National League Central contenders and pretenders

The Chicago Cubs are the defending World Series champions and favorites to win it all again in 2017. But to do so, they will have to battle through a revitalized National League Central Division.

The National League Central is full of storied franchises. The “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates. “The Big Red Machine” in Cincinnati. Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith and Tony La Russa in St. Louis. Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Rollie Fingers in Milwaukee. Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein and the curse-breaking Cubs in Chicago. These are five of the great baseball organizations.

In 2016, the Cubs won the NL Central Division by 17.5 games over the Cardinals. The Pirates finished third, 25 games back. Chicago went on to break the 108-year “curse of the billy goat” by beating the Cleveland Indians in seven games in the World Series.

But today, on May 4, 2017, the Central Division looks interesting. First place and last place are separated by three games. In inter-divisional games to date, four of the five teams have won 10 games. Cincinnati has played 21 of 27 games to date against the Central Division to a 10-11 record. Chicago is 10-8, Milwaukee is 10-9 and St. Louis is 10-7 against the division.

Pittsburgh has beaten Chicago four times in six games played, while the Cubs have beaten the Brewers in four of six. St. Louis is 3-0 against the Pirates and 4-2 versus the Brewers. The Brewers are 6-1 against the Reds, while the Reds are 5-1 against the Pirates.

Contenders or pretenders?

So here we have five teams separated by only three games. But who are the contenders and who are the pretenders? Let’s check some other numbers and see.

Pittsburgh Pirates (12-15)

The Pirates are batting .236 as a team (12th NL) with 25 home runs (14th) and an OBP of .325 (7th). They have a team ERA of 3.98 (5th) with a BAA of .253 (11th). Only Josh Harrison is batting over .300 (.308 BA, 5 HR, 11 RBI, .912 OPS), and Harrison and Andrew McCutchen (.235 BA, 5 HR, 15 RBI, .760 OPS) are the team leaders in home runs with five each.

Ivan Nova (3-2, 1.50 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 22 K) leads a talented starting rotation along with Jameson Taillon (2-1, 3.31 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 30 K) and Gerrit Cole (1-3, 3.50 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 34 K). Tony Watson (0.87 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 7 SV) has been excellent out of the pen.

Conclusion: Pretender – Will play everyone tough but will not have enough to hang in the race.

Cincinnati Reds (13-14)

The Reds are batting .249 as a team (9th NL) with 38 home runs (4th) and an OPS of .759 (4th).  They have a team ERA of 4.69 (13th) with a BAA of .231 (1st). Zack Cozart (.329 BA, 1 HR, 9 RBI, .971 OPS) and Eugenio Suarez (.322 BA, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 1.019 OPS) are batting over .300 while Joey Votto (.258 BA, 9 HR, 22 RBI, .950 OPS) leads a group of four who have over six home runs. Amir Garrett (2-2, 4.50, 1.13 WHIP, 26 K) leads the staff in ERA while Raisel Iglesias (1.17 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 4 SV) leads the bullpen.

Conclusion: Pretender – Will continue to hit home runs but ultimately the pitching will not be able to hold up in the tough NL Central.

Milwaukee Brewers (14-14)

The Brewers are batting .243 as a team (11th NL) with 47 home runs (1st) and an OPS of .776 (2nd). They have a team ERA of 4.36 (7th) with a BAA of .271 (15th). Eric Thames (.326 BA, 11 HR, 20 RBI, 1.207 OPS) is one of the stories of the year in baseball. He along with Ryan Braun (.284 BA, 7 HR, 18 RBI, .950 OPS) and Travis Shaw (.263 BA, 6 HR, 21 RBI, .847 OPS) gives the Brewers a powerful lineup.

Chase Anderson (2-0, 2.10 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 24 K) leads the pitching staff and veteran Neftali Feliz (7 SV) has reinvented himself in the bullpen.

Conclusion: Pretender – The home runs may continue to fly but the lack of pitching will keep the Brewers from making a real run for the title.

St. Louis Cardinals (13-13)

The Cardinals are batting .252 (6th NL) with 28 home runs (13th) and an OPS of .327 (6th). They have a team ERA of 3.90 (3rd) with a BAA of .260 (13th). They are led by Kolten Wong (.278 BA, 1 HR, 11 RBI, .853 OPS) and Matt Carpenter (.256 BA, 4 HR, 15 RBI, .843 OPS) on offense and Yadier Molina in spirit.

Mike Leake (3-1, 1.35 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 25 K) is leading an excellent staff along with Lance Lynn (3-1, 2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 25 K) and Michael Wacha (2-1, 3.23 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 28 K). Seung-hwan Oh (3.95 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 6 SV) and Trevor Rosenthal (3.24 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 3 SV) lead a talented bullpen.

Conclusion: Contender – With Mike Matheny at the helm and a quality pitching staff, the Cardinals will be in the race to the end.

Chicago Cubs (15-12)

The Cubs are batting .255 (5th NL) with 32 home runs (8th) and a .340 OBP (2nd). They have a team ERA of 3.94 (4th) with a WHIP of 1.28 (3rd). They are led by Kris Bryant (.299 BA, 5 HR, 15 RBI, .948 OPS) and Anthony Rizzo (.248 BA, 6 HR, 17 RBI, .840 OPS) on offense. John Lester (1-1, 3.67 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 31 K) is leading an underachieving pitching staff with Wade Davis (2-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 7 SV) giving them a strong back-end of the bullpen.

Conclusion: Contender – The Cubs are playing way below expectations and are still in first place. Enough said.

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