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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