Are the San Francisco Giants a more dangerous postseason contender after signing free-agent third baseman Matt Chapman? Probably so. They can join the muddle with other National League wild-card contenders.

Making assumptions can be a featherbrained exercise, but for the purpose of discussion let’s give NL division titles to Atlanta in the East and Los Angeles in the West.

By law, someone must win the NL Central. Choosing a champ depends on where you shop for projected 2024 standings. The division titleist could be the Cardinals, Cubs, or Reds – and don’t brush off the Brewers as lint just yet.

We can expect a lively wild-card race that will send three NL teams to the postseason. The gallery of contenders includes Philadelphia, Arizona, and two NL Central runners-up. But we’re not finished. At Baseball Prospectus, the PECOTA forecast offers a more diverse array of projected wild-card possibilities.

Here are the wild-card probabilities, listed in order based on percentage:

Phillies, 52%
Mets, 39.8
Giants, 37.4
Padres, 28.6
Miami, 24.3
* Cardinals, 15.4
* Cubs, 12.2
Brewers, 11.0
Reds, 9.2

I placed an asterisk next to the Cardinals and Cubs because their wild-card chances are on the low side; that’s logical because one of the rivals will win the division. As the NL Central goes, it’s probably best to go with the overall percentage of probability for making the playoffs via PECOTA – either as division overlord or in the wild-card claiming line:

Cardinals, 60.7%
Cubs, 36.7
Brewers, 13.2
Reds, 19.1
Pirates, 6.3

Here’s the updated FanGraphs forecast for projected wins by NL Central teams in 2024. And it’s tight!

Cardinals, 83 wins
Cubs, 82
Brewers, 80
Reds, 79
Pirates, 77

How are the NL Central teams rated by a prominent Las Vegas sports book? Here’s where BetMGM slots all five NL Central teams in the 30-team MLB power rankings:

Cardinals, 13th
Cubs, 15th
Brewers, 17th
Reds, 19th
Pirates, 24th

With the Chapman move, there’s renewed focus on the Giants. They’ve been aggressive in their free-agent bidding, taking some big swings and misses before snaring Chapman. He ranked fifth among MLB third basemen in runs saved over the last three seasons and will improve the left side of the Giants infield defense. (Especially if Nick Ahmed wins the shortstop competition.) Chapman has an above-average bat, but we’re talking about a 108+ in adjusted OPS over the last three seasons. That’s eight percent above league average offensively.

The Giants gave Chapman a three-year, $54 million deal that includes opt outs. (Which essentially makes it a sequence of one-year contracts.) They signed power bat Jorge Soler to three years and $42 million. The Giants went into the international market for slick-fielding center fielder Jung Hoo Lee (six years, $113 million.) The Giants hired former Cardinal Jordan Hicks at a cost of $44 million over four years and plan to put him in their starting rotation. They added a platoon-bat catcher in the right-handed hitting Tom Murphy.

The Giants traded for starting pitcher Robbie Ray, but he’s still rehabbing from elbow surgery performed on May 3 of last season. He won’t be a factor until after this year’s All-Star break. Another starting pitcher, Alex Cobb, is mending from hip surgery.

The Giants are considered a finalist for free-agent starting pitcher Blake Snell, the two-time Cy Young award winner. After adding Chapman, a signing of Snell would strengthen San Francisco’s postseason chances. And that’s important because differences between the contenders are relatively minor.

If the Phillies and Diamondbacks make it to the October tournament on a wild-card pass for the second year in a row – and the Cardinals come up short in the division – the Redbirds will be in the scrum of contenders scrapping for the third spot.

Putting the Braves and Dodgers aside, here’s a collection of one-paragraph thoughts on the other presumptive NL contenders:

PHILLIES: It’s been a quiet offseason. The big move was keeping co-ace Aaron Nola away from free agency and staying in Philadelphia with a new $172 million contract that runs through 2030. The Phils also signed free-agent infielder Whit Merrififield to a one-year contract. The Philly lineup will pile up runs. Remaining concerns: Team defense, the rotation past Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suarez, and a potential problem at closer.

DIAMONDBACKS: The reigning NL champs signed free-agent lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez to a four-year deal worth $80 million. He slides into a good rotation that already featured Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Brandon Pfaadt and former second-round draft choice Ryne Nelson. The Arizona offense added bulk in outfielders Joc Pederson and Randal Grichuk. Third baseman Eugenio Suarez was acquired by Seattle with the hope he’ll top his 2023 performance that included 22 homers and a 31% strikeout rate. The D-backs also retained outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on a three-year, $42 million contract. Remaining concerns: an average bullpen, and a potential regression offensively. The franchise spent money this offseason, and should benefit from that, but why not spend more to sign J.D. Martinez? He had 33 homers and a 134 OPS+ for the Dodgers last season.

CARDINALS: The front office responded to a 91-loss season by turning over 43 percent of the 40-man roster, signing three starting pitchers, freshening the bullpen with power-balling relievers, and filling a void in experience and leadership. But this is an older team now, and it’s scary to think about the possibility of rotation injuries. An emphasis on defense and baserunning should make the Cardinals a more fundamentally sound team in 2024. Remaining concerns: The average age of the rotation is 35. It’s important to keep the lineup healthy. The Cardinals’ offense faded over the final two months of 2023 because several regulars went down or were compromised by injuries.

CUBS: The big catch was hiring ace manager Craig Counsell away from the Brewers. They were able to bring back free-agent center fielder and first baseman Cody Bellinger on a reasonable deal to ensure continuity in their lineup. For the rotation the Cubs let free-agent Marcus Stroman walk and signed free-agent Shota Imanaga to fill the opening. High-leverage reliever Hector Neris was an ideal free-agent for Counsell’s astute bullpen maneuvering. Can first baseman Michael Busch – obtained from the Dodgers – provide the formidable power that produced 27 homers and a .618 slugging percentage in only 98 Triple A minor-league games last season? Remaining concerns: the Cubs have a solid set of relievers but don’t really have a proven, dominant closer.

REDS: The team’s charismatic young core was supplemented by free-agent pitching additions: starters Nick Martinez and Frankie Montas and reliever Emilio Pagan. Total cost for the three signings: $58 million. And lefty reliever Brent Suter was signed for $2.5 million on a one-year deal. The Reds didn’t really need a third baseman but invested three years and $45 million in free-agent Jeimer Candelario. So much of Cincinnati’s success or disappointment will depend on the performances of young starting pitchers Hunter Greene, Andrew Abbott, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcroft. The Reds seemingly have enough to contend for an NL Central title or a wild-card spot, and so this is an important year for manager David Bell. Remaining concerns: more injury setbacks in the front of the rotation. The defense was minus 37 in outs above average last season, ranking 29th among the 30 teams by Statcast.

BREWERS: The Crew did the right thing by trading ace Corbin Burnes to Baltimore instead of letting him walk as a free agent after 2024. The offense got a boost with the offseason signing of free–agent first baseman Rhys Hoskins to a two-year deal for $34 million. Free-agent pickup Gary Sanchez gives Milwaukee another option at DH or catcher. Remaining concerns: The offense could be better and perhaps that will happen with the fast-track rise of uber outfield prospect Jackson Chourio and other young hitters. Counsell isn’t around to elevate the Brewers with his leadership. The starting rotation – for now – consists of Freddy Peralta, Wade Miley, Jakub Junis, Colin Rea and DL Hall. Pat Murphy is a solid manager but we’ll get more idea of Counsell’s value as a manager in 2024.

GIANTS: San Francisco became more viable by upgrading its defense in center, third base and possibly at shortstop. Snell would calm anxiety over the state of the rotation. Remaining concerns: where of where will all the innings come from? There are lots of questions here. Snell isn’t known as an innings guy, but he did have 180 IP in 2023. His presence would enhance the quality of this group and make the Giants a more serious challenger.

PADRES: Gone are Snell, outfielder Juan Soto and closer Josh Hader. That’s a lot to lose, yes, but don’t snooze on the Padres. They’re still imposing offensively, have a rotation led by Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, and added starting pitcher Michael King from the Yankees in the Soto trade. King had a 2.75 ERA in 104 innings for the Yanks last season. New manager Mike Shildt will have the Padres playing smarter, cleaner baseball. Last season San Diego went 82-80 despite being an impressive plus 104 in run differential. A major reason for the discrepancy was a 9-23 record in one-run games. That won’t happen again in 2024. The Padres are a sneaky contender. Remaining concerns: The Padres will feel the absence of Hader in save situations. Robert Suarez will get a chance to take over the role, but last season he had a fielding independent ERA of 4.48 and a low strikeout rate (22%) for a back-end reliever.

METS: First-year president of baseball operations David Stearns called the Mets “a playoff caliber team” at the start of spring training. The internal optimism took a hit when the Mets shut down No. 1 starter Kodai Senga with a shoulder strain. But I suppose you could do worse than have a five-man rotation of Jose Quintana, Luis Severino, Sean Manea, Adrian Houser and Tylor Megill – if everything goes reasonably well. That’s certainly questionable for a parade of bounce-back starter candidates with much to prove. The bullpen is turbo charged by the return of injured closer Edwin Diaz, who missed all of 2023. There’s plenty of depth in the reliever supply. The Mets offense has a projected WAR that ranks 9th in the majors, just behind the Cardinals. Pete Alonso will be slugging it up in his walk-year season. Remaining concerns: the rotation, already vulnerable, needs a healthy Senga. And it’s unrealistic to expect all the other starters to avoid injury.

MARLINS: Miami was kissed by the baseball gods last season, going 33-14 in one-run games in a trend that’s unsustainable in 2024. Despite having a negative run differential and scoring the fewest runs in the NL, the Marlins won 84 games and snatched a wild-card spot. But based on run differential alone, the Marlins should have been a 75-win team in 2023. But even without injured ace Sandy Alcantara – he’ll miss this season after undergoing elbow surgery – the Marlins have a strong pitching staff from top to bottom. The ZiPS forecast thinks Miami can have a top-five rotation in 2024, with a bullpen that can be there, too. Remaining concerns: The offense. And signing Tim Anderson to a one-year contract won’t change the outlook. In the words of ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski: “So where are the Marlins right now? Probably somewhere around .500, but with a precarious lineup that could use some attention.”

We should anticipate a free for all in the push for NL playoff spots.

“I do see other teams getting better,” Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor told reporters who cover the team.  “And for me, that means it is going to be fun. When they expanded the playoffs (to six in each league), I thought it was going to be easier to get into the playoffs. But I think a lot of front offices think they have a chance.”

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link. We have a new Seeing Red posted for you today, March 4.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.