The 2015 Major League Baseball season begins with a match-up of traditional rivals, the St Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals are a perennial contender. They have reached the League Championship Series for 4 straight years including a World Series Championship in 2011. With the addition of Jason Heyward and no notable off-season losses, the Cardinals should remain a playoff contender this season. The Chicago Cubs are the lovable losers, who are hoping this is the year that they finally break the 106 year drought. They have reason for optimism with new manager Joe Maddon, who is considered one of the best managers in baseball, the addition of free agent pitcher Jon Lester to lead the starting rotation and top prospect Kris Bryant waiting in the wings to join the youthful talents of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler. The question is how long will it take for the Cubs young talent to mature? Many players take about 3 seasons to gain the experience to perform consistently in the big leagues. If that’s the case, you might want to consider the Cubs in 2017.
As for the rest of the National League Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost the wild card playoff last season to the Giants, should again be a factor. Led by one of the most dynamic players in the National League, Andrew McCutchen and the pitching of Francisco Liriano plus the rising talent of righthander Gerrit Cole and outfielder Starling Marte, the Pirates are positioned to have another winning season. The question mark for the Milwaukee Brewers is the health of post- Biogenesis Ryan Braun. His presence with Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy could create an effective offense. The starting pitching with Wily Peralta, Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse is solid, but the bullpen without Francisco Rodriguez is a concern. The Cincinnati Reds have a solid number one starter in Johnny Cueto, but aside from that there are a lot of question marks. Have Joey Votto and Jay Bruce recovered from their knee problems? Is the real Billy Hamilton the .285 hitter of the first half or the .200 hitter of the second half? Can Marlon Byrd continue to produce at age 37? Can anyone in the bullpen outside of Aroldis Chapman pitch effectively?