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NL Central Reset: Can the Brewers Hang On? Can the Cubs Wake Up? And What About the Cardinals?

With all 30 MLB teams returning to action Friday, it’s a good time to reset the second-half outlook for NL Central teams. 

All Division and Playoff Probabilities come fromFanGraphs …

Here we go …

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Record: 50-41, first place

Division Title Probability: 17.5 percent.

Playoff Probability:  28.1 percent.

Formidable: Offense ranks 8thin MLB in runs/game, 4th in homers/game, and 4th in slugging.

Regrettable: Rotation ace Chase Anderson’s strained oblique injury and a defense that ranks 19th in Defensive Efficiency. 

Remaining Schedule: 32 at home, 39 on the road.

Brewers need these three things to happen:

  1. Add a starting pitcher.
  2. Win more games against NL Central rivals; Brewers are 20-17 in division games.
  3. Maintain confidence. This young team is rolling, but how will the Brewers respond when the pressure intensifies?

The Big Question:  The Brewers have a blooming farm system and are set up for a nice future. Will GM David Stearns protect the future or be aggressive in shopping for trades?

Next up….

CHICAGO CUBS

Record: 43-45,  tied for 2nd place,  5.5 games out.

Division Title Probability: 57.5 percent.

Playoff Probability:  63.1 percent.

Formidable: A bullpen that has the 4th best ERA in MLB.

Regrettable:  The haziness of a classic World Series hangover

Remaining Schedule: 37 at home, 37 on road.

Cubs need these three things to happen:

  1. An underachieving offense has to click; Cubs rank 21st in runs/game.
  2. In related notes, get Kyle Schwarber going. And establish a leadoff hitter.
  3. The trade for LH starter Jose Quintana should energize this team; so amp up. It might help if manager Joe Maddon backed off on his desire to be the center of attention.

The Big Question:  Theo Epstein beat multiple contenders to the punch and landed Quintana. But is he finished dealing?

Next up…

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Record: 43-45,  tied for 2nd place, 5.5 games out.

Division Title Probability: 20.2 percent.

Playoff Probability:  31.5 percent.

Formidable: A starting rotation that’s 5th in MLB in ERA and 3rd in quality starts

Regrettable:  Too many knucklehead stumbles in base running and defense

Remaining Schedule: 31 at home, 43 on road.

Cardinals need these three things to happen:

  1. Acquire a middle-lineup bat that can fill a void and bat third.
  2. Bullpen has been better as of late, but must be more reliable in closing.
  3. Tommy Pham, Paul DeJong and Luke Voit have to keep pounding the baseball.

The Big Question: What will John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch do at the trade deadline? Go big, or small, or not at all?

Next up…

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Record: 42-47,  4th place, 7 games out.

Division Title Probability: 4.4 percent.

Playoff Probability:  7.5 percent

Formidable:  The resurgence of outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

Regrettable:  The PED-related suspension of outfielder Starling Marte, and infielder Jung Ho Kang remains in South Korea after his latest DUI conviction.

Remaining Schedule: 38 at home, 35 on road.

Pirates need these three things to happen:

  1. Enliven an offense that ranks 24th in MLB in runs/game, 26th in OPS, and 27th in slugging.
  2. No. 1 starter Gerrit Cole must reestablish his dominant form.
  3. With the offense struggling, the Pirates have to clean up their subpar defense and base running.

The Big Question: Starling Marte is due to return from his 80-game suspension on July 18, and what impact will he have on an anemic offense?

And finally …

CINCINNATI REDS

Record: 39-49,  5th (last) place, 9.5 games out.

Division Title Probability: 0.2 percent

Playoff Probability:  0.3  percent

Formidable:  The Reds lineup can hurt pitchers; 2nd in NL in slugging, third in homers per game.

Regrettable:  The rotation is a disaster with a 5.91 ERA that’s the worst in the bigs.

Remaining Schedule: 43 at home, 45 on the road.

Reds need these three things to happen:

  1. Reds GM Dick Williams has to go into the sell mode to speed up the rebuilding.
  2.  Not that it matters, bottom line, but veteran starting pitcher Homer Bailey is finally pitching well after years of injuries, so he must continue to provide some stability.
  3. Score even more runs, a ridiculous amount of runs. The only way to overcome the sickly rotation.

The Big Question:  Multiple contenders are seeking bullpen help, and the Reds have a dynamic young closer in Raisel Iglesias, who has a 1.69 ERA and 32 percent strikeout rate. Are the Reds willing to deal him?

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More – Theo Epstein Strikes Again: Cubs Acquire Jose Quintana, Put Pressure On Cardinals and Brewers

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Nice recap Bernie. I’m not sure why the Reds would go all in and trade their young closer when they have so many other pieces to work on. In other words, I don’t think you get better by weakening a part of your team. If you have a surplus (like the Cards do) in many positions, it makes sense to take a dive for the right guy. I also like the tip that a number of teams are looking for bullpen help. This might shoot my hopes down that the Cardinals go for a top closer. And of course trading with in the division for someone like Iglesias is like verboten. So it goes….

    Still think a closer/starter are needed more than a thumper. Where would the thumper play in an already crowded IF/OF?

    • JDinSTL

      Crowded mediocre IF and OF

      • LawrenceKScardsfan

        I don’t know – a lot of love for Carpenter, Gyorko, Voit and DeJong around. BTW – what’s your take on Cardinal nation? I’m removed from the St. Louis area but I am curious on how the general guy thinks about the team and whether the team may suffer some setback in ticket sales if the team struggles. My thinking is it would take a series of off years to see some reaction. Thoughts?

        • JDinSTL

          I’ve heard vocal disapproval at the yard this year. First time in ages. Tickets on StubHub are 6 bucks. Vast swaths of empty seats.

          • JohnS

            Many tickets pre-sold, but lots of them not being used!

        • It’s hard to know what the general guy thinks about the team, since people like us who comment (not only here but at stltoday.com and elsewhere) are NOT representative of the average fan. If I were to guess I would say the average fan has the same view of the team as is evidenced on this board, but that they are less likely to blame MO or DeWitt for it. But then that is my view as well, so I may be “projecting” my view as normal.

          • LawrenceKScardsfan

            Yep – understand. Tough question. I was lucky enough to attend the 1987 WS game where Lawless hit the HR. It was a win for the Cards and my only WS experience. When I drove in from KC with my friend I commented on how un-Red everything was. I had expected a town that showered the Cardinals with flags waving from every roost. But such was not the case. So I think sometimes the converse is true – while one never gets tired of winning, it becomes ordinary. And by 1987, with the Cardinals winning a WS in 1982 and an NL pennant in 85 and 87, perhaps it was just too routine to generate excitement.

            It does appear the Cardinal faithful continue to fill the stadium even as the team has struggled. Not being out of the pennant race will do that. But what if there’s more slippage?

  • Greg Gibson

    Heard your madcap rant this morning about Saint Louis voters turning down the MLS thing. First, again, if it’s such a great idea and so good for the city then the soon to be owners should pay for the stadium. This city has been bilked before by ponying up for a stadium for a sports team. Second, Nashville is on the MLS radar? Great for Nashville. Bernie, I don’t even watch MLS soccer but would’ve voted for it but I live in the county. Finally, get over it. They ain’t coming here!

    • Bernie Miklasz

      Didn’t say they were coming here. And I am over it. But the reason I brought it up is because we were doing a “flashback” segment in which I was asked to discuss some of the highs and the lows in STL sports in 2010. So … why wouldn’t I get into that subject for a couple of minutes? In this case no one would have paid for anything unless they went to the games and bought tickets. The city share was to be taken care of by the dedicated ticket tax. But as you said, it’s over. MLS, no MLS, my life is great. I accept that St. Louis will never change, and thats OK, because I love living in the city anyway. Thanks for listening, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

      • Greg Gibson

        Well, that begs the issue, maybe in retrospect, the promoters of this idea should have done an all out campaign championing the fact “no tax dollars will go toward building the stadium.” That should have been their banner headline instead of how great it will be to have an MLS team. I am public relations guy, my mantra, “know the game, know the players.” The players were the voters and the voters in St. Louis have anthrax as a result of the Rams deal. But as you say, it is over. Love the show, listen to you M-F on the way in to the gig.

  • JDinSTL

    This is what I don’t get. Moe sat there and watched Beltran, Craig, Freese, and Holliday disappear from the middle of the order.

    And, every year… it’s “hey, we want to shore up our bullpen”. Hey let’s call Cleveland and see who they want to get rid of!

    “We don’t want to block Adams” – direct quote

    We went the Wong Way with Wong. Piscotty’s “highway through the danger zone” seems pretty safe to me. Now it’s “Sink or swim” with Windmill McWhiffer?

    What would you expect with 4 middle of the order bats disappearing? Well, that’s exactly what has happened.

    “Just because we made an offer for Jason Heyward… and Jason Heyward is an outfielder, doesn’t mean we’re interested in ‘any’ outfielder” – direct quote

    Anyone else tired of being talked down to?

    This latest gambit was get Fowler to hit first and drop Carpenter to become that “middle of the order bat” Another cheap way out… with pathetic results

    If you don’t want to pay up for transformational talent (and they clearly don’t), then you can trade talent to get it. That’s what I suggest they do now. Package up Lynn, Rosenthal, Oh, and Carpenter and trade the pennant to Houston for one of their cornerstone-type kids. They have plenty – remember they’ve got Luhnow.

    Tell him you want to trade him the pennant this time instead of stealing his password.

    • Beltran was old and an injury risk in the non-DH NL. Craig stopped hitting. Freese has 87 homers IN HIS CAREER and a .413 SLG, and you want him in the middle of the order? Holliday, another fine DH at this stage.

      And that’s just your first paragraph.

      • JDinSTL

        At one point, ALL of them were middle of the order hitters. They are ALL gone. None have been replaced. I wasn’t arguing to keep any of them. I was arguing that their PRODUCTION needs to be replaced.

      • JohnS

        His point is that they were not replaced….

      • JDinSTL

        You going to take a shot at my second paragraph?