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BSBL – Abbreviated Analysis: The NL Central

The NL Central is a wild, wild ride so far in 2020. The Cubs sit atop the standings, the Brewers have yet to show up and the Reds are… infuriating.

Intersection of N. Sheffield and N. Waveland Avenues by Ron Cogswell is licensed under CC BY 2.0

BSBL – Abbreviated Analysis: The NL Central

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Well – here we are. Roughly a third of the way into the 2020 MLB season. While a few teams have barely seen the field as a result of dealing with COVID outbreaks, the majority of the league has managed to play about 20 of their games (give or take). This seems like a good time to start reflecting on what has been, and what may be. After all – the playoffs are right around the corner in this most unique of seasons.

Every few weeks we’ll be checking in on each team as they navigate this 60 game race to the postseason. While there’s plenty to talk about off the field, this series will focus primarily on the games and how the season is shaking out. So, let’s dive in, shall we?

The Chicago Cubs

The starting rotation the Chicago Cubs had hoped to create over the last two seasons has finally arrived and it is glorious. While the season is still in the early stages and things can turn on a dime at any moment, the Cubs arsenal is suffocating opponents.

In their first 17 games, this Wrigley rotation sports four pitchers with WHIPs below 1.000. The only starter not in that insane asylum is Tyler Chatwood, who appears to be the only mortal starter at this point for Chicago.

John Lester is in midseason form, except its midseason of the 2016 season. The Yu Darvish that Theo Epstein thought he was signing has finally arrived. Even Alec Mills is pitching out of his mind. And the bullpen?

The Cubs bullpen is just as good. Through 17 games, Jeremy Jeffress has not given up a hit in seven innings of work. Rowan Click has proven to be a solid closer option, and things can only get better from here as other relievers even out their appearances.

At this point in the season, the Cubs are the best team in the majors, and it’s their pitching got them there. The Cubs offense hasn’t quite shown up in the robust ways of the past, finding themselves in the middle of the pack in almost every offensive category outside of OBP, where they’re third.

The offense will click. This lineup is far too stacked to not find their footing down the stretch. The Cubs are here in 2020, and David Ross‘ boys came to play.

The Cincinnati Reds

You ever play MLB the show and you trade away a lot of borderline guys for some studs ahead of a season-long campaign? And then that team super underperforms at an aggravating level of mediocrity?

That’s the Cincinnati Reds.

On paper, this team is great. Seriously, this team should have been in the conversation for the division title, or at the least the surprise of the year. Now? I’m trying to figure out why they’re playing the way that they are.

Let’s look at the good, instead of looking at the deep, dark abyss, shall we?

Nick Castellanos came from Chicago in the offseason and immediately made an impact for the Reds. Through his first ten games for the Reds, Castellanos went off, hitting .382, with a 1.373 OPS, slamming five homers and driving in 12 RBIs. The 10 games following, however, gravity pulled Castellanos back down to the earth going 7-for-41, dropping his average to .263 for the season.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jesse Winker, who began the abbreviated season looking like he forgot how to play baseball.

In his first ten games, Winker collected just two hits as his average dipped to a putrid .087 for the season. And that’s the moment things began to turn around.

What’s Jesse Winker hitting now? How about .365, with an OBP of .484 and a 1.197 OPS, both of which lead the entire MLB? If the Reds can find their footing and get hot while the Cubs come back down to Earth, the Reds might just shock the world, and return to the postseason.

On the mound, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer continue to be as advertised. Gray has picked up where he left off in 2019, posting a 2.05 ERA and a 0.913 WHIP over his first five starts. Bauer, for lack of a better term, has been lights out insane. His 0.93 ERA through 3 starts only tells half the story, while his 0.569 WHIP and 14.9 k/9 color his season ever more.

The Reds can make this season one to remember, they just have to figure out how to play like a cohesive unit.

The Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers could not have had a worse start to the 2020 season. The best hitter in their lineup has been Orlando Arcia, not Justin Smoak, not Avisail Garcia, and certainly not former NL MVP Christian Yelich.

Of their normal starting nine, five hitters are BELOW the Mendoza Line. This Milwaukee offense is garbage, to be blunt. There’s no other way of looking at it. This team is trash at the plate.

Combine that inability to hit with an average pitching staff and you have the 2020 Brewers. Just a bunch of guys playing baseball… but it’s not particularly good.

The St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals have only played five games prior to their August 15th restart, following a COVID-19 outbreak within their clubhouse.

There’s really not much to discern from their first few games, with the exception of Goldschmidt looks ready to roll and Jack Flaherty is an exciting pitcher to watch. Anything outside of that, is a stretch.

Although, it’ll be interesting to see how the Cardinals fair coming out of their quarantine. They now have SIX 7-inning double-headers on their schedule, which could prove challenging. But after watching the Marlins come out of their hiatus… things could get interesting in St. Louis.

The Pittsburgh Pirates

Man, it’s been a tough season for the Pirates and it’s only going to get tougher. The Pirates are bad this year, and that’s probably not going to change. So let’s look at some silver linings…

Colin Moran had hit six home runs this season, almost half the number he hit last season. If the Pirates can jump-start Moran production this season, and he can continue to put in the work in the offseason, that could be the push he needs to unlock his power potential.

This abbreviated season could also give Gregory Polanco the chance to get his head on straight. In his first 12 games this season, Polanco was hitting below .100, which as you can guess is not very good. This comes on the heels of an injury plagued 2019, where his numbers also fell off the map. Polanco is an important piece to the future of this ballclub, both as it’s big piece on the field or potentially in a trade to help rebuild. Either way, the Pirates need to figure out how to right that ship.

Aside from that, let the kids play. Give Mitch Keller the freedom to fail. Allow Cole Tucker to run into some walls. Get weird with the 202 season, Pittsburgh! It’s not going to get better, so it might as well get interesting.

Looking Ahead

The 2020 season is an unprecedented exercise in fast-tracking a baseball season, and that’s going to lend itself to unprecedented events. The Cubs are in a great position to put their heads down and motor to the postseason. Can the Brewers pull out of their nosedive? Yeah, sure. Can the Cardinals run the table after sitting out for a week? There’s no way to know, we have ZERO precedent. In a year where things can change on a dime, what makes you think the MLB season would be any different?

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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