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This might be baseball's toughest division

January 19, 2019

You have to love new Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen. I mean, you have to, right? He takes over a fourth-place team in October and, three months later, is taunting the rest of the National League with, "Come get us."Oh yeah. As Mike Tyson said, "Everyone has a plan

You have to love new Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen. I mean, you have to, right? He takes over a fourth-place team in October and, three months later, is taunting the rest of the National League with, "Come get us."
Oh yeah. As Mike Tyson said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." But there's absolutely nothing wrong with stirring the pot. Why not have a little fun with this thing?
I never understood team executives, who wanted their players to play with a bit of swagger, being terrified of saying something that might sound cocky. Lighten up, kids. But Van Wagenen's comments bring up an interesting discussion about baseball's strongest divisions.
The NL East? Potentially four really good teams, four capable of winning a World Series. How about the AL East? The Red Sox and Yankees are positioned to win 100 games again -- and the Rays, who won 90 in 2018, have gotten better.
In the end, though, one division is even better than those two. One division in which all five teams see a path to the postseason. One division which could deliver a classic race.
Here's why the NL Central is MLB's best division:
1. The Brewers led the NL with 96 wins in 2018 and could be even better with the addition of catcher Yasmani Grandal, the return of former ace Jimmy Nelson and the continued growth of young starters Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta.
2. Cardinals newcomer Paul Goldschmidt joins three other first basemen -- Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs, Joey Votto of the Reds and Jesus Aguilar of the Brewers -- to give the NL Central four first basemen who finished second, fifth, sixth and seventh in NL Wins Above Replacement at that position. NL Central players also finished first (Christian Yelich), second (Javier Baez) and sixth (Goldschmidt) in NL MVP voting in 2018.

3. Goldschmidt is the most important acquisition of the offseason. His 32.9 WAR since the beginning of 2013 is tops in the National League, and he could transform a solid St. Louis offense into the top two.
4. The Cubs won 95 games in 2018 despite third baseman Kristopher Bryant missing 60 games, right-hander Yu Darvish making just eight starts and closer Brandon Morrow missing the entire second half. Only Morrow won't be ready by Opening Day, and the Cubs are hopeful he'll return in the second half. And don't forget about the swagger we'll see from Bryant, who added a new wrinkle to the Cubs' rivalry with the Cardinals this weekend by playfully saying that playing in St. Louis is "so boring."
5. The Pirates could be baseball's best-kept secret. The rotation may be as good as any in the NL, and if the young corner infielders -- Josh Bell at first and top prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes (the Bucs' No. 2 prospect) at third -- get established, Pittsburgh could make things interesting.
6. The Reds believe their reconstruction has turned a corner, and they've attempted to speed up the process by adding Yasiel Puig to the outfield and Tanner Roark and Alex Wood to the rotation this offseason. They're one of the teams in the mix for Yankees right-hander Sonny Gray and haven't ruled out a run at free agent lefty Dallas Keuchel.
7. Did we mention that the NL Central is home to Votto? The Reds first baseman isn't just one of baseball's best players, he's also one of its smartest, funniest and most engaging. If you're in a division where Votto visits your local ballpark nine times a season, you just have to be in the best division.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.