As the National League Central Divisional Correspondent here at Call to the Pen, I have the unique opportunity to cover both World Series contenders, teams in the midst of rebuilding and everything in between.
The All-NL Central Team was voted upon by the Call to the Pen staff, ranking the players at each position within the division.
Yadier Molina has established himself not only as one of the best defensive catchers in the game today, but also as a constant offensive threat. Prior to an injury last season, he was considered, by many, to be a front-runner for the National League MVP. Despite the injury, he hit .319 – which ranked fourth-best in the league – and drove in 80 runs in 136 games. Both of those marks were career-highs for the St. Louis backstop. At age 31, some have questioned Molina’s durability for the time being, but, as our unanimous vote demonstrated, there is no one better than Yadi at the present.
Although the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and the Cardinals’ Matt Adams have both shown plenty of promise in their young careers, longtime Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto was a unanimous choice by the CTTP staff in terms of the division’s best. The 30-year-old Canadian hit .305 last year, appearing in all 162 games for the Reds. His power numbers waned a bit from years past, as he hit just 24 home runs and drove in 73. Although his slugging percentage fell a full 50 points from the year prior, he and teammate Brandon Phillips formed a formidable heart of the order at Great American Ballpark.
Speaking of Brandon Phillips, the Reds’ second baseman fetched eight of the ten first-place votes among the staff here at Call to the Pen, enough to net him a comfortable win over the runner-up, Neil Walker of Pittsburgh. Phillips, who has been known primarily as a defensive whiz, did notch his fourth Gold Glove last year, but also drove in 103 runs for the Reds. He posted his lowest batting average since 2008, hitting just .261, but many – including myself – chalk this up to his role in the lineup as the cleanup hitter in 2013. There are few players in the game as multifaceted as Phillips is and it’s clear why he’s a fan favorite in Cincinnati.
Two years ago, this list may have looked quite different. Starlin Castro had just tallied a 200-hit season and compliments were being thrown at him endlessly. However, after a major step back in 2013, it is a newcomer to the division, former Detroit Tigers’ shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who edged out the top spot in our voting, topping the young Jean Segura of Milwaukee and Castro of the Cubs. Peralta was signed early in the offseason and gives St. Louis a veteran presence at shortstop who is very capable with the bat. Despite his 50-game suspension for PED usage, he hit .303/.358/.457 in 107 games last season. Whether or not he can repeat those numbers in 2014 will be a major focus for St. Louis’ hopes of returning to the Fall Classic.
In the only tie on our NL Central ballot, Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals and Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates claimed the top spot among those who man the hot corner. Carpenter put together an MVP-caliber season in 2013, knocking 199 hits for St. Louis, while adding 55 doubles. Alvarez outshone Carpenter in one key area – power, hitting 36 home runs and driving in 100 runs – although at a clip of just .235, which paled in comparison to the Cardinal second baseman’s .315.
Next page: Outfielders