2 NL Central teams Reds fans should fear and 1 who is a fraud

Chicago Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner (2) steals second
Chicago Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner (2) steals second / David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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Yes, the Cincinnati Reds are in the middle of rebuild and the outlook for the 2023 season is bleak. But it's doubtful that anyone predicted the Cleveland Guardians to go to the ALDS last season, so you never know how the season will unfold.

One thing the Reds have on their side is, arguably, the weakest division in all of baseball. However, with the schedule changes in place for the 2023 season, it's not as if teams will get to "beat up on" the lesser competition in the same way they have in previous years.

Still, while the National League Central may not be winnable this season, everybody has a puncher's chance once the 2023 season begins next week. Which two teams in the NL Central are the top contenders to be feared and which one is an absolute fraud?

Reds fans should fear the Brewers in 2023.

So long as the Milwaukee Brewers have the three-headed monster of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta atop their starting rotation, they should be feared. In fact, baseball fans in general may be sleeping on the Brew Crew this season.

While it's true that Josh Hader is pitching elsewhere and Kolten Wong is no longer playing up the middle, the Brewers did acquire former Reds slugger Jesse Winker. The Cincinnati faithful know just how dangerous Da Wink can be if he's healthy and has the right state of mind.

Speaking of former Reds, the Brewers now employ Wade Miley as well. The southpaw didn't need a pitch clock in order to speed up his delivery. Miley will be at the backend of a very talented Brewers rotation.

The Brewers also made one more addition by trading for Atlanta Braves catcher William Contreras. Not only did his older brother Willson not leave the division, Milwaukee decided to bring last year's All-Star to the Cream City.

The Milwaukee Brewers will be a very dangerous team and are quite capable of winning the NL Central Division. The Brewers top three starters are exactly what the Reds hope they have with Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Graham.

Reds fans should fear the Cardinals in 2023.

Ugh, they're still good, Reds fans. The St. Louis Cardinals, who boasted two potential MVPs in 2022, are back and perhaps even better. One of those two players, Paul Goldschmidt, took home the award while his teammate Nolan Arenado finished in third place.

There is a deep-seated enmity that exists between fans of the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals. Is it envy? Perhaps. But whatever it is, you'll find no love lost between the Cincinnati faithful and the Cards.

While it's bad enough that St. Louis has Goldschmidt and Arenado back for another season, the Cardinals went out and signed free agent catcher Willson Contreras to a massive contract during the offseason.

The trio of Tommy Edman, Lars Nootbar, and Tyler O'Neill just seem to come up big when called upon, and the Cardinals have a new face that Reds Country will soon learn to hate. St. Louis' top prospect, Jordan Walker, looks like an absolute stud.

Jack Fleherty is expected to return to the mound after struggling with injuries in 2022. The Cardinals rotation also consists of Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas, and the ageless wonder Adam Wainwright.

Sorry, Reds fans, but it's going to be another season of misery almost every single time Cincinnati battles the St. Louis Cardinals. While Reds fans may be underestimating the Milwaukee Brewers, no one is sleeping on the Cardinals.

Reds fans should not fear the Cubs in 2023. They're frauds.

While fans of the Cincinnati Reds will bemoan the fact that general manager Nick Krall did little-to-nothing to bolster the team's roster during the offseason, the Chicago Cubs made a few moves designed to push them into playoff contention. Instead, they'll be overpaying for a bunch of under-performers.

It's almost as if the Cubs stole the Reds strategy from a few years ago of trying to catch lightning in a bottle by inking players whose best years are behind them. I can think of no better example than Cody Bellinger. The former MVP has been woeful the past couple of years and Chicago signed him for $12.5-million.

The Cubs, following the Brewers' example, signed a former Reds player in the form of Tucker Barnhart. The two-time Gold Glove Award-winner struggled mightily with the Detroit Tigers in 2022, both at the dish and behind it.

Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini are both part of the Cubbies lineup for the 2023 season and our old friend and University of Cincinnati alum Ian Happ will be back in Chicago's outfield.

The biggest name that Chicago added in the offseason was shortstop Dansby Swanson. The former Braves infielder signed a seven-year/$177-million deal. Swanson has a career-OPS of .738 and prior to last year's All-Star season, posted an OPS+ of just 90. Swanson is, however, a fine defender.

The Cubs bullpen looks to be very shaky and their starting rotation is nothing to write home about. Cubs fans might be more confident heading into this season than they were in 2022, but Chicago is a fraud and no threat to win the NL Central. In fact, if the Reds exceed expectation, it wouldn't be shocking to see Cincinnati surpass them in the standings.