The Lackluster National League Central
Just a short two years ago the National League Central was the cream of the crop in baseball. The Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs all finished with 97 or more wins. This gave them the top three records in baseball, which had never been done before. The only other division to have three teams with more than 95 wins was the 1977 AL East. So it would be easy to say the 2015 National League Central may be the best division in baseball history.
Two years can make a big difference in sports, which is evident in this division alone. As of June 26th the Brewers sit in first place at an underwhelming 41-37. Even the defending World Champion Cubs are a mediocre one game above .500. On top of that, the Cardinals who always seem to be at the top of the league are struggling with a 34-40 record.
What could have possibly led to this steep decline? Well when it comes down to it, the key players in the Central just aren’t performing up to expectations. Other than Joey Votto and Zach Cozart, not a single qualifying hitter has above a .300 batting average in the division. This is surprising considering the talent in the Central such as Kris Bryant, Andrew McCutchen and Matt Carpenter.
Kyle Schwarber, one of the heroes for the Cubs last October, got sent down to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday. He is supposed to be part of the core for the Cubs but he was not pulling his weight with his splits showing .171/.295/.378. He is in a sense the poster boy for the failure of many players in the division this year. If things don’t start to turn around soon, jobs will be on the line.
The Cubs are 14th in the National League in hitting at the moment, but that will turn around. Jason Heyward is currently on the DL, but he showed signs of improvement from last year at the plate and is doing a decent job of filling the hole in outfield production left by Fowler.
Once the trade deadline comes, Theo and company could be going after Sonny Gray or Ervin Santana to bolster their struggling rotation. At that point they could go steam-rolling like they were just one year ago.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are at a critical spot for their organization. The next four weeks will determine what will happen in the coming years for them. Whether that be sell some of their key players, or maybe even decide to push Mike Matheny out the door. The bottom line is that John Mozeliak may have over-valued some of his pieces and put stock in the wrong players for the future.
Over the course of the year the Cardinals have been streaky. It is a common struggle for a lot of teams when they can’t get their pitching and hitting to go on hot streaks at the same time, but it has been a glaring issue for them this year. At this point, Carlos Martinez is the only starter that can be relied on and the middle of their lineup has been missing that spark to get them going.
The National League West has already pretty much determined the wild card race. So the only thing giving the Cardinals hope is how lackluster the division has been. If they don’t string together some wins in the coming weeks then we will possibly start to see some pieces moving elsewhere and the Cardinals will be planning for the coming years.
There have been several instances where it appeared that the Cubs would take over the Brewers. However, that day has yet to come. Eric Thames has been a great surprise for Milwaukee thus far–powering the club with 20 home runs. Travis Shaw is also proving himself to be a legitimate threat in the lineup. They don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, however, the question for Milwaukee is whether or not their pitching is going to hold up.
So far the Milwaukee has been serviceable but nothing special. They do not have a bonafide ace but have been relying on Chase Anderson who has been pulling the rotation so far this season. If he is able to keep this pace along with Jimmy Nelson then the Brewers may have a chance to hang in there come the race for October.
The Reds have the best hitter in the division in Joey Votto. On top of that, Scott Schebler and Zach Cozart have been pushing the offense to be perhaps the best in the division. The problem has been their lack of pitching. They are just now getting some of their top pitchers back in Homer Bailey and Brandon Finnegan. However, their 30th ranked pitching also doesn’t bode well despite their return. So look to see the Reds possibly moving some pieces at the deadline.
Pittsburgh has been getting back into the mix of things thanks to the improvement of Andrew McCutchen. Despite the rough start, he has comeback with a line of .380/.462/.671 in the month of June. The suspension of Starling Marte has not helped however, as they have sorely missed his bat in the lineup. The Pirates have showed some signs of life but they will also need some help from their pitching staff. Their -33 run differential will not translate to any improvements.
Taking two of three games in St. Louis this past weekend could possibly give the Pirates a spark they needed. Marte is also nearing the end of his suspension. His bat being back in the lineup could also give them a boost in morale and keep them tight with the Brewers and Cubs.
What to look for in the coming months?
It is hard to see the Cubs not making any big moves at the deadline as they still have a lot of their pieces from their championship team. So look for them to be aggressive. Schwarber’s demotion should also serve as a notice to the rest of the team that they are under-performing. It is doubtful to see the Cubs trailing the Brewers for much longer with all the talent they have. If the Cubs do not start pulling away soon though, then the division is up for grabs for any of these teams.
“From Our Haus to Yours”