The National League Central looked like a three-team race at the beginning of the season, and not much has changed two months into the campaign. The Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals – the most hyped clubs in the division coming into the year – are at the top. After winning the division a year ago, the Brewers are 39-29, a half-game better than the Cubs. The Cardinals are a less impressive 33-33, five games back, though they’re certainly not out of the race. Meanwhile, the Reds and Pirates are eight and nine games behind, respectively. Neither looked likely to challenge for the NL Central at the outset of the season. They haven’t done anything to change anyone’s mind yet.
Led by reigning MVP right fielder Christian Yelich, brilliant free-agent acquisition Yasmani Grandal and offseason re-signing Mike Moustakas, the Brewers boast one of the majors’ most valuable groups of position players. Their pitching hasn’t been as useful, on the other hand, as a rotation that was devoid of an ace entering the season has dealt with ineffectiveness and injuries throughout the year. However, the team still features elite reliever Josh Hader, with Jeremy Jeffress and Adrian Houser among those supporting him.
The Cubs’ position player mix has been even better than the Brewers’ this year, largely because Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras and David Bote have each offered strong production. Chicago’s rotation is probably better equipped, too, as Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana and Jon Lester are all proven commodities. Although, Yu Darvish hasn’t rebounded as hoped in his second year as a Cub. Darvish & Co. have handed off to a bullpen that hasn’t been lights-out this year, but it’s about to welcome all-time great closer Craig Kimbrel, whom the Cubs signed to a three-year, $43MM contract last week. Kimbrel would have been a match for the Brewers, making it all the more beneficial for the Cubs that they landed him (on paper, at least).
As for the Cardinals, they’ve fallen short of expectations after trading for ex-Diamondback Paul Goldschmidt, one of the premier position players in recent memory, and signing reliever Andrew Miller in the offseason. Both players have logged somewhat disappointing production to date, though Goldschmidt’s still an imposing presence and Miller has improved after a rocky start. Regardless, neither the Cardinals’ cast of hitters nor their relief corps is their most pressing issue. It’s their rotation, which hasn’t gotten high-end numbers from anyone. Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas have gone backward after impressive showings in 2018, while Dakota Hudson’s peripherals portend trouble. Adam Wainwright’s much closer to average than ace-like these days (and he’s now on the injured list with a hamstring issue), and nobody has nailed down the fifth spot in the Redbirds’ starting staff.
Considering the talent peppered throughout the Cardinals’ roster, it would be foolhardy to rule them out as potential division winners this season. Furthermore, with the trade deadline still yet to occur, St. Louis or anyone else in the division could put itself over the top with a shrewd acquisition(s) leading up to July 31. For now, though, the edge clearly belongs to the Cubs and the Brewers. FanGraphs currently projects the NL Central to finish in this order: Cubs (91-71), Brewers (87-75), Cardinals (83-79), Reds (78-84), Pirates (75-87). How do you expect it to shake out?
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