The Cardinals are the obvious consensus choice to win the NL Central for the second consecutive season. And if they can get it done, it would be their third division title in the last four full seasons. (I’m excluding 2020.) The question: among STL’s four division rivals, who looms as the biggest threat?

The Pirates and Reds: no chance. The Pirates will improve, but they’re not close to contending. The Reds essentially have decided to withdraw from competition.

The Cubs have been more aggressive this offseason and are getting better, but the media hype is overblown.

The Brewers are the primary challenger to the Cardinals.

Three reasons:

1–The projected rotation features Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Eric Lauer and Adrian Houser. Last season Peralta, Woodruff and Houser missed time with injuries. Burnes was very good, leading the league in strikeouts and posting an ERA+ that put him 34 percent above average. But Burnes didn’t repeat his Cy Young mastery of 2021, when he pitched 70 percent above league average. Last season Burnes, Woodruff Peralta and Houser combined for 98 starts – down from 111 in ‘21. Eric Lauer filled the void and pitched well, but the Brewers rotation leveled off because Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta weren’t as formidable as the year before.

But even with that, the Milwaukee rotation had more WAR, a better ERA and a more impressive FIP than the St. Louis rotation in 2022. The Brewers made a calculated, low-cost move by signin veteran lefty Wade Miley to reinforce their rotation depth. As of now, the Brewers have fewer starting-pitching questions than the Cardinals as teams get set to open spring training.

Milwaukee’s rotation should improve in 2023. St. Louis? Not so sure. In using projected starters to compare the two rotations, the Brewers have about a 4-win edge in WAR over the Cardinals going into 2023.  And if you add in Miley’s projection for 2023, the Brewers’ WAR forecast would be a little higher.

2–The aggressive Milwaukee front office, led by Matt Arnold, kept busy this season. The Cardinals made one significant move, signing free-agent catcher Willson Contreras. In a trade with Atlanta the Brewers also added a Contreras – Willson’s younger brother, William. The junior Contreras, 22, was a 2022 All-Star who hit 20 homers and slugged .506 in 334 at-bats for the Braves last season. He won’t become arbitration-eligible until 2025, and wouldn’t reach free agency until 2028. As a bonus, the Brewers gave up one good (not great) outfield prospect to put this cost-controlled young slugger in their lineup. Whether William Contreras catches or serves as a designated hitter, his power bat should do plenty of damage in Milwaukee’s home yard. Don’t forget, the Brewers were 2nd in the NL with 219 homers last season – though the Brewers have parted with Hunter Renfroe (29 home runs) in a salary-dump trade with the Angels.

3–The Crew took a reasonable, limited-liability gamble by making a trade for Seattle corner outfielder Jesse Winker. Limited by neck and back pain, Winker was terrible for the Mariners last season. But Winker is moving back into a hitter-friendly home ballpark and certainly is capable of matching what he did for the Reds from 2019 through 2021. That would be a .284 average, .379 onbase percentage, .523 slug and an OPS+ that’s 30 percent above league average. Winker joins a lineup that has a solid nucleus in place: Contreras, Christian Yelich, Willy Adames, Rowdy Tellez, Luis Urias and Tyrone Taylor.

4–Former Milwaukee closer Josh Hader is in San Diego, and setup man Brad Boxberger left as a free agent. But the Brewer bullpen isn’t suffering. If anything, it’s underrated. There’s still plenty of prime talent in their relief squad including Devon Williams, Matt Bush, Hoby Milner, Aaron Ashby and Peter Strzelecki.

5–The Cardinals have rightfully received praise for their collection of premium prospects, but the Brewers have some exciting young dudes in place or on the way including second baseman Brice Turang and outfielders Sal Frelick, Garrett Mitchell and Jackson Chourio. And they have some nice bench pieces in Victor Caratini, Mike Brousseau, newcomer Brian Anderson and holdover Keston Hiura.

The Brewers would prosper with more power from Yelich, but at least he’s a highly effective OBP guy. If Yelich can get close to his 2018-2019 power range, watch out. The Crew will need outfielders Mitchell and Frelick to contribute. But despite enduring considerable turmoil in 2022, the Brewers won 86 games, finished in the top half of the National League in homers, OPS+, slugging and OBP, had a better rotation than the Cardinals, were seventh in the majors in defensive runs saved and finished +31 in net baserunning gain.

Another factor: the Brewers were demoralized by the trade of Hader, their All-Star closer, to the Padres. The move soured their attitude for the rest of the season, and that worked to STL’s advantage. That won’t be the case in 2023.

As I mentioned earlier, the Cubs are moving in the right direction. And I doubt that they’ll be a pushover for the Cardinals in 2023 after making upgrades by signing shortstop Dansby Swanson, center fielder Cody Bellinger, first baseman Eric Hosmer, 1B-DH Trey Mancini, catcher Tucker Barnhart and starting pitcher Jameson Taillon. The Cubs also moved Nico Hoerner from shortstop to second base and will have an elite up-the-middle defense.

The Cubs’ rotation could be better than anticipated. But this group – Marcus Stroman, Taillon, Justin Steele, Drew Smyly, Keegan Thompson – has a lot to prove. And we can underline that point if Kyle Hendricks doesn’t bounce back from shoulder-capsule surgery.

The Brewers have more to throw at the Cardinals.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at or the 590 app.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 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. 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.