The National League Central was baseball’s most tightly contested division in 2018 — minus the Reds, whose 67-95 record was third-worst in the NL.

Cincinnati added a lot of talent over the winter in hopes of closing the great deal of ground between them and the rest of their divisional rivals. 

The Brewers won the division in 2018, with a 96-67 record. The Cubs fell short by one win with a 95-68 record, and the Cardinals finished 88-44, claiming a hole Wild Card game, and the Pirates were 82-79. 

It is hard to imagine but this division could get even tighter in 2019.

Chicago lost to the Colorado Rockies in the Wild Card and are banking on health, rather than offseason additions, to get them back into the postseason.

Chicago Cubs vs San Francisco GiantsScot Tucker/SFBay

2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant and the Chicago Cubs are heavy favorites for a second consecutive NL Central title.

The 2016 champions are talented, and a full season with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish will make this consistent team even stronger. What the duo of front-line starters will bring to the rotation with health, Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras will return to the offense.

The team to watch in this division will be the Reds, who acquired Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood, each an All-Star, from the Los Angles Dodgers. Puig needs to prove he is a legitimate power hitter and one of baseball’s hitter-friendliest ballparks should help improve on his 18 homer-per-year average. The Reds’ roster has depth and is one of the MLB’s more improved teams. They are capable of a strong 2019 season.

Scot Tucker/SFBay

Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig (66) reacts after he hit a home run as the Los Angeles Dodgers face the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, September 29, 2018.

In addition to Wood, they added Tanner Roark and Sonny Gray to the starting rotation. They did, however, part ways with base stealing-extraordinaire Billy Hamilton, who never was able to find a way to reach base consistently as a Red.

Cincinnati is known for its small ballpark which should help Kemp rediscover his power.

St. Louis also made some big changes, adding six-time All-Star and constant MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt who will help strengthen the middle of a lineup that saw veteran Matt Carpenter find huge power last season. Goldschmidt is expected to take on the role Albert Pujols manned the last time the Cardinals won the World Series.

Newly added Andrew Miller is one of the best mild relievers this decade and can help expand the bullpen. If the young players step up St. Louis could be the team to take the NL Central division.

The Brewers are looking for a repeat of last year’s success and are relying heavily on their bullpen.

Milwaukee added All-Star Yasmani Grandal to step in as an everyday catcher, the only position from which they didn’t receive any see any constancy. If the pitching staff can remain healthy and provide a repeat of what it was a season ago — the fourth-best staff in the NL — they could repeat last season.  

Los Angeles Dodgers vs San Francisco GiantsScot Tucker/SFBay

Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal (9) disagrees with a safe call in the first inning as the Los Angeles Dodgers face the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, May 20, 2015.

The Pirates are not a bad team, but because they are in such a competitive division they seem to always fall too far back to overcome. They are young and talented and played well early on last season but lost steam during the second half.  They did not do much in the offseason, apparently relying on growth from the youngsters, and will likely suffer the same fate.

1st — Reds

2nd — Cubs

3rd — Brewers

4th — Cardinals 

5th — Pirates

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