Spring training has finally started and looking around the league we should make this clear: the NL Central is the best division in baseball with the Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds and Pirates. It was a three time battle last year and things could be even tighter this year. Ahead is a look on how the division could shake up for the 2019 season with their projected record.

St. Louis Cardinals (93-69)

Last year the Cardinals started off slow but ended the season as one of the hottest teams in baseball. The Cardinals added an MVP type player in Paul Goldschmidt in a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks and then added a major boost to the bullpen with Andrew Miller. The Cardinals could have a great starting rotation in Mike Mikolas, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright but they need to stay healthy which has been a problem for the rotation for a few years. The Cardinals also have some nice talent they still need to develop that can be the x-factor for a postseason run like Flaherty, Harrison Bader, Jordan Hicks and Tyler O’Neil. The Cardinals are my early favorite to win the Central.

Milwaukee Brewers (90-72)

Yep, I have the 2018 NL Central champs finishing behind the Cardinals. The Brewers have the best bullpen in baseball and they seem like they are going to lean on that again for 2019. I’m not sold on the starting rotation as Jimmy Nelson is coming back from injury and Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff could be the X-factors. I like the outfield in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun, but with the infield I’m not too sure on as shortstop, Orlando Arcia, struggled last year with a .236 batting average, no true second baseman on the team and Yasmani Grandal behind the plate. Grandal is a great power hitter, but with a .246 average. I think the Brewers are going to take a step back, but not as much as some people think.

Chicago Cubs (85-77)

I do think the Cubs are the most talented team in this division from top to bottom, but they seem like they can’t get things going at times. A perfect example is last year as the Cubs lost game 163 to the Brewers and were a wildcard exit to the Colorado Rockies. There are a few questions for the Cubs and the big one is how will the injured players come back? Yes, Bryant’s home run in his first at-bat of spring training was nice but could that continue for the whole season?

Then can Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow stay healthy and be worth their contract? Lastly, can Javy Baez put up another MVP type season and can Willson Contreras bounce back from a disappointing 2018? There’s a lot of questions the Cubs need to answer and I think they are that type of team that could respond back in a positive way.

Cincinnati Reds (80-82)

I’m a huge believer in the Reds this year as they were the most active team in the MLB in the offseason, but I think they make noise next year. The Reds last year were a great hitting team with Joey Votto, Scotter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza and Jesse Winker. Now they get to add some big bats in Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers, then hope to call-up top-hitting prospect in the organization, Nick Senzel. The Reds could be one of the best hitting teams in the Central, but pitching was their biggest issue last year and they kind of solved it. They acquired Sonny Gray from the New York Yankees, acquired Alex Wood from the Dodgers, acquired Tanner Roark from the Washington Nationals and then they have Anthony DeSclafani with young and promised pitchers in Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle. The Reds could easily be the team to surprise everyone this year.

Pittsburgh Pirates (72-90)

The Pirates get the short end of the stick in baseball as they’re in the toughest division. If they were in any other division, they could be competing for the wildcard. The Pirates starting rotation is very underrated as they have Chris Archer, Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams. The Pirates have a good offensive core with Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco but the rest are just very young. With the team struggling in the NL Central, they could easily trade players like Dickerson, Marte and Polanco for some young talent. Even though the Pirates aren’t deemed for success in 2019, they look like a team to keep an eye out for in the next few years.