Welcome to the Gigantic Sox and Dawgs 2014 MLB preview.  Over the next few days you will get a team by team look at its key players, new faces, their potential MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year candidates, their possible starting lineup and rotation as well as a quick summary. 

SOX & Dawgs 2014 MLB Preview - NL CentralWe will also select a MVP candidate and Cy Young candidate for each team no matter what their predicted team outcome is.

Also added this year is some home stadium information along with dates the teams will play against the Boston Red Sox.  The red shaded games are at Fenway; the blue shaded games are road games.

This preview was sculpted over the off season with some mild tweaking as we went along prior to publication.  It comes from a culmination of reading many hours of baseball research. 

I hope you enjoy this look at the upcoming season.

Yesterday we looked at the AL West and we started on Sunday with the NL West, today it’s the NL Central.

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National League Central

This division was one of the most difficult to pick because the top three teams are very good.  Like 2013 we should see all three battle the entire season and quite possibly take 3 of the 5 NL playoff spots between the division champ and the two wild card teams.  Last year St. Louis claimed the division, while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were the NL wild card teams.  Baseball is rejuvenated in the NL Central thanks to those three teams who should be perennial playoff teams for the next few years at least.  If you’re a fan of the Brewers things may be starting to look up a bit.  Cubs fans I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait a while longer for your team to crack the upper echelon of this division.  There’s two new managers in the division after Cincinnati felt Dusty Baker couldn’t get them over the hump, and in Chicago, they replaced a poor fit in Dale Sveum.

Last year I went Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Chicago.  Look below this year to see how I think it will play out in 2014.

St. Louis Cardinals1. St. Louis – Manager: Mike Matheny (3rd year)

 Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on against the Boston Red Sox during Game Six of the 2013 World Series at Fenway Park on October 30, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Cardinals are the defending Nation League Champions having lost to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series for the 2nd time in 10 years and no one should expect them to go away.  This Cardinals team despite trading away David Freese and losing Carlos Beltran to free agency and Chris Carpenter to retirement, just keeps reinventing themselves year after year.  They are extremely deep with pitching, and potent with the bat. They should be good defensively even with a reconfigured infield that see’s the addition of Kolten Wong and PED poster child Jhonny Peralta.  The only weakness I see is the bench and unless one or more of those guys is pressed into everyday service they should be just fine in the NL Central.  Their pitching makes them the class of the division and along with the Dodgers one of the best teams in the NL.

Home Field: Busch Stadium III; Playing Surface: natural grass; Opened: 2006; Capacity: 43,975

2013 Attendance: 3,369,769 (2nd in NL)

Key Players: C Yadier Molina; 3B Matt Carpenter; LF Matt Holliday; SP Adam Wainwright; SP Michael Wacha

MVP Candidate: C Yadier Molina

Cy Young Candidate: SP Adam Wainwright

ROY Candidate: 2B Kolten Wong; RP Carlos Martinez

Key Additions: CF Peter Burjos; SS Jhonny Peralta; 2B Mark Ellis; RP Angel Castro

Possible lineup: Carpenter 3B; Burjos CF; Holliday LF; Craig RF; Adams 1B; Molina C; Peralta SS; Wong 2B

Possible rotation: Wainwright; Wacha; Miller; Kelley; Garcia

Games against Red Sox in 2014: August 5-7

Pittsburgh Pirates2. Pittsburgh – Manager: Clint Hurdle (4th year/12th overall)

 Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 11, 2013 in Arlington, Texas. They stopped the streak at 20. After 20 consecutive non-playoff seasons and 20 seasons without a NL MVP, the Pittsburgh Pirates and CF Andrew McCutchen stopped both streaks dead in their tracks. Baseball has returned to the ‘Burgh in one of baseball’s best parks and they were a lot of fun to watch in 2013.  Now Clint Hurdle needs to continue to build on that momentum and take them not only back to the playoffs but further.  There’s no reason this team can’t play for the NL Pennant in 2014.  My only concern is they seemed to really stand pat in the offseason. I’d have loved to see them get an additonal starating pitcher, a stronger RF or 1B candidate and possibly near the deadline they will.

Home Field: PNC Park; Playing Surface: natural grass Opened: 2001; Capacity: 38,362

2013 Attendance: 2,256,862 (11th in NL)

Key Players: CF Andrew McCutchen; 2B Neil Walker; 3B Pedro Alvarez; C Russell Martin; SP Gerrit Cole; SP Francisco Liriano

MVP Candidate: CF Andrew McCutchen

Cy Young Candidate: SP Francisco Liriano

ROY Candidate: P Jameson Taillon

Key Additions: C Chris Stewart; P Edinson Volquez; 1B/RF Travis Ishikawa; INF Robert Andino; OF Chris Dickerson; IF Brent Morel

Possible lineup: Marte LF; Mercer SS; McCutchen CF; Alvarez 3B; Martin C; Walker 2B; Tabata RF; Sanchez 1B

Possible rotation: Liriano; Cole; Rodriguez; Morton; Volquez

Games against Red Sox in 2014: September 16-18

Cincinnati Reds3. Cincinnati – Manager: Bryan Price (1st Year)

The Reds should compete once again for the division and wild card berth and will do so every year for the next several years.  They have a solid core of young players, good veteran’s and a new manager who comes from a pitching background and a staff that has a style that fits well with the make up of the club. They like the Pirates did very little in the offseason and they really want to improve on their post season experience after they were disappointed with the one and done wild card game loss to Pittsburgh.  They have some questions in LF as well as up the middle in CF and C and because of this I have them third in the division.

Home Field: Great American Ball Park; Playing Surface: natural grass; Opened: 2003; Capacity: 42,319

2013 Attendance: 2,492,059 (10th in NL)

Key Players: 1B Joey Votto; 2B Brandon Phillips; RF Jay Bruce; P Johnny Cueto; CF Billy Hamilton

MVP Candidate: 1B Joey Votto

Cy Young Candidate: P Johnny Cueto

ROY Candidate: OF Billy Hamilton

Key Additions: Mgr. Bryan Price; CF Billy Hamilton; C Brayan Pena; IF/OF Skip Schumaker; SP Jeff Francis; SP Chien-Ming Wang; RP Pedro Beato; RP Brett Marshall

Possible lineup: Hamilton CF; Cozart SS; Votto 1B; Phillips 2B; Bruce RF; Ludwick LF; Frazier 3B; Mesoraco C

Possible rotation: Cueto; Latos; Bailey; Leake; Cingrani

Games against Red Sox in 2014: May 6-7; August 12-13

Milwaukee Brewers4. Milwaukee – Manager: Ron Roenicke (4th year)

 Pitcher Yovani Gallardo #49 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Marlins Park on June 10, 2013 in Miami, Florida. Ryan Braun, the former MVP, liar and admitted PED user returns with a clean slate and for Brewers fans hopefully a clean pee test in 2014.  The Brewers need him for a full season badly as he adds the big bat in the order, but without the chemicals we need to see how good the wood will be.  Milwaukee did solidify their starting rotation when in late January they went and signed FA Matt Garza who will pitch behind Yovani Gallardo.  A couple things really stand out with this team. The rotation is all right handed and there’s barely a left-handed bat (3) to be found on the projected 25-man roster (no switch-hitters). That lack of flexability for Mgr. Ron Roenicke to mix/match in late innings could spell disaster.

Home Field: Miller Park; Playing Surface: natural grass/retractable roof; Opened:2001; Capacity: 41,900

2013 Attendance: 2,531,105 (9th in NL)

Key Players: LF Ryan Braun; SP Yovani Gallardo; SP Matt Garza; SS Jean Segura

MVP Candidate: LF Ryan Braun  

Cy Young Candidate: SP Yovani Gallardo

ROY Candidate: P Johnny Hellweg

Key Additions: SP Matt Garza; RP Francisco Rodriguez; 1B/3B Mark Reynolds; RP Will Smith; 1B Lyle Overbay

Possible lineup: Segura SS; Weeks 2B; Braun LF; Ramirez 3B; Gomez CF; Lucroy C; Davis RF

Possible rotation: Gallardo; Garza; Lohse; Estrada; Peralta

Games against Red Sox in 2014: April 4-6

Chicago Cubs5. Chicago – Manager: Rick Renteria (1st year)

 Jeff Samardzija #29 of the Chicago Cubs delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 22, 2013 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Year Three of the “Theo Epstein Project” (that should be the name of his band) and now the Cub faithful are starting to get restless and introducing “Clark the Cub” didn’t help matters.  Then they lost out on Masahiro Tanaka and people are getting grumpy again on the North Side.  The Ricketts family has money to spend and they are doing things in and around historic Wrigley Field except pulling that prized free agent that opens the floodgates for others to follow.  Epstein along with GM Jed Hoyer are working feverishly to build the farm system but even that was worse than they originally thought.  Chicago has a good MLB core of SP Jeff Samardzija, 1B Anthony Rizzo, 2B Darwin Barney and SS Starlin Castro. Here’s hoping former UConn Husky 3B/OF Mike Olt gets to make a difference with Chicago in 2014.

Home Field: Wrigley Field; Playing Surface: natural grass; Opened: 1914; Capacity: 41,019

2013 Attendance: 2,642,682 (7th in NL)

Key Players: SS Starlin Castro; 1B Anthony Rizzo; 2B Darwin Barney; SP Jeff Samardzija

MVP Candidate: SS Starlin Castro

Cy Young Candidate: SP Jeff Samardzija

ROY Candidate: 3B/OF Mike Olt

Key Additions: Mgr. Rick Renteria; IF/OF Ryan Roberts; IF/OF Emilio Bonifacio; OF Justin Ruggiano; C George Kottaras; RP Jose Veras; RP Wesley Wright; C Eli Whiteside; C John Baker; OF Mitch Maier; OF Ryan Kalish; OF Chris Coghlan; SP James McDonald; SP Jason Hammel

Possible lineup: Castro SS; Sweeney CF; Olt 3B; Rizzo 1B; Schierholtz RF; Coghlan LF; Castillo C; Barney 2B

Possible rotation: Samardzija; Jackson; Wood; Hammel; McDonald

Games against Red Sox in 2014: June 30-July 2

Tomorrow: the AL Central.

photo credits:  getty images; getty images; getty images, getty images, getty images