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BSBL: The NL Central – 40 Games In

Will the Cubs stroll to the NL Central Division title, or will one of their rivals finally wake up and give them a run for the crown?

Wrigley by Rob Pongsajapan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

BSBL: The NL Central – 40 Games In

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

How quickly time flies! Less than a month ago we were taking a look at how teams were handling the craziness associated with this 2020 season. Now, as we head deeper into September, it’s time to check back in. Most teams have gotten through roughly two-thirds of their regular season schedule. We’ve also seen the trade deadline come and go. So – with all of that as a backdrop – let’s have a look at where teams stand, and where they hope to go over the final stretch of the season.

Today: The National League Central

Chicago Cubs

Three weeks ago, when we first checked in on the North Side, the Cubs stood at 13-5 and were in first place in the division. Fast forward to now and guess what – they’re still on top. While they have slowed down a bit, they’re still 23-15 and have a fairly comfortable 4.5 game lead.

Early in the season, it was the pitching staff that led the way, though they too have tailed off slightly. Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks have shouldered most of the load, posting 11 wins between them. Injuries have crimped the plans of the rotation lately, with Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood both landing on the 10-Day IL. Still – the staff as a whole has acquitted itself nicely. The bullpen has been reliable, with both Jeremy Jeffress and Rowan Click racking up saves for the club.

Offensively, the big bats still haven’t truly caught fire. They sit mid-table in the NL in most categories as they slog their way through the middle portion of the season. Nevertheless, the trade deadline was an active one for Chicago. They fortified their squad on both fronts.

They traded for Cameron Maybin and Jose Martinez to hopefully bring more offensive firepower while bringing in Andrew Chafin and Josh Osich to help on the pitching side of things. Unless the rest of the division starts to wake up soon, it looks like the Cubs may have a fairly easy path to the division title.

St. Louis Cardinals

When we last left the Redbirds, they were all nestled safely in their own individual nests – the result of a COVID quarantine. They had one of the bigger outbreaks in MLB (along with the Marlins), so they’d only played a handful of games before being shut down to curb any potential spread of the coronavirus.

They’ve been busy since returning to the diamond, and they will continue to be for the rest of the season. Their two week forced hiatus meant that they’d have to play over 50 games in 44 days to get the full 60 game slate in. So far, they’ve played to a 14-15 record and find themselves in second place in the Central. Adam Wainwright, at age 38, is off to a stellar start. He sports a 3-0 record and an ERA of 2.65. His 0.88 WHIP is good for 3rd in the National League. Jack Flaherty is putting up similar numbers.

They suffered a blow offensively with Dexter Fowler landing on the IL. Given the impact of COVID-19 on their roster, the club are doing everything they can to remain competitive while prioritizing the health and safety of their players and staff. It’s often been a patchwork of players, but so far they’ve managed to hold their own.

It remains to be seen if the Cardinals will be able to catch the Cubs given the monumental scheduling challenge after their break. Still – they’re within reach… for now.

Milwaukee Brewers

Paging Christian Yelich…. Christian Yelich? Has anyone seen Christian Yelich?

After the first third of the season was in the books, the Brew Crew sat in 3rd place in the division with a 9-10 record. That was, in large part, due to an utterly putrid start offensively. Sadly, not too much has changed. They’ve gone 9-9 since and are still in 3rd place, four and a half games behind the Cubs.

Milwaukee is still waiting for Yelich to return to his 2018 NL MVP form. He has managed to find his power stroke to some extent. He’s crushed 9 HR to share the team lead with Keston Hiura, but his average currently hovers just above the Mendoza Line at .205, a far cry from what we’ve come to expect from a player of his caliber. Of course, it’s not just him. As a team, they rank in the bottom third of the NL in several offensive categories, which won’t help in trying to chase down the Cubs.

Their pitching has only fared slightly better. The rotation has struggled mightily. The majority of their starters have losing records and only two pitchers who’ve made a start have an ERA below 4.00. They didn’t do much at the trade deadline to try and better themselves, either. They traded away RHP David Phelps in exchange for three “players to be named later”. The lone bright spot in Milwaukee has been Josh Hader. Through 12 appearances, he’s sporting a 1.54 ERA, has 9 saves and HAS NOT GIVEN UP A HIT. So yeah, there’s that at least.

If the Brewers don’t find some offense and the pitching doesn’t step up, it’ll be hard to see them making it to the postseason.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds limped out of the gate, stumbling to a 9-11 record through their first 20 games. Outside of Nick Castellanos, nobody else on the roster seemed to be hitting. Jesse Winker was a shadow of himself, Eugenio Suarez was AWOL, and the list goes on. With another 18 games under their belts, they’ve amassed a less than impressive 17-22 record, good for 4th in the division. The offensive performances are still sorely lacking. As a team, they’re second-to-last in the NL with a team batting average of .215. Only 3 players on the roster are hitting over .250, which isn’t going to cut it in this division.

Luckily, their pitching has fared much better. They’re in the top third of the NL in staff ERA and WHIP. Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer continue to impress, maintaining their hot starts for the most part. Luis Castillo has struggled in the win/loss column but has kept a respectable 4.10 ERA thus far.

At the trade deadline, the team did make a couple of moves in hopes of lighting a fire for the final third of the season. They acquired Archie Bradley from the Arizona Diamondbacks, and also brought in Brian Goodwin from the Los Angeles Angels.

They also brought Aristedes Aquino in from the alternate training site. Time will tell if any of these moves will help the Reds compete, but my guess is even if they get a kick in the pants, it won’t be enough.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Well – someone has to be last. This has been a pretty ugly season, and that’s putting it mildly.

It didn’t take long for Pittsburgh to sink to the bottom of the pool. They got off to a 4-14 start – the worst in MLB at the time. Here we are in September and they find themselves in the same situation. Their 12-25 record still has them on the bottom looking up.

The offense has been pretty terrible. Nobody on the team has more than 6 home runs or 16 RBI. Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco are both sporting less than stellar averages and have 9 HR and 28 RBI between them. They have also been the only team to be no-hit so far this season, failing to put one in play against Lucas Giolito of the White Sox on August 25th.

From the mound, they haven’t done much better, ranking 11th in the NL with a team ERA of 4.93. Their WHIP of 1.43 has them 12th in the NL as well. All around, it’s just been a slog for this ball club. The final few weeks should be spent giving some of their young guys a taste of the bigs – what else have they got to lose?

It would seem that the Cubs are on the verge of locking down this division. Will the Cards be able to string some wins together during a brutal schedule? Will the Brewers or Reds finally show up offensively? It’d be nice to see a race develop, but it doesn’t seem likely at the moment.

Joe is an actor who grew up eating, living and breathing sports. He spent many an afternoon on the soccer or baseball field in his youth (and even gave several other sports a shot) before a series of events put him on the path to pursuing a performing career. Subsequently, he's worked almost every other type of job you could imagine while trying to support that endeavor. Whenever he's not working any of those jobs, he can often be found watching, playing or discussing sports in some way. Most of that banter revolves around the Mets, Giants, Rangers or Manchester United. His short term goal is to fully convert his fiance into a rabid sports fan, not someone who leaves the room whenever he turns a game on.

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