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National League Central Breakdown

National League Central Deirdre Hayes via


National League Central

With less than 20 games remaining for each team this season, the National League Central division is by far the most locked-up. The Chicago Cubs hold a 17 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and are one game away from clinching the division. Mean while the Cardinals are in the thick of a wild card race with the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets. Realistically, it looks as if only one team will make the playoffs from a division that yielded three playoffs teams a year ago. We will breakdown each team in the NL Central to expose their strengths and weaknesses moving forward.

Chicago Cubs 

Since the start of the season, the Chicago Cubs have been on a mission. That mission is to bring a World Series title to a city that hasn’t experienced one in over 100 years. After Wednesday’s action, the Cubs have a 93-52 record which is easily the best in all of baseball. Their 17 game lead over the Cardinals is the biggest in the majors. That huge lead means that the Cubs can clinch the division on Thursday at Wrigley Field against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cubs offense ranks third in the majors with 715 runs scored. A big chuck of those runs have come from the bats of “Bryzzo.” That is the name that was given to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo who make the Cubs lineup so dangerous. Bryant leads the team with a .296 batting average and 37 home runs. His buddy Rizzo is slightly behind him in terms of home runs with 31 but has him beat 95-101 in the RBI’s category. That means that these two have combined to hit 68 home runs and drive in 196 runs.

Lead-off man Dexter Fowler is also having a great season. He is hitting .273 with 12 home runs and 43 RBI’s in 112 games. Those may not sound like good stats but he has been the spark-plug for the Cubs lineup. All-Star middle infielders Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell have combined to hit 35 home runs. While these two may not have the biggest offensive potential, they more than make up for it with their gloves. Speaking of great gloves, Jason Heyward now patrols right field. The Cubs signed him to an 8-year, $184 million contract in the off-season. While his disappointing .226 batting average is concerning, Heyward keeps himself in the lineup with his defense. Heyward’s struggles have been overshadowed a lot because of the great play by the rest of the lineup.

The role players for the Cubs have stepped up this season and contributed to the success of the team. Players like Tommy La Stella, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Willson Contreras, Matt Szczur and David Ross have all pitched in. Javier Baez is especially valuable as he can play third base, shortstop and even second base. His powerful bat also helps him to get into the lineup more. In 126 games, Baez has hit 13 home runs and drove in 50 runs. He and Russell seem to be the Cubs middle infielders for years to come.

With an offense this good, you can afford to give up some runs. That is not the case with the Cubs as they have one of the best rotations in all of baseball. That rotation is headlined by MLB ERA leader Kyle Hendricks. The sinker baller has an ERA of just 2.03 to go along with his 152 strikeouts and 15-7 record. For at least the time being, Hendricks has taken over the ace status from 2015 NL Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta. Arrieta has struggled of late but still has a 2.91 ERA, 17-6 record and 3.4 WAR. With two stars like this front lining your rotation it’s easy to forget about Jon Lester. This is Lester’s second year with the Cubs and he has not disappointed. He has a 2.40 ERA and a 17-4 record in 29 starts.

Rotation depth is important to any team that hopes to make a deep playoff push. With the three-headed monster of Arrieta, Hendricks and Lester, some may say that is good enough to win a title. The Cubs on the other hand felt like they needed one more piece to the rotation. In the offseason, they went out and signed veteran John Lackey. He brings a sense of experience to a very young Cubs team but he also brings a lot of talent. While his 9-8 record may not be impressive, his 165 strikeouts in 169.1 innings is. He is striking out almost one batter per inning which is pretty good for a fourth starter.

The only question mark for this Cubs team this season was the bullpen. While it was improved from a year ago, management still felt like there was something missing. At the trade deadline, the Cubs grabbed flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees. The move cost the Cubs a huge amount of prospect talent but with one of the deepest farm systems in all of baseball, they can afford to do it. In 22 games for the Cubs, Chapman has racked up 14 saves and has an ERA of 1.31.

Chicago is poised to win the World Series this year and right now, they seem to be the favorite. With a lineup that includes Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo as well as a rotation that has Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta, you start to see why the Cubs are the favorites. They certainly have enough talent to capture the title this season but will need to stay buckled down if they hope to knock off some tough opponents come October.

St. Louis Cardinals

A whopping 17 games behind the Cubs in the National League Central are the St. Louis Cardinals. While out of contention within the division, the Redbirds are right in the middle of a wild card race. Only one game separates the Giants, Mets and Cardinals in the hunt for the two wild card spots. With a solid offense, the Cardinals will look to grab one of those two spots and make the playoffs a year after winning the division.

First baseman Brandon Moss leads the offense in home runs with 26 while hitting .241 with 63 RBI’s. The Cardinals rank 6th in the majors with 702 runs scored and 4th with a .444 slugging percentage. Veteran catcher Yadier Molina is having a down year in terms of power as he only has 7 home runs this season, but he does lead the team with a .290 batting average.

Right fielder Stephen Piscotty and third baseman Matt Carpenter have combined to hit 40 home runs this season as they are both hitting over .270. A supporting cast of players that includes Matt Holliday (19 homers) and Randal Grichuk (22 homers), has kept the Cardinals afloat.

The Cardinals 76-69 record with under 20 games left, will leave them short of their 100 win mark from last season. All Cardinals fans remember the Cubs beating them in the playoffs least year as the underdogs. This year, the Cardinals would go into the playoffs as the underdog hoping to get some revenge. In order to do that, they will need pitching.

Cardinals pitching has been solid this year behind the play of Carlos Martinez. He has a 3.15 ERA with 14 wins and 153 strikeouts this season. All three of those stats leads Cardinals pitching which ranks 9th in ERA with a 4.02 and 11th with a .255 batting average against. Martinez has taken over the role of ace from Adam Wainwright who is having a sub-par year. He has a 4.45 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 29 starts on the year. This is a far cry away from the normal Wainwright that Cardinal fans are used to seeing. Jaime Garcia and Mike Leake provide depth to the Cardinals rotation but they have both struggled as they each have ERAs over 4.50.

Seung Hwan Oh has been the man for the Cardinals this season. He leads the team with 17 saves and has a sparkling 1.87 ERA this season. He paces St. Louis’ bullpen with 72.1 innings pitched this year. Oh has provided the Cardinals with bullpen stability as well as a reliable arm out of the pen.

Even though the Cardinals are 17 games back in the division, they still have a shot at the playoffs. Star players like Martinez and Molina will need to step up and lead this team if they hope to make and be successful in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Pirates

At 70-74, the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves 22.5 games back of the Cubs for the NL Central crown. It’s been a rough season for a team that finished second in the division least year and made the playoffs. As if this season wasn’t already bad enough, the Pirates got news this week that ace pitcher Gerrit Cole would be shutdown for the remainder of the season with elbow inflammation. Even though the Pirates are probably not going to make the playoffs, losing a young pitcher like Cole can be scary.

Cole leaves a rotation that ranks 17th in ERA with a 4.18 mark. The Pirates rank even lower with a 1.39 WHIP (23rd) and a .266 batting average against (26th). With injuries to the rotation throughout the year, prospect Jameson Taillon has got a chance to prove himself in the major leagues. He has made 15 starts (11 of them quality starts) while totaling three wins and four losses. In 88 innings, Taillon has managed a 3.27 ERA and struck out 72 batters. In addition to Taillon, Ryan Vogelsong, Jonathon Niese, and Jeff Locke have all received solid amounts of starts. They have not fared as well as Taillon as all three of them have ERAs over 4.50.

One addition to the Pirates pitching staff that has paid off is former New York Yankee Ivan Nova. In eight starts for the Pirates, Nova has a 2.41 ERA with 43 strikeouts and a 5-0 record. The Pirates brought in Nova to solidify their rotation and that is exactly what he has done. Now with Gerrit Cole on the shelf, Nova will take over the role of ace for the Pirates.

On the offensive side, the Pirates have been a little lack-luster this season. They rank 18th in runs scored, 23rd in slugging percentage and 13th in team batting average. Right fielder Gregory Polanco leads the team with 21 home runs and 82 RBI’s. He has picked up an offense that has seen its biggest name not produce very much this season; that name is Andrew McCutchen. He has a disappointing .247 average but has hit 21 home runs. McCutchen could very well end the season with less than 70 RBI’s which would be far below the 96 RBI’s that he had last season.

Even without the normal production of McCutchen, the Pirates offense has found some guys that will produce. One of them is left fielder Starling Marte who leads the team with a .311 batting average, .362 OBP and 151 hits. He has hit 9 home runs and driven in 46 RBI’s while also clubbing 34 doubles. Third baseman Jung Ho Kang is also having a good season for the Pirates. He has 18 home runs to go along with his 51 RBI’s and 71 hits.

It does not look like the Pirates will make the postseason this year. In addition to being 22.5 games back in the division, they are also 6 games back in the wild card standings. After the trade of All-Star closer Mark Melancon, many thought that the Pirates where throwing in the towel. They hung around the wild card race for a while but eventually they slipped back to where they are now. In the offseason, the Pirates need to focus on acquiring pitching and developing the talent already within the organization. With a healthy Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon front lining the rotation next season, the Pirates could become a pitching machine.

Milwaukee Brewers

At 65-81 and 28.5 games out of first place, we find the Milwaukee Brewers. The 2016 season has been rough to a team that ranks 24th in the majors with 605 runs scored. That same offense also ranks 21st in slugging percentage with a .405 mark and 26th in batting average against with a .245 average. Big first baseman Chris Carter leads the team with 34 home runs and 82 RBI’s. He has been everything the Brewers could have hoped for from the first base position this season.

As in most seasons, left fielder Ryan Braun is the best player on the team. His .306 batting average leads the team and so does his .371 OBP. Braun has hit 27 home runs and drove in 82 runs in 124 games this season. Along with Braun, shortstop Jonathan Villar is also posting solid number for the Crew. Villar has a .290 batting average with 16 homers and 55 RBI’s.

Pitching has been equally as bad for a team that has a -62 run differential. As a team, the Brewers rank 15th in ERA with a 4.13, 22nd in WHIP with a 1.38 and 22nd with a .262 batting average against.

Zach Davies has been the ace for this disappointing Brewers rotation this season. Davies leads the team with 10 wins, and 127 strikeouts in 153.1 innings. He has a 3.87 ERA and 10-7 record in 26 starts this season. Fellow starting pitcher Junior Guerra has a 2.81 ERA with 9 wins in 121.2 innings for the Brewers this season. There is not much talent to go around on this Brewers team this season. Other than Braun, the Brewers do not have any big name players.

Firmly out of contention at the trade deadline, the Brewers decided to trade catcher Jonathan Lucroy and closer Jeremy Jeffress to the Texas Rangers in exchange for a huge bundle of prospects. In addition to that trade, the Brewers also shipped bullpen arm Will Smith to the San Francisco Giants. All four prospects that the Brewers received back where ranked in the top 100 prospects in the minors at the time of the trades.

These two trades are a prime example of a team that is selling off assets to acquire young, talented players for the future. The Brewers are poised to get a good draft pick in next years draft which should help speed up the rebuild process. If the Brewers can rebuild the right way, expect to see them in the playoffs in 4-5 years.

Cincinnati Reds

Bringing up the rear of the National League Central are the Cincinnati Reds. They currently have a 62-83 and are 31 games out of the division lead. Left fielder Adam Duvall leads the Reds with 30 home runs and 89 RBI’s. The rest of the offense around him has not put up those types of numbers so far this season. The Reds offense ranks 23rd in OBP, and 19th in both batting average and slugging percentage. That is just not acceptable if you want to compete in the major leagues.

Along with Duvall, Reds first baseman Joey Votto is also having a solid season. He leads the team with a .318 batting average, .433 OBP and 155 hits. Votto has also drawn 100 walks on the season which is the most on the team. Speedster outfielder Billy Hamilton has racked up 58 stolen bases this season while hitting 3 home runs and driving in 17 runs. Third baseman Eugenio Suarez has hit 20 home runs this season and also has driven in 64 RBI’s while hitting .252.

Dan Straily has a team best 3.81 ERA while also leading the team with 12 wins and 145 strikeouts. As a team, the Reds rank 27th in the league with a 4.86 ERA. They also rank in the lower half of the majors in WHIP and batting average against.

Brandon Finnegan has made 29 starts for the Reds this season but has an ERA north of 4 in those starts. In addition to Straily and Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani has made 17 starts and pitched to a 2.93 ERA. He only has 107.1 innings on the season but he does have a promising 8-3 record.

The Reds have looked like a last place team this year and that is not a good thing. They need help at just about every position. Joey Votto and Adam Duvall are two pieces that the Reds can build around in the future. Right now, it is not a good time to be a Cincinnati Reds fan.


With the division firmly in hand, the Cubs will look to continue their success into the playoffs. The Cardinals, are locked in a heated wild card race that could turn out a number of different ways. Right now, this division will definitely produce one playoff but it could produce two if the Cardinals can secure a wild card. The Pirates, Brewers and Reds are all out of contention but will look to improve heading into the 2017 season.