We continue our preview of the 2016 MLB season by taking a look at the NL Central. This division features a World Series favorite amongst many experts in the Chicago Cubs along with a couple of quality teams on the side. Will this be the year the 'Curse of the Billy Goat' is broken?
Sweet Dream: The Cubs get a lot out of their loaded outfield with their newest addition Jason Heyward (.293 BA, 60 RBI, 23 stolen bases, .359 OBP). Heyward brings an effective outfield glove who can also run the basepaths well. Mix in a strong rotation (Third in ERA at 3.36, most strikeouts with 1,431) and you get a team that will end the 'Curse of the Billy Goat' on Chicago's North Side. Can you imagine the party that ensues at Wrigley once the Cubs win it all?!
Nightmare: Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA, 236 SO, 0.86 WHIP) can't even come close to duplicating last year's Cy Young season. The lineup hits a lot of home runs and drives in plenty of runs, but not when it matters. The lineup (Most strikeouts by any lineup in 2015 with 1,518) succumbs to the pressure as the Cubs falter either in the Wild Card Game or the Divisional Series.
Sweet Dream: The rebuilding process gets started in Cincy. There isn't a whole lot to look forward to this year for Reds fans with both Todd Frazier and Johnny Cueto gone. Plus, the NL Central is pretty tough this season. The goal is to get some respectable prospects for Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and perhaps former NL MVP Joey Votto.
Nightmare: Nobody gets traded and Reds fans suffer through a long season with the long-term outlook still bleak. Either that or the Reds don't get anybody good from trading Phillips, Bruce, or other quality players.
Sweet Dream: Brewers fans are treated to a pleasant surprise as Milwaukee float just under .500. Ryan Braun (.285 BA, 25 homers, 84 RBI, 24 stolen bases) has another great year and Scooter Gennett improves as the rebuilding process looks promising in Milwaukee. If the Brewers get a good return for Jonathan Lucroy, things will look up for Brewers fans.
Nightmare: The pitching leaves a lot to be desired and the Brewers fall to the bottom of the NL Central as another long summer drags on in Wisconsin. Like Cincinnati, the Brewers must continue to retool for the future or be faced with being stuck in the baseball abyss.
Sweet Dream: Gerrit Cole (2.60 ERA, 19-8, 202 SO, 1.09 WHIP) puts together a Cy Young-winning season and Francisco Liriano (3.38 ERA, 206 SO) makes for a great complement to Cole. The underrated bullpen featuring closer Mark Melancon (2.23 ERA, 51 saves, 0.93 WHIP, 62 SO) and Tony Watson (1.91 ERA, 41 holds, 0.96 WHIP, 62 SO) slams the door on opponents as the Pirates make it to the World Series.
Nightmare: Losing Neil Walker (16 homers, 71 RBI) and Pedro Alvarez (27 homers, 77 RBI) hurts the lineup noticeably. The Pirates are mired with nobody else in the rotation who can pitch as Pittsburgh barely makes the playoffs, losing in the Divisional Series in the process.
St. Louis Cardinals
Sweet Dream: The best pitching staff in baseball (2.94 team ERA, .246 opponent's BA) continues to confuse and confound opposing batters. Adam Wainwright comes back from an Achilles injury looking better than ever. The Cards prevent a good number of runs with stellar fielding. Matt Carpenter (28 homers, 84 RBI, .365 OBP) and the bats do just enough as the Cardinals win it all.
Nightmare: Starting with Jhonny Peralta being gone for awhile, St. Louis can't stay healthy. The Cardinals also miss Heyward and John Lackey (2.77 ERA, 175 SO). The bats can't get anyone on base and the bullpen is a big problem as St. Louis misses the postseason for the first time since 2010.