The National League central boasted three teams in the postseason last year, as the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds all reached the playoffs. Two of those three teams, the exception being St. Louis, can expect to get left out in 2014. As a Reds fan, I now fear the team that won 16 fewer games than Cincinnati last year.
The Brewers are the new team to be feared in N.L. Central in 2014. Their lineup is a dangerous mix of veterans and young players, an offense that finished sixth in home runs and batting average without Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun.
With the exception of first base, where Joey Votto is far better than Juan Francisco, the Milwaukee lineup is clearly superior to the regular Reds batting order. Here is a look at the position players
In center field Milwaukee has Carlos Gomez, an All-Star who is clearly in his prime. He hit 24 home runs, stole 40 bases, and batted .284 last year, numbers that had him finishing in the top ten for N.L. MVP voting. Cincinnati counters with unproven Billy Hamilton, who in his rookie season is expected to fill the crucial leadoff spot.
Young Kris Davis will be in left for the Brewers, for whom he hit 11 home runs in just over a hundred at bats as a rookie last season. In addition to averaging a homer every thirteen at bats, Davis also hit .279. His youth and athleticism give him the nod over Cincinnati’s Ryan Ludwick.
The Brewers have former MVP Ryan Braun in right field, who compares favorably to Cincinnati All-Star Jay Bruce. Braun has averaged 36 home runs with a .312 batting average throughout his career, and Bruce ‘s numbers are 32 homers with just a .257 batting average.
Veteran Aramis Ramirez is a better third baseman than Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier. Milwaukee Shortstop Jean Segura hit 12 home runs and swiped 44 bases with a .294 batting average as a rookie last year, stats which clearly trump those of Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart.
Even at second base, where Cincinnati has All-Star Brandon Phillips, the Brewers have a younger, better product. Scooter Gennett had a .324 batting average, sixty points higher than that of Phillips.
The Brewers Jonathan Lucroy, who hit18 homers with a .280 batting average, is a better catcher than Cincinnati’s Devin Mesaraco. Making the catching position even worse for the Reds is the fact that they traded veteran Ryan Hanigan, who had been one of the big reasons the pitching staff had blossomed into the team’s strength.
The Milwaukee pitching staff added veteran Matt Garza to a rotation headed by ace Kyle Lohse. Yovani Gallardo, the number three starter, has won 81 games since 2009. Cincinnati had a stronger rotation in 2013, but they lost stalwart right hander Bronson Arroyo to free agency over the winter.
The only question mark on the Milwaukee staff is closer Jim Henderson, who has just 31 career saves. He did convert 28 saves last season, but Cincinnati flamethrower Aroldis Chapman has saved 38 games in each of his two stints as the closer.
For the past three seasons, the Reds have had to contend with St. Louis and Pittsburgh. At the end of 2014, however, they might be looking up at the Milwaukee a Brewers.