Baseball is one of the most regionalist sports of our time. We know every single detail about every single player on the roster, the play-by-play is done by biased announcers that focus only on the accomplishments of the home team and we obsess over every single managerial decision for 162 games a year. When Ryan Braun hits a double, it’s because he’s a great hitter. When John Axford gives up a home run, it’s because he stinks. We forget that the opposing teams also go through their share of ups and downs and have their own narratives.
Today we focus on the larger stories of the four other teams in the NL Central.
St. Louis Cardinals (21-12)
The offense is led by the all-star catcher Yadier Molina hitting .339/.369/.460 and despite not having any other superstar performances, the Cardinals are third in the National League in runs scored with 151 runs. They’ve accomplished this with a team effort: hitting up and down the line and not striking out (third best team strike-out rate of 18.3%). Pete Kozma has been an acceptable replacement to the opening day shortstop, Rafael Furcal by having a .319 OBP and holding his own defensively.
The bigger story of the Cardinals season is their excellent pitching. They lead the Majors with a combined 3.07 ERA. Shelby Miller is making a rookie of the year campaign with a 1.96 ERA and Adam Wainwright is the “worst” starting pitcher with a 2.72 ERA and 48 strikeouts over 49 innings.
The bullpen has been the sore spot and one of the worst in the league. They lost Jason Motte early, and now for the season, and Mitchell Boggs, their new closer, went back to the minors. But the rest of the bullpen along with new closer Edward Mojica, Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly have stepped up to sustain the wins.
It has yet to be seen whether this amazing pitching run is sustainable. But, if it does, the Cardinals will be the team to beat.
Cincinnati Reds (19-16)
The Cincinnati Reds were expected to win the division coming into the offseason. They’re not where they’d like to be but are currently only 3 games behind the Cardinals.
Some had criticized the Reds for sacrificing defense to get Shin-Soo Choo to play CF but so far that has paid off handsomely. Choo is hitting a marvelous .331/.467/.545. Combined with Joey Votto’s league leading 30 walks, the Reds have been scoring some runs (second in the NL with 156 runs).
After all the offseason drama, the Reds decided to keep Aroldis Chapman in the closers’ role. This was fine, except that Johnny Cueto is hurt and Dusty Baker refuses to use Chapman in an effective way that can get him to pitch more innings in close situations. The rookie Tony Cingrani has thrown well, giving up just seven runs in four starts. Combined with Mat Latos phenomenal performance, has kept the Reds fourth in the League with 3.53 ERA.
Pittsburgh Pirates (18-15)
Will the Pittsburgh Pirates finally have a winning season?
Starling Marte has a higher WAR than Bryce Harper! Okay so something about small sample sizes and defensive metrics that explain it but seriously, he has been amazing so far, hitting .331/.396/.531 with 5 home runs (here’s one). Meanwhile, Andrew McCutchen is still waiting for the cards to fall his way, hitting .250/.309/.429 on the season.
Joshua Axelrod put it this way:
Marte and Andrew McCutchen make up one of the most fascinating left field/center field combinations in baseball. The former is an upstart who has been playing out of his mind this season, and the latter is the team’s best player who is still waiting to get hot.
The Pirates have had their own share of injury woes. After losing Francisco Liriano, Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton the Pirates are now placing James McDonald on the DL.
However, A.J. Burnett has a 2.57 ERA with 57 strikeouts over 42 innings and Jason Grilli has 13 saves with 0.64 ERA. Things could be worse!
Chicago Cubs (13-20)
In case you haven’t heard, the Chicago Cubs are rebuilding. They’re rebuilding Wrigley Field, they’re rebuilding their farm system, and they’re rebuilding that damn train set they got for Christmas last year. In light of all that, the only interesting discussion really is which players will be on the trade block. So here’s a quick look at some of the notable players (coming from these links here and here).
Anthony Rizzo has been crushing the ball and is fourth in the national league with nine home runs. His batting average was a paltry .224 in April, but he’s turning it around and hitting .357 in May thus far. Starlin Castro, on the other hand, remains a disappointment with a .301 OBP.
The Cubs starting pitching is surprisingly frugal with four of the five starting pitchers boasting an ERA of less than 3.10. Jeff Samardjiza is fourth in the league with 52 strikeouts. With Matt Garza working his way through rehab, it’s only a matter of time before Edwin Jackson and his 6.39 ERA pack their bags and say sayonara to the windy city.