more potent. Beyond the numbers, Puig's earned the title of most exciting in the division thanks to his uniquely fun and bombastic personality that makes him a favorite at home and loathed on the road. Remember how he celebrated while knocking the Brewers out of the playoffs last October? Now he's going to Miller Park three times and it surely won't be a warm welcome. Puig's going to shake up the Central, and even if his team doesn't reach the postseason, his presence alone ensures all of the Reds' divisional games will be must-watch baseball. - Sharkey-Gotlieb
Javy Baez, Cubs. The Cubs middle infielder is all the fun of Puig with way more talent, and possibly a little more swagger. There isn't a single aspect of Baez's game that isn't fun. He takes massive hacks at the plate, is an elite defender, and might be the best tagger and slider in the game. Few players in the league can boast that they make tagging baserunners exciting, but Baez legitimately is the king. Who can forget his no-look tag at the WBC? After battling through a number of inconsistent and frustrating seasons, Baez put it all together in 2018 to slash .290/.326/.554 with 34 home runs, 40 doubles, 21 stolen bases, and 111 RBIs. That production rightfully earned him a second-place finish in NL MVP voting. - Wile
Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals. The Cardinals added a perennial MVP candidate - and the best first baseman in the game, with apologies to Joey Votto - in Goldschmidt in an offseason trade. He brings stability at the dish that was maddeningly absent in 2018 as Matt Carpenter was forced to shoulder the brunt of the load in an ultimately disappointing season. Goldschmidt has made up for his waning speed by crushing 69 home runs over his last two campaigns in the desert. Aside from an injury-shortened 2014, he's appeared in at least 145 games each year since 2012 and has been an All-Star in six consecutive seasons. Peep his career slash line: .297/.398/.532 with 209 homers, 267 doubles, and 124 stolen bases in 1,092 games. If that's not something for Cardinals fans to rejoice and divisional opponents to fear then nothing is. - Wilson
Can the Brewers recapture last year's magic? One of the best storylines from 2018 was Milwaukee's incredible run that resulted in its first division title in eight years and a near return to the World Series. Despite heading into the season with a rotation that looked underwhelming on paper, the Brewers won an NL-best 96 games thanks in large part to an offense powered by Christian Yelich and an elite bullpen. Now, with a full season of Mike Moustakas, the addition of Yasmani Grandal, and the eventual return of Jimmy Nelson, the Brewers won't catch anyone by surprise and are a legitimate threat to repeat for the division. - Wile
Can Chris Archer be who the Pirates need him to be? When the Pirates traded three of their most promising youngsters for Archer last July, they did so assuming he'd return to his old All-Star self. But despite a marginal increase in strikeout numbers, he remained a slightly below-average pitcher after the trade. Perhaps a full spring working with noted pitcher whisperer Ray Searage will do the trick, but a solid spring showing (3.38 ERA through eight innings) isn't good enough - they need him to be sharp from the get-go. Jameson Taillon may head up the Pirates staff, but Pittsburgh's chances in the competitive NL Central - not to mention the franchise's long-term outlook when considering the steep price they paid to land him - might hinge entirely on whether Archer can get back to being the pitcher who earned a top-five Cy Young finish four years ago. His return to form will boost the Pirates' chances of contending for a wild-card spot significantly, but another poor year will leave the Pirates inside the danger zone. - Sharkey-Gotlieb
Will the Reds' bounty of offseason moves make them contenders?
The Reds overhauled their roster more than any other team in the division in terms of volume. Alex Wood, Tanner Roark, and Sonny Gray are all new faces in the starting rotation, while Puig and Matt Kemp are coming in to bolster an already solid offense. Combine that with a few young prospects like Nick Senzel and Taylor Trammell knocking at the door, and the Reds are in a position to make some noise. But are any of those additions as immediately impactful as Goldschmidt to the Cardinals? Do Wood, Roark, Gray, and Luis Castillo form a rotation that rivals the Cubs or Cards? Kudos to the Reds for making the effort to improve, but it doesn't look like enough to leapfrog the competition. - Wilson
Cardinals. Based on Goldschmidt's presence, the presumed breakout of Alex Reyes, and with veteran southpaw Andrew Miller bolstering the bullpen, the Cardinals have made the right moves to turn an already good team into a World Series contender. Even with Carlos Martinez's status in question to open the year, the youthful pitching staff is bursting with talent while Jack Flaherty is in a position to cement himself as one of the NL's premier young hurlers. They're blessed with depth across the diamond that rivals all teams in the division. Basically, fewer things need to break right for the Cardinals than they do for the Cubs or Brewers, and that should be enough. - Wilson
Brewers. It sure is tempting to pick the Cubs to rebound, and you can make a case for the other three teams as well, but the Brewers still feel like the most complete team in the division. Even when accounting for a possible lack of starting pitching (that would fix itself if Jimmy Nelson has a great comeback season) things in Milwaukee feel different after coming so close to a pennant last year. This is the Brewers' division to lose, and they won't let go of it. - Sharkey-Gotlieb
Cubs. It's crazy to think how quickly the Cubs are being forgotten as one of the majors' elite clubs. Injuries severely limited them last season, but this is a much different team with a healthy Yu Darvish and Kris Bryant. The rotation is loaded with veteran arms and could be one of the best in the NL if Cole Hamels continues his resurgence. The offense is among the league's best - especially with Baez reaching his potential - and this core has already won a World Series. - Wile