The 2023 regular season has come to an end. Baseball has undergone some rule changes to speed up the game and increase action this season and there has been no shortage of story lines in the league and in the NL Central this season. Vegas picked the Cardinals as the favorite to win a division that featured a lot of roster movement over winter and through Spring. At the very least, this division is loaded with talent throughout. It was the Brewers who took control of a division that every team in the division led at one point this season, except the favorites. We at CUBS HQ are here to break down the action of the NL Central periodically as the season progresses. Here is our 15th and final NL Central Update of the year.
Milwaukee Brewers 92-70
Similar to last season, the Brewers were constructed to prevent runs, not really score them. The Brewers are boosted by excellent pitching staff of Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes — a three headed monster that stacks up against anybody in the National League — and they all put together another strong season even through a few injuries. Despite not having a potent offensive attack, the Brewers have been able to stay atop this division for the last few years,. Offensively, Milwaukee was led by Willy Adames and a resurgent season from Christian Yelich. Plus, former Brave catcher William Contreras was a welcome addition and perhaps the Brewers’ best player. The Brewers sent Devin Williams and Corbin Burnes to the All-Star game this season. They were the NL Central’s Champ in 2023. Since we last updated, the Brewers closed the year with series wins over the Cardinals and Cubs but had a disappointing end to the season, getting swept by the Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card round.
Chicago Cubs 83-79 (9 games back)
The Cubs finished in third place in the NL Central last year and made it a point of focus over the offseason to make drastic improvements to the team — which also fit baseball’s new rules. The Cubs may have let Willson Contreras go, but they committed to long term contract extensions with Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ, both of whom enjoyed breakout campaigns in 2022 and had strong seasons in 2023. Plus, the Cubs acquired Cody Bellinger for one year and Dansby Swanson to be the team’s starting shortstop for the next seven years. Justin Steele emerged has a Cy Young contender, Bellinger was an MVP-candidate and the Cubs were impressive. They had some severe ups and downs, with lengthy winning and losing streaks in the mix. They played themselves out of selling at the deadline and into contention, but ultimate slipped in September and missed the postseason by one game. The Cubs sent three players to the All-Star game: Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele and Dansby Swanson. Since we last updated, the Cubs were swept in Atlanta and dropped two of three to the Brewers.
Cincinnati Reds 82-80 (10 games back)
The Reds were once again expected to be one of the worst teams in the MLB, and were early on. Fully in another rebuild. Joey Votto is the only really recognizable name on a team that had players like Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Nicholas Castellanos, Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez. The Reds claim to fame has been flame-thrower Hunter Greene, who was developing into a young ace in baseball before his injury. However the last few months have been a different story for Cincy. Elly De La Cruz has burst on to the scene and turned heads and players like rookie Matt McLain and players like Spencer Steer and Jake Fraley have really stepped up offensively. The Reds rattled off 12 consecutive victories to soar in to first place but stumbled after that. The Reds also sent closer Alexis Diaz to the All-Star game. However, since we last updated, the Reds split with the Guardians and dropped two of three to the Cardinals and missed the playoffs by two games.
Pittsburgh Pirates 76–86 (16 games back)
The Pirates were widely expected to finish last in this division over the course of the last few years, but the progress they have made over the years does not pencil them in as a bottom feeder in this division. In fact, their strong start to the 2023 season had them in first place through almost a month of baseball. Bryan Reynolds once again led things for the Pirates and Jack Suwinski’s 19 home runs lead all rookies last year and he has over 26 dingers this year. Andrew McCutchen was a strong producer in the lineup prior to his injury. O’Neil Cruz was expected by many to take a big leap this season, but he was on the injured list all season long. Mitch Keller was the Bucs best starter and David Bednar is still closing things down in All-Star fashion. The Pirates were slight sellers at this year’s deadline but they sent Mitch Keller and David Bednar both the All-Star game. Since we last updated the Bucs dropped two of three to both the Phillies and Marlins to close out the season.
St. Louis Cardinals 71-91 (21 games back)
The St. Louis Cardinals are the reigning NL Central Division Champions, but for the first time since I was born this was the first season that the Cardinals did not have Albert Pujols or Yadier Molina on the roster and the lack of their veteran presences were felt all season long. The St. Louis Cardinals did not make a ton of noise in the offseason, but did acquire former Cub Willson Contreras to be their new catcher. Jordan Walker was their top prospect and was called up to start the season, and has been a great boost to the birds. The Cardinals struggled badly out of the gates, despite the offense being led by NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt and perennial All-Star Nolan Arenado. Both had fine seasons by their measurements, and both Lars Nootbaar and Nolan Gorman put together string seasons as well. The Cardinals traded away Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks, Jordan Montgomery and Paul Dejong at the trade deadline as they try to reload. Since we last updated the Cardinals dropped two of three against Milwaukee and then took two of three form the Reds to end the season.
Thanks for staying tuned all year for updates on the NL Central.