Know Your Enemies – Preseason Edition

3-28-23 – By Corey Shrader – @CoreyShrader on Twitter

Editor’s Note: This piece represents volume 1 of a monthly series that focuses on how the Pirates competition in the NL Central is trending. Both from a prospect development and MLB product standpoint. Knowing where your team is headed, at least partially is about where your division mates are headed. Corey’s attention to detail on this stuff I think you’ll find intriguing. Enjoy! – Gary

Last July, Gary and I came together in an attempt to forecast the future of the rest of the NL Central. As the offseason progressed, I thought that it might be a worthwhile exercise to take this column and zoom out to the 30,000 foot view. The purpose being to tweak the original concept and use it to look backwards at the previous month of the season, and in doing so, attempt to establish the landscape as the season unfolds. Hopefully such an exercise will be useful in keeping folks abreast to how things are going with our rivals and get a feel for how what has happened might impact the rest of the season as the games march on. 

As it stands, the 2023 regular season grows ever closer, so let’s go on a brief tour around the NL Central and take the initial temperature of Pittsburgh’s divisional foes. For our preseason look I will try to remain limited to 4 items; Pitching, Lineup, Outlook, & 1 Prediction for each team. Teams will be laid out below in the order of where I believe they are in the NLC hierarchy before we play ball.

Let’s get going!

St. Louis Cardinals (86-76 per FanGraphs projections)

St. Louis is the class of the division. While they are not an absolute juggernaut, they have some weaknesses, they are the preseason favorite.


Speaking of those weaknesses, I think starting pitching is one. The rotation appears to be:

Adam Wainwright

Miles Mikolas

Jordan Montgomery

Jack Flaherty

Steven Matz

The staff is still anchored by Methusala, I mean, Adam Wainwright. It is easy to joke about his advanced age, but he is still an effective MLB arm capable of frustrating opposing hitters. Miles Mikolas had a terrific 2022 and should be able to post another respectable 2+ WAR season again. Next up is arguably one of the best trade deadline acquisitions of 2022, Jordan Montgomery. JorMont had immediate success after the Yankees inexplicably sent him to the Cardinals, pitching to the tune of a 3.11 ERA & 61/13 strikeout to walks across 63 frames. He should continue to be, maybe their best arm, in 2023.

The final two arms are definitely a little unknown. Matz has had a strong spring and has been telling beat reporters that he feels the best he has in his entire career. Matz has been productive in the recent past & his results were mixed in his 15 starts in 2022, but his peripherals point to him possibly getting things back on track in 2023. 

Even lesser known is Jack Flaherty. At one point it was assumed Flaherty was destined to become the staff ace in St. Louis, but his career has gone a bit off track due to various injuries since pre-COVID season.  He has had an unspectacular Spring and his future is still unclear.

The St. Louis bullpen is strong behind flame-thrower & maybe the biggest relief breakout of 2022, Ryan Helsley. I won’t highlight the entire group, but they have some real talent there in Helsley, Gallegos, Hicks, & co.


The Cards boast one of the deepest lineups in the division. Not only are they returning top end veteran talent in Paul Goldschmidt & Nolan Arenado, but they also went out and signed Willson Contreras to replace Yadier Molina. To complement these vets they have 2022 breakout Tommy Edman, 2021 breakout Tyler O’Neill, second half breakout Lars Nootbar all looking to contribute in a big way again.

One of the biggest (literally) early Spring Training standouts, Jordan Walker, will break camp with the Cards. For those unfamiliar, Walker is a behemoth slugger, whose stature and power echoes that of a young Frank Thomas. Young hitters almost always will have an adjustment period in the majors, but make no mistake, Walker is an ELITE prospect. 

The rest of the Cardinals lineup and bench feature a strong group including swiss-army knife utility man, Brendan Donovan, who has also flashed some more thump this spring and could make him more than a utility type if he carries over. The group also contains a lot of youth and upside in Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, and Dylan Carlson. 


I fully expect the Cardinals to be a playoff team in 2023. They have a very good lineup & bullpen with a solid, but unspectacular starting pitching staff. 

Prediction (Degree of Spiciness: Very BOLD)

Incredibly jacked Canadian outfielder Tyler O’Neill, remains healthy for the entire season and posts a 40/40 campaign harnessing his prodigious power and elite sprint speed to turn in an MVP caliber season.

Milwaukee Brewers (84-78 per FanGraphs projections)

The Brew Crew are projected to be right on the heels of St. Louis, but I don’t quite think that they are on par with the Cards. Milwaukee has some of the ingredients to challenge them though, and it is not impossible.


Starting pitching is the story here in Milwaukee:

Corbin Burnes

Brandon Woodruff

Eric Lauer

Freddy Peralta

Wade Miley

The staff is anchored by two legitimate Cy Young candidates in Burnes & Woodruff. They are both smack in the middle of their primes and are capable of stopping any lineup dead in its tracks. While the Burnes arbitration drama was well publicized this offseason, both of these aces are under control in Milwaukee for 2 more seasons. 

Freddy Peralata is a bit of a mystery. If he is able to pitch enough innings in mostly full health, he also has ace ability. The rub is that he has yet to top 145 IP in his young career. If the Crew are able to get 160 or more innings from Freddy, yikes. 

Rounding out the rotation is a pair of solid, but unspectacular lefties; Eric Lauer and Wade Miley. I don’t have much to add here, but I think I would be remiss to not mention LHP Aaron Ashby here. The young lefty hurler has succumbed to a sore shoulder already this spring, but when he is healthy he has absolutely nasty stuff. His ultimate role is unknown, but, I would bet on him getting a look as a starter again once he is able to return. There is a very high ceiling here.

Milwaukee made a bit of a surprising move to trade bullpen ace Josh Hader to San Diego at the deadline, but luckily for them they had an heir apparent in Devin Williams to plug in to those key spots. After Williams is former 1st overall draft pick Matt Bush. The one time shortstop prospect has revamped his career and is now a flame throwing back end bullpen piece. The rest of the bullpen is definitely a little less talented overall, so there is some need here yet. 


The Brewers boast a lineup that is most likely underrated. 

Between the big boy, Rowdy Tellez, and Willy Adames there is some considerable punch in this lineup. While the days of Christian Yelich posting MVP stat lines are over, he is still a very good lead off hitter with power, speed, & a terrific plate approach. This winter Milwaukee added William Contreras, who looks almost like a carbon copy of his older brother, Willson. They also acquired Jesse Winker – just two years removed from posting some gaudy production for the Reds (.403 wOBA/147 wRC+), he is a prime candidate to bounce back now that he is out of the hitter’s nightmare park in Seattle. 

The rest of the lineup is Luis Urias, Garrett Mitchell, Brian Anderson, and Brice Turang. Urias is just 25 years old and has posted 39 dingers over the last two seasons, so there is some definite possibility of him reaching 20+ homers and taking a step further forward. Anderson is an underappreciated addition and a solid hitter in his own right. Mitchell & Turang are both highly regarded youngsters & former 1st round draft picks.


I expect the Brewers to ultimately fall short of St. Louis, but challenge for a Wild Card spot and be a team that could certainly make a playoff run on the pitching strength and overall solid lineup depth. 

Prediction: (Degree of Spiciness: HOT)

Brewer’s rookie CF Garrett Mitchell will place second in the NL ROY race with his potent speed/power combination.

Chicago Cubs (75-87 per Fangraphs projections)

The Cubs are in the midst of a transition, much like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.  Ultimately, it is my opinion that Chicago and Pittsburgh will be battling for third place in the division. Chicago has a ways to go yet to really challenge,  but they have made some quality additions even though it is unlikely to be enough to make a serious dent in 2023.


The opening rotation in the Windy City should look something like this:

Marcus Stroman

Jameson Taillon

Justin Steele

Drew Smyly

Hayden Wesenski

This rotation is unspectacular, but solid. With a steady veteran presence composed of Stroman, Taillon, & Smyly. This trio should be capable of eating innings and pitching competent baseball. It needs to be noted that these three all have missed significant chunks of time in their careers. If they can remain healthy it should be enough to keep them in ballgames. 

The most compelling two arms here might just be Steele & Wesenski. In 2022 Steele put forth a mini breakout season of 119 innings of quality pitching. Relying on a strong slider, Steele posted a 3.19 ERA that was backed by equally encouraging peripherals. And finally, Wesenski, who looked brilliant in Spring Training thus far. He came over from the Yankees at the 2022 deadline and brought with him a very good sweeping slider & high quality command. While he only hurled 33 IP in the majors last season, he is a good bet to take a step forward in workload and will be someone to watch closely.

It should be noted that longtime rotation staple Kyle Hendricks is on the shelf until midseason recovering from a shoulder injury. It remains to be seen what to expect from the veteran in 2023.

The bullpen is veteran heavy, with Boxberger, Michael Fulmer, and long relief specialist Keegan Thompson. The rest of the bullpen is filled out with younger, more intriguing options like Alzolay, Hughes, and oft-injured Julian Merryweather. These arms are a lot less proven, but could very well post stretches of effective stopping power. 


The lineup in Chicago is a veteran heavy one with some investments that should be around as the youth begins to arrive.

The big addition from 2022, Seiya Suzuki, will open the year on the IL, but he should be back fairly early and looks to be an above average regular. Two big names that the Cubs added for 2023 are Dansby Swanson & Cody Bellinger. Swanson had a monster season for the Braves before they let him walk in free agency. It remains to be seen if he can carry this over in a park that is more difficult on right handed batters, but I would be cautious in betting too much against him. Bellinger is another matter. Gone are the days of MVP production, but he has a chance to post some low average power/speed seasons along with good outfield defense.

The rest of the lineup features perennially underrated Ian Happ, young SS Nico Hoerner, and vets like Trey Mancini, Eric Hosmer, Tucker Barnhart, Patrick Wisdom, and Yan Gomes. This group is mostly capable of playing league average baseball and while boring, can be effective. 

There is a group of compelling talent that should arrive this season including slugger Matt Mervis, possible 5 tool OF Brennan Davis, swiss army knife power/speed threat Christopher Morel, and the powerful Alexander Canario.


The Cubs should be improved from 2022 by virtue of additions and rising talent. I do not think it will be enough to compete for the division, but they should be a thorn in the side of the Bucs in their quest for third place.

Prediction: (Degree of Spiciness: Medium)

Lieutenant Dans repeats his All-Star Caliber play of 2022 and looks like a great anchor for their rebuild. Going 90/27/80/.265/20 steals.

Cincinnati Reds (Fangraphs projection: 70-92)

The Reds are more than likely to be the favorite for basement dwellers in 2023, but there are some very encouraging signs for the future.


The Reds rotation should look a lot like:

Hunter Greene

Nick Lodolo

Graham Ashcraft

Connor Overton

Luis Cessa

Headed by big ticket youngsters Greene & Lodolo, this rotation is quite top-heavy. Both Greene & Lodolo look to be the real deal. Greene has the big, nasty, fastball that everyone drools over. His major knock is that his fastball, despite the velocity, gets  hit fairly hard still. The slider is a great offering though and I expect him to take a step forward and mature into a more complete pitcher. Lodolo is a deceptive lefty that possesses a truly devastating curveball and an arsenal that limits hard contact and generates a good deal of ground balls. It is possible that he may be even better than Greene all things considered. 

Ashcraft flashed some great stuff this spring. His ability is not quite as good as the two other youngsters already mentioned, but he does have loud stuff routinely pumping 97+ mph cutters. He has supposedly added to his repertoire, but we will need to see more yet. He is a major breakout candidate. 

The other two arms are pretty underwhelming, so I don’t want to take too much effort in covering them here as of yet.

The bullpen is headed by Alexis Diaz, brother of Edwin Diaz. He is truly nasty but has the typical control gaffes of this kind of profile. The games that the Reds win, he will likely have a say in. The rest of the bullpen is very iffy to the point of not being necessary of discussing in depth beyond saying: yikes.


One thing to consider with any Reds lineup is that Great American Ball Park makes everyone a better hitter. GABP is officially on par with Coors Field in terms of generating offense. So while the lineup does not feature a ton of knowns, almost any of them become capable of having career years due to the hitting environment. 

The players to highlight here are former ROY Jonathan India, Will Benson, Spencer Steer, and Wil Myers. 

India was banged up and played poorly in 2022. He is a very talented hitter though and I am expecting him to turn in a bounceback year. Benson came over in a trade this winter and he is a player that boasts big raw power and speed. He looks like the favorite to benefit from the annual Nick Senzel injury and someone I think could post a sneakily valuable season. Spencer Steer was another 2022 addition and he profiles as a utility player that can do a little bit of everything. Myers has always had ability, just never lived up to his massive prospect hype. He now finds himself in a great situation and should have a shot at a 20+ homer year and plenty of production. Jake Fraley is another former top prospect that now looks to get an everyday job. He just might surprise some too.

Reds legend Joey Votto will be on the IL to open the season, but should return as team leader and aging former star sometime this season.

What Cininnati does have is some real rising talent. This group is headlined by uber-prospect Elly De La Cruz. De La Cruz is sort of like the Cincinnati version of Oneil Cruz. Enormous power & off the charts speed. He has had some significant strikeout issues in the minors but it has not hindered his production. If he can improve his swing and miss  problems, Elly DLC might post some video game numbers in GABF. 


Cincy should be a bad club in 2023. That being said, there are some real signs for hope in the organization. Barring anything unexpected, this should be the last place team in the NL Central.

Prediction: (Degree of Spiciness: Mild)

Will Benson holds a starting OF job and posts a 20/15 season. 

This is a wrap on the preseason Know Your Enemies lookaround. I have tried to keep things brief here, while I do not think that I made any glaring omissions, I am sure I will have missed at least one or two unexpected turn of events in the division. 

If any of you have some spicy NLC themed predictions, please share them in the comments & I’ll see you again for the April edition of Know Your Enemies.

One thought on “Know Your Enemies – Preseason Edition

  1. Good look, thanks. Basically two up and three down, just a question for me of whether the Cubs are in a middle tier by themselves.

    Cardinals devil magic will continue to prevail.

    Brewers’ pitching and best hitters will be plenty to keep them in the hunt.

    Cubs will indeed be boring but effective; I see them as most likely to finish third, maybe even surprise some folks by hanging in the wild-card race if the veteran pitchers hold up.

    Reds will win their share of 9-8 games at Great American Bandbox. Away I anticipate some struggles, but overall it is a team very capable of 70 wins.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: