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Ranking the AL/NL Central Teams: 5-1

Today I finish ranking the AL/NL Central teams. Last week I ranked teams 6-10 so go check that out and then come see how I did teasm 1-5 in this post!
Image courtesy of © Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
5. Cincinnati Reds
  • 2019 batting WAR: 11.1
  • 2019 pitching WAR: 18.6
  • Total WAR: 29.7
  • Key addition(s): Mike Moustakas, Nicholas Castellanos, Wade Miley, Shogo Akiyama
  • Key departure(s): Kevin Gausman, Alex Wood
I’m extremely high on the Reds and I almost wanted to rank them higher, but they did finish last season 75-87. I was also very high on them last season so maybe I’m still wrong. Either way, the Reds have a top-ten pitching staff and a nicely upgraded offense. If a lot goes their way, I could see them as the best in the NL Central.

The Reds rotation will consist of Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, Anthony DeSclafani, and Wade Miley. That is very solid. The bullpen is led by Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, and Pedro Strop. This staff is definitely top ten and has upside to be even better. The problems last year came in the lineup that ranked 25th in baseball.

In order to fix that lineup, the Reds added Castellanos (121 OPS+), Moustakas (114 OPS+), and Japanese import Shogo Akiyama. Akiyama is a 32-year-old center fielder who hit .303/.392/.471 (.864) with 20 homers in Japan last season. Adding this talent with Votto, Suarez, Aquino, and hopeful breakout player Senzel could turn this offense around.

4. St. Louis Cardinals
  • 2019 batting WAR: 22.3
  • 2019 pitching WAR: 15.6
  • Total WAR: 37.9
  • Key addition(s): Kwang-hyun Kim
  • Key departure(s): Marcell Ozuna
The Cardinals are the defending NL Central champions, but I’m putting them behind the Cubs in my rankings. They will still be very good and a threat for 90+ wins in a full season, but can they repeat last season's division-winning success?

The rotation is led by RHP Jack Flaherty and hopefully he can repeat his stellar 2019, but behind him the Cards will need Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas, and 38- year-old Adam Wainwright to step up. Former starter Carlos Martinez was good in the bullpen last season, but perhaps he will make a return to the rotation in 2020.

Looking at the lineup, there aren’t many players who would scare me after Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter. Tommy Edman had a great rookie year in 2019 so if he can continue that then he will provide a huge boost. Everyone else (Wong, Molia, Bader, DeJong, etc) had an OPS+ below or around 100. They could be really good, but they could also win 83-85 games.

3. Chicago Cubs
  • 2019 batting WAR: 24.9
  • 2019 pitching WAR: 17.0
  • Total WAR: 41.9
  • Key addition(s): Jeremy Jeffress, Jason Kipnis
  • Key departure(s): Nicholas Castellanos, Cole Hamels
Deciding between the Cubs and the Indians was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in the past 24 hours or so. I debated it for about 20 minutes before finally deciding on the Cubs for number three. The decision was based on change of manager, only 85 wins last year, and losing two key players.

Despite losing Cole Hamels, the rotation is still in good shape with Darvish, Hendricks, Quintana, and Lester leading the way. It’s certainly not a young rotation, but it’ll get the job done. The bullpen is where some issues may arise. If Kimbrel can not get back to his former Hall of Fame self, then this group could be in need of an addition quickly.

The lineup is filled with players that helped win the 2016 World Series and they are still in their prime. This list includes Javier Baez (#2 in 2018 MVP voting), Kris Bryant (2016 MVP), and Anthony Rizzo who had one of his best seasons in 2019. To complement the big three, the Cubs still have Wilson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, and Ian Happ. Definitely a solid lineup all around that is a bit underrated.

2. Cleveland Indians
  • 2019 batting WAR: 19.7
  • 2019 pitching WAR: 21.9
  • Total WAR: 41.6
  • Key addition(s): Cesar Hernandez, Domingo Santana
  • Key departure(s):Corey Kluber, Tyler Clippard
The Indians might never go away. Ownership seemingly really wants to lose 90+ games, but instead they somehow find a way to win 90+ every season. I expect they’ll keep that winning pace up in this upcoming season and continue to be the main rivals for Minnesota. Despite all the rumors about trading Lindor, he remains in Cleveland as the best shortstop in baseball.

Even with Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer gone, the rotation in Cleveland will still be very good. Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger will be Cy Young candidates if all goes right and Civale/Carrasco is a solid back half of any rotation. The only thing that might get in the way for the pitching is injuries (and Miguel Sano).

With Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez both still in town, this lineup will always produce. On top of that, they have All-Star Carlos Santana, young Oscar Mercado, and power hitting Franmil Reyes in the middle. It’s not an elite lineup, but it’s one that can definitely lead a team to the playoffs.

1. Minnesota Twins
  • 2019 batting WAR: 31.0
  • 2019 pitching WAR: 24.0
  • Total WAR: 55.0
  • Key addition(s): Josh Donaldson, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard
  • Key departure(s): Jason Castro, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop
Even if I absolutely hated the Twins, there is no way to rank them anywhere except first on this list. They were first in batting and pitching WAR among these teams last season and then they added Donaldson and Maeda. It’s honestly unfair. It really is too bad that one of the best years in franchise history will be severely impacted.

The pitching staff has received a lot of criticism for being the weak link, but it has become one of the top ten in baseball for sure. A rotation of Berrios, Odorizzi, Maeda, and Hill is one most teams would love to have. Last season the bullpen looked awful for a while, but suddenly it’s great with Rogers, Duffey, and May leading the group. This staff has gone from being a concern to being excellent in just one calendar year.

Moving on to the lineup, what more can be said? One of the greatest groups of all time in 2019 somehow became better by adding Donaldson, replacing Cron with Sano, and replacing Schoop with Arraez. Any potential regression will likely be halted by these full-time replacements and this lineup should see the same success that was seen in 2019 (unless the ball changes completely).

That brings us to the end of my rankings and I better wrap this up quick because I used way too many words (sorry Tom). Let me know your thoughts below!

Final rankings:
  • Twins
  • Indians
  • Cubs
  • Cardinals
  • Reds
  • White Sox
  • Brewers
  • Royals
  • Pirates
  • Tigers
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I do not share your Reds enthusiasm, but I enjoy it.I would have the Cardinals over the cubs because that franchise always seems to produce more than expected and the cubs seem to have a large amount of chaos.It has been interesting to watch them since the World Series victory because they do not seem to know how to handle their potential and expectations.


I have a hard time with Cleveland at number 2, but I do not have any good reason not to have them there.2 - 4 are interchangable parts to me. 

    • MN_ExPat likes this
The Reds have a lot of nice parts, a championship caliber team, but it seem like they have had nice parts a lot over that last few seasons, so my thinking is there must be a lack of leadership in that clubhouse or something? Something that brings what looks like a talented squad down. Not sure what it is, but I hope it continues on this year so that the Twins don't need to worry about them. As long as Yelich has a say, Milwaukee will be better than that.
    • mikelink45 likes this
Doctor Gast
May 21 2020 12:16 PM

It`ll be interesting

Using 2019 WAR will provide a bias for the AL teams and against the NL, and result in ranking the Twins and Cleveland higher than what might be warranted. Remember that the AL central teams last year got to play Detroit and Kansas City...two historically bad teams that weren’t even pretending to try to win...nearly 40 times...include an extremely inexperienced White Sox club, and you’re at nearly 60 games. Based on win pct outside the division, the 2019 AL central last year was easily the worse division in baseball, and one of the weakest divisions that MLB has seen in decades. St Louis, Milwaukee, and the Cubs all had better records against winning teams last year than did the Twins (or Cleveland). Maybe the 2020 additions put the Twins at the top of this list, but it’s much, much, more questionable than this article suggests.
    • glunn and mikelink45 like this

If the DH is in play, the Cubs look to arguably get the biggest boost of any NL team, putting Schwarber at DH and replacing him with a better fielder. 


The Brewers also get a fairly substantial bump by having Braun in the daily lineup at DH, replacing him with a better fielder.


The Reds, not so much. They are kind of like the White Sox: a lot of upside, but need a lot to go right.


The Cardinals have that devil magic, so they probably bring up Jose Martinez 2.0 and have the best NL DH of them all.


I'd confidently slot the Brewers at #5. I think the drop off after them is fairly noticeable, with the ChiSox and Reds chasing the top half of the Centrals. 

    • glunn likes this