X Factors in the National League Central for 2019

Every team in Major League Baseball has an X factor to their success before the regular season begins. Here is every National League Central team’s 2019 X factor.

Milwaukee Brewers: Jimmy Nelson

The Brewers were one game away from reaching the World Series last season and have the personnel to be back in the same position in 2019. But their division is deep, competitive, and the Brewers aren’t a flawless ballclub. Sure, they have a deep bullpen, but their starting rotation needs to give them innings. A burning question is how will Nelson pitch after missing 2018 due to a shoulder injury.

In 2017 Nelson was the Brewers ace. He recorded a 3.49 ERA, totaled 199 strikeouts, pitched deep into games, was able to get out of trouble, and was the team’s most reliable starter. Without him the Brewers likely wouldn’t have been in the playoff hunt down the stretch.

Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, and Zach Davies have shown they can be steady starters, but the Brewers still don’t have an ace. While he hasn’t pitched in a year, Nelson is the one individual in their rotation who has shown he’s capable of taking on such a burden. They were great without him last season, but if Nelson can be the pitcher he was pre-injury, the Brewers will be difficult to defeat in a five- or seven-game series.

Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant

The Cubs won 95 games last season with one of the best lineups and pitching staffs in the sport, but lost to the Colorado Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game. With that said, they endured their 95-win season with Bryant missing 61 games. Had he been healthy and fully effective, the Cubs likely go further in the postseason; that same logic applies in 2019.

Every @MLB team has an X factor of a player coming into the 2019 season. As @RPStratakos lays out, here is that very player for the five teams in the NL Central.Click To Tweet

Last year the versatile third baseman had the worst season of his four-year career. Hitting a career-worse .272 while totaling just 13 home runs and 52 RBIs, he wasn’t his stellar self. The Cubs and MLB are accustomed to Bryant hitting and driving in runs at a high level and being a Most Valuable Player of the Year candidate.

The Cubs still have a reliable starting rotation and a deep bullpen. If you throw a revitalized Bryant into a lineup that features the likes of Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, and Willson Contreras, among others, the Cubs can compete with any team in the sport.

St. Louis Cardinals: Dexter Fowler

The Cardinals won 88 games last season and added Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller this offseason; they’re going to be an NL pennant threat in 2019. But they will need some individuals to step up if they wish to make those aspirations and projections a reality. There isn’t a bigger X factor on the Cardinals than Fowler.

Two years ago Fowler was one of the most underrated players in MLB, but his first two years in a Cardinals uniform were disappointing, last year in particular. Missing nearly half the season due to injury and hitting just .180, Fowler struggled given his inability to get on base with consistency and stay healthy.

Fowler is a steady, contact hitter who can play both center and right field. The Cardinals have the starting pitching and a reliable bullpen that can get them through the regular season. If he returns to his old ways, Fowler will make a lineup that features Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Marcell Ozuna, and Paul DeJong, among others, a formidable unit and perhaps put the Cardinals at the top of the NL Central.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Chris Archer

The Pirates surprised many at last season’s MLB trade deadline when they sent Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow to the Tampa Bay Rays for Archer. But it was a move perceived as the Pirates looking to win now, except Archer recorded a subpar 4.30 ERA in the 10 starts he made for them. At the same time, if Archer can pitch like the right-hander the Pirates acquired him to be, they could surprise people in 2019.

Archer is one of the hardest throwing right-handers in the sport. He can pitch deep into games, blow his fastball by hitters, and is a reliable force on the rubber every fifth day. But he has struggled to be a potent force over the last three seasons. Meanwhile, from 2013-15, he was the Rays ace and a force to be reckoned with.

The Pirates starting rotation is quietly one of the most underrated staffs in the sport. Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams have come into their own as reliable top-of-the-rotation starters, and Joe Musgrove was reliable in his first season starting on a consistent basis. Manager Clint Hurdle has a productive offense and a deep bullpen. With Archer pitching to his capabilities the Pirates could give the NL Central a run for its money.

Cincinnati Reds: Luis Castillo

The Reds were one of the busiest teams in the sport this offseason, adding Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig, and Matt Kemp via trade. They also have one of the most electric offenses in the sport, but if Cincinnati wants to compete in the NL, they need their starting rotation to pitch with consistency, as well as young starters to come into their own, such as Castillo.

Last season Castillo made a career-high 31 starts and was hot and cold in the process. Recording an underwhelming 4.30 ERA he endured some growing pains. He was, at times, hit hard, surrendered 28 home runs, but consistently gave the Reds five-to-six innings a start. Castillo stepped up, pitched with confidence, and was arguably the team’s best pitcher in the midst of a long 67-win season.

Sure, Gray, Roark, and Wood have a chip on their shoulder and could be in store for big seasons, but the trio of veterans isn’t going to give the Reds a potent starting rotation; they need others to breakout. Castillo has shown some promise in years past and his growth would provide the Reds with the best starting rotation they’ve sported since the Dusty Baker era.

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