With three new starters, the Cincinnati Reds are shooting for at least a .500 record in the National League Central.
The Cubs have experience in their rotation, but check out their ages: Could they have too much experience?
The Pirates think their rotation will surprise. The Cardinals’ best story is Carlos Martínez and whether he can lead the rotation after injuries put him in the bullpen last year.
And the Brewers, the team that lost to the Dodgers in last October’s NL Championship Series? Who would have thought they’d be trying to make up for the losses of Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley?
Milwaukee hopes a healthy Jimmy Nelson will be a boost.
A look at the NL Central pitching:
CHICAGO: The Cubs have an aging rotation. ... RHP Yu Darvish, 32, is expected to be ready after an elbow injury limited him to 40 innings and a 4.95 ERA in four starts last season. ... LHP Jon Lester is 35, and the Cubs wonder if the 200-inning Lester is a thing of the past. ... LHP Cole Hamels, 35, who arrived in a midseason trade from Texas, had a 2.36 ERA in his 12 Cubs starts. Hamels was energized going from the Rangers to the Cubs, but can he produce like that for an entire season? ... LHP Jose Quintana hasn’t lived up to his consistent pitching in the White Sox rotation, but he had more good than bad last season. ... The Cubs’ best starter is RHP Kyle Hendricks, a command pitcher who gets plenty of soft contact and needs to build on a strong second half (2.84 ERA) of last season. He gave up 17 home runs with a 3.92 ERA in the first half.
CINCINNATI: The Reds are trying to rebuild a rotation that was the worst in the league last season, giving up 5.06 runs a game. The new acquisitions, via trade, are former National RHP Tanner Roark, former Yankee RHP Sonny Gray and former Dodger LHP Alex Wood. Roark was reliable seven-inning pitcher until 2018, when he was up and down in 2018. Roark has a 3.27 ERA in four career starts at Great American Ball Park, a place not friendly to pitchers. ... Wood, 28, is a sinkerball pitcher who was a 2017 All-Star. He has a 3.29 ERA in his six big league seasons. ... Gray is 29. He had a 3.42 ERA in five seasons in Oakland before going to New York. Last season, he had a 4.90 ERA, but his home-road splits intrigue the Reds. He had a 6.98 ERA at Yankee Stadium, 3.17 everywhere else. So the theory that he couldn’t pitch in Yankee Stadium has merit. ... Roark, Wood, Gray and RHP Luis Castillo (10-12, 4.30 ERA) will be at the top of the rotation, and the Reds will be banking on good seasons from guys like Anthony DeScafini and Brandon Finnegan, who was limited by injuries to four starts in 2017 and wound up in the minor leagues last season. ... The bullpen has Raisel Iglesias, 28, who saved 30 of 34 games in 2018.
MILWAUKEE: The Brewers, who made a surprising run into the playoffs with strong performances from former National Gonzalez and former Oriole Miley, will be relying on RHP Jhoulys Chacin to be the leader in the rotation. Chacin had a 3.50 ERA with 156 strikeouts in 35 starts in 2018, although he had only 12 quality starts. ... The Brewers will be watching Nelson, who had a breakout year in 2017 (199 strikeouts and a 3.49 ERA) and then missed last season with a shoulder injury. Nelson, 29, is expected to healthy. ... The Brewers also need bounceback seasons for RHPs Chase Anderson, who gave up a league-leading 30 home runs and watched his ERA climb to 3.93, more than a run higher than the previous season, and Zach Davies (13 starts). One guy to watch is RHP Brandon Woodruff, who worked out of the bullpen and the rotation last season, and then followed up with 20 strikeouts in 12 1/3 postseason innings. ... The Brewers bullpen was dominating in 2018 - posting the second-best ERA (3.47) in the league - and will be led by the strikeout machine of LHP Josh Hader, who had 15.8 strikeouts per nine; RHPs Jeremy Jeffress (89 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings); and Corey Knebel, who struck out 88 batters in 55 1/3 innings.
PITTSBURGH: The Pirates think their rotation is strong enough to contend. It is fair to say their rotation has the potential to surprise. The rotation’s first three are RHPs Jameson Taillion, Trevor Williams and Chris Archer, acquired in July from Tampa Bay. Taillon, 27, was 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2018, a homegrown pitcher that has a chance to be elite. ... Williams had a strong second half in 2018, posting a 1.13 ERA in his final 13 games. He finished at 14-10 and 3.11. ... Archer, 30, had a 4.31 ERA, but the Pirates were encouraged by his 2.70 ERA in September. They believe he can pitch as a top-of-the-rotation guy. ... RHP Joe Musgrove’s health would give the Pirates a strong fourth starter. He made 19 starts last season. ... RHP Chad Kuhl will miss the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. ... Former National Felipe Vázquez, who saved 37 games last season, is the closer.
ST. LOUIS: The Cardinals’ one-two punch in the rotation is RHPs Miles Mikolas and Martínez. Martiínez was the Cardinals’ opening day pitcher in 2018, but, because of a variety of injuries, he became the team’s closer in August. He pitched well out of the bullpen, but he was signed as a starter, and assuming health coming into spring training, he should be at the top of the rotation. ... Mikolas, 30, restarted his career in Japan and signed a two-year contract before last season with the Cardinals, who were second-guessed for trying the reclamation project. Milkolas didn’t disappoint, going 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA. He was an NL All-Star ... The Cardinals liked what they saw in 2018 for rookie RHP Jack Flaherty, who had a 3.34 ERA while striking out 10.8 batters per nine innings. He’s a future top-of-the-rotation guy. ... RHP Michael Wacha is a strong pitcher when he is healthy. Last year, an oblique injury limited him to 15 starts. ... RHP Adam Wainwright, 37, who has been on the disabled list four times in the last six seasons, signed for his 15th season in St. Louis. The Cardinals legend will have a chance to make the rotation, especially if he continues to pitch as he last September when he had 25 strikeouts and four walks in 22 1/3 innings. ... The new closer is LHP Andrew Miller, who was one of the most dominant relievers in the game in 2017, but was slowed by injuries last season with Cleveland.