MLB Outlook: National League Central

The NL (National League) Central has been a powerhouse division over the last few seasons, with all teams having made playoff appearances since 2010, with the exception of the Houston Astros, who moved to the AL (American League) West in 2013 and have made the playoffs there. The only team still remaining in the division to not win said division is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have still made the playoffs in the form of a Wild Card three times since 2013. The NL Central is an impressive division, and the inconsistency found in the standings has made it one of the most entertaining divisions to watch.

Milwaukee Brewers 41-39: Once again, a different team is leading the NL Central this season. The Milwaukee Brewers, at only 2 games above .500, are currently 1 game ahead of the World Series champs, the Chicago Cubs. Many are saying that this is because the Cubs got off to a slow start, having just fallen back to .500 themselves. However, the Brewers have done this by getting solid production from players like third baseman, Travis Shaw (.294 average, 17 home runs, 57 RBIs), and one hell of an April from first baseman, and former Korean League stud, Eric Thames (.241 average, 20 home runs, 40 RBIs) where he hit .345 with 11 home runs and 19 RBIs, . However, with starting pitcher Chase Anderson (6-2, 2.89 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) heading to the DL (disabled list) with a left-oblique strain, things are looking grim for the Brewers rotation. Also, Thames’ production has significantly declined since April, as he hit only .221 in May and .163 so far in June. During those two months, Thames has also only hit 9 home runs combined. It seems that what has gotten the Brewers off to such a hot start has either gone on the DL, or has simply cooled off. If the Brewers hope to hold onto their current spot in the standings, they need to be able to find a way to get Anderson back quickly, and they need Thames to start hitting again.

Chicago Cubs 39-39: Coming off of their first World Series championship in 108 years, the Cubs and their fans were excited for the 2017 season. However, things got off to a slow start, and after finally passing the Mendoza line and having a record above .500, the Cubs lost last night to drop back to .500. This is still mostly the same team that won the World Series last season, but what’s different? Well, last seasons NL MVP, third baseman Kris Bryant (.264 average, 16 home runs, 32 RBIs), and stud first baseman, Anthony Rizzo (.258 average, 18 home runs, 50 RBIs) are both having down years. In order for the Cubs to succeed again, they need those two to contribute more offensively. It doesn’t help that Bryant is now day-to-day after rolling his ankle in last nights game against the Washington Nationals either. As for their pitchers, Jake Arrieta (7-6, 4.67 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) and John Lackey (5-9, 5.24 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) have both been awful. And apparently, according to former Cubs catcher, Miguel Montero, Arrieta allows every stolen base possible (even though he’s only thrown out one runner all season. But he does enjoy his alternative facts). Montero’s statements might also be indicating trouble in the Cubs clubhouse. We’ll have to wait and see if no longer having him in the clubhouse can improve the team’s morale. All around the Cubs just need to get everything together. They’re by far the best team in the division. They should be running away with it.

St. Louis Cardinals 36-41: The Cardinals are the only team in the NL Central to win the division in consecutive seasons, as they have represented the NL Central in the postseason five times since 2010. They even won the division three times during that time as well. So, it stands to reason that the Cardinals could turn it around this season and pull off a division win, especially considering how tight the NL Central already is. However, in order to do this the Cardinals need to hit more. Their team leader in home runs only has only knocked 14 out of the park (first baseman, Matt Carpenter). However, almost everything is going smoothly on the mound, as starter Carlos Martinez (6-6, 2.88 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) is having another great season, and Mike Leake (5-6, 3.12 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) is also having a strong season. All while Lance Lynn (5-5, 3.86 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) is still consistent as ever. However, none of these starters have a winning record despite strong numbers, and that is because the offense isn’t lending them the support that they need. If the Cardinals hope to compete this season, they need to bring in a hitter who not only hits for power and knocks in runs, but strikes fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. They need another Albert Pujols (in his prime) in their lineup.

Pittsburgh Pirates 36-42: The only reason the Pirates are below the Cardinals in the standings is because they’ve played one more game, and they lost it. It’s not like the Pirates don’t have the pieces to compete. I mean, they have Andrew McCutchen. Who doesn’t want McCutchen on their team manning centerfield? However, McCutchen is also having his version of a down year. He’s hitting .270 with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs. A successful season for almost any other major leaguer, but he’s also a former NL MVP, so more is expected from him. However, he will more than likely raise his average by the end of the season. The Pirates are also getting a strong season from second baseman, Josh Harrison, as he is hitting .291 with 9 home runs and 27 RBIs from the top two spots in the lineup. When he hits second, Harrison has been hitting .307, compared to .272 out of the leadoff spot. And Iván Nova has finally found his groove on the mound, as he has a 3.08 ERA to support his 8-5 record and his 108 innings pitched this season. The Pirates seem to have found their ace in Nova, but just like the Cardinals, they need one hitter who strikes fear into the hearts of pitchers, and McCutchen ain’t cuttin’ it.

Cincinnati Reds 33-44: Like many last place teams, the Reds are desperate for help. Despite strong starts from superstar first baseman Joey Votto (.303 average, 21 home runs, 55 RBIs), shortstop Zack Cozart (.320 average, 9 home runs, 33 RBIs), as well as centerfielder Billy Hamilton’s 33 stolen bases in 71 games (whoa), the Reds can’t seem to get it together. Let’s be honest here though, when your team leader in wins, ERA and strikeouts is Scott Feldman (6-5, 4.07, 73 strikeouts), then your rotation needs a major overhaul. The Reds not only need an ace, but they also need a number two starter to follow him. Their pitching staff needs a complete overhaul if they hope to compete again, and that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

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