Hal McCoy: Reds will be better, but how much difference will it make in loaded NL Central?

As the ol’ philosopher Lawrence “Yogi” Berra once uttered, “In baseball you don’t know nothin’.”

While that is mostly accurate, there is one truth before the 2019 baseball season even commences. There are already two big winners: Mike Trout ($430 million) and Bryce Harper ($330 million).

As for the major league teams, who will be winners and who will be losers is about as predictable as the next card out of an unmarked deck.

Preseason predictions are mostly only for humor and conversation because so much happens during a 162-game season: injuries, trades, down seasons by usually dependable veterans and up seasons by untested rookies.

That being said, somebody has to do it and as somebody once said, “I’ve reached a stage in life where my train of thought often leaves the station without me.”

So let’s start with the local nine, the retooled and revamped Cincinnati Reds. Because they’ve reconfigured their pitching rotation and added outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, much more is expected than another 90-loss season and another last-place finish.

But the first blemish surfaced early in spring training when one of the acquired starters, Alex Wood, came down with back miseries and begins the season on the injured list.

Tanner Roark and Sonny Gray, the other newcomers on the staff, have been very good during spring training as they attempt to remove the Reds rotation from the bottom of the heap.

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Both Puig and Kemp have been great this spring, adding juice to an already strong offense spiced with Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett.

While that is all well and very good, remember what division in which the Reds reside — the ultra-strong National League Central.

Unlike the Reds, the Chicago Cubs did nearly nothing in the offseason, but they didn’t need it. They are the best team in the division and most likely will win it again with Kris Bryant and Middletown’s Kyle Schwarber having bounce-back season.

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The St. Louis Cardinals, as always, took a giant stride forward by acquiring heavy-hitting first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to go with an already strong team.

The Milwaukee Brewers went all-in last year by adding Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to their lineup and nearly pulled it off. While the Brewers don’t have a strong rotation, they may have the strongest bullpen in the league with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel at the back end.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a young and usable pitching staff, but they miss Andrew McCutchen and are offensively challenged.

So how will the NL Central finish. No, the Reds won’t win the division and they won’t grab a wild card, but they will be better, they will be interesting and entertaining and they won’t finish last.

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The finish: Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hey, it’s progress.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

1. The Washington Nationals are loaded with pitching, led by the inscrutable Max Scherzer. They are young and talented and didn’t add the $330 million burden of Bryce Harper, an extremely rich .243 hitter.

2. The Philadelphia Phillies went all-in by signing Harper and made some other significant additions to go with a stout pitching staff with Aaron Nola leading the march.

3. The Atlanta Braves are young and good, probably too young and not yet good enough in this division. But the Braves are up-and-comers.

4. The New York Mets are pitching-rich in the rotation with Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, but are offensively weak in this loaded division.

5. The Miami Marlins are The Least in the East and may be the worst team in the majors. The only thing they lead the league in is disposing of all their good players.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

1. The Los Angeles Dodgers are so talented they can get rid of Manny Machado, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood and smile while doing it and winning a seventh straight division title. They have players either better or just as good to replace them and that’s even with Clayton Kershaw still struggling with injuries.

2. The Colorado Rockies would be dangerous to the Dodgers with a better pitching staff. Guys like Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon crush it in Coors Lite Field and they have to win by bashing the baseball.

3. The San Diego Padres are a year or two away with their fully-loaded farm system. And it remains to be seen if their addition of Machado is a plus or a minus.

4. The Arizona Diamondbacks traded Paul Goldschmidt and tried to trade pitcher Zack Greinke, but he remains with the D-Backs as the pitching staff anchor. That’s not enough.

5. The San Francisco Giants were the scourge of baseball as World Series winners in 2010, 2012 and 2014, but they got old and haven’t kept up to date. It won’t be a fun farewell tour for retiring manager Bruce Bochy.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. The Cleveland Indians are so confident in themselves, even with a weak outfield, that they continue talking to teams about trading their two best pitchers, Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. And they are probably right because they populate the weakest division in baseball.

2. The Minnesota Twins take second place by default because the rest of the division is in the tank.

3. The Chicago White Sox lost The Manny Machado Sweepstakes, even though they signed Machado’s brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, with hopes that familial loyalty would prevail. Alonso should help Jose Abreu, the only punch in the Chisox lineup. They are counting too much on ancients like John Jay and Ervin Santana. And they have no pitching.

4. The Kansas City Royals have added ex-Reds Billy Hamilton and Homer Bailey. Good luck with that. With Hamilton, the Royals are trying for small ball. But it won’t work without pitching and while Bailey could bounce back, it isn’t enough.

5. The Detroit Tigers are in Detroit.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

1. The Boston Red Sox smell the breath of the New York Yankees on their necks and they won’t have closer Craig Kimbrel to lock up games. Can Mookie Betts have another MVP year? Does he smell $430 million?

2. The New York Yankees are built for the new version of Yankee Stadium and its cozy outfield fences with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and, if it stays healthy, a decent pitching staff.

3. The Tampa Bay Rays do more with less (small payroll, even smaller crowds) than any team in baseball. But they’ve been pesky competitors, the David against the Red Sox-Yankees Goliaths.

4. The Toronto Blue Jays anxiously await the arrival of Vladmir Guerrero Jr. while they retool. The best that can be said about the Blue Jays is that they are the best team in Canada.

4. The Baltimore Orioles lost 110 games last season and are on pace to lose 111 or more this season. This isn’t The Oriole Way.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

1. The Houston Astros, former place mats in baseball, are still best in the west with pitcher Justin Verlander and young stars like little big man Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa. Houston, you don’t have a problem.

2. The Oakland Athletics, with their no-name roster, were the surprise of baseball last year and won’t surprise anybody this year. They aren’t good enough to overtake Houston.

3. The Los Angels Angels of Anaheim showed baseball they might have the biggest bank vault by signing Mike Trout to a contract the size of Costa Rica’s gross national product. And they have Shohei Ohtani, when he isn’t injured. But they remain short on the pitching mound.

4. The Seattle Mariners continued to raid their farm system, the Japanese leagues. But they continue to trade stars and add aging veterans like ex-Reds Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, who played for the Reds when the Reds were good and that’s a long time go.

5. The Texas Rangers are in Dallas. Or is it Fort Worth? OK, they are in Arlington, but they also are in last place as they struggle to rebuild a team that hasn’t been good since they discovered oil in Texas.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPION: Washington Nationals.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPION: Cleveland Indians.

WORLD SERIES CHAMPION: Washington Nationals as the Cleveland Indians still look for their first title since 1948.

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