MLB Coverage: The NL Central Race

TheSportsNotebook continues with the theme of this week’s MLB coverage and that’s basic statistical snapshots for each division. Today’s focus is the NL Central. We completed the American League earlier this week, and the National League started yesterday with the East. Now we turn our attention to the division that stands poised to sweep the wild-card berths if the season ended today.

As we’ve done in each other divisional overview, we’ll first list each team’s league rank in the offensive categories of runs scored, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Then do the same on the pitching side for starters’ ERA, bullpen ERA and save percentage. After touching on a couple notable individual performances for each team, we then move to some general comments.

St. Louis Cardinals (55-35)
Runs: 1st
OBP: 1st
Slugging: 2nd
Starters’ ERA: 1st
Relievers’ ERA: 8th
Save Chances: 27/38
Notable: The Cards lost closer Jason Motte for the season, but Edward Mujica has stepped in and done his best Mariano Rivera imitation, closing 25/26 save opportunities, with a 2.33 ERA. And Yadier Molina is making his case for NL MVP, with stat line of .383 OBP/.479 slugging percentage.

Comments: This organization just keeps on ticking. They lost Motte in the pen, Jaime Garcia in the rotation and Rafael Furcal in the everyday lineup, but that just keep on churning. They need depth in the bullpen to survive this tough divisional race, but that’s something that will likely be added between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. And Chris Carpenter, after looking like his career was finished, is making a minor league rehab start on Monday and could be in St. Louis by August.

Pittsburgh Pirates (54-36)
Runs: T13th
OBP: 10th
Slugging: 10th
Starters’ ERA: 2nd
Relievers’ ERA: 2nd
Save Chances: 33/42
Notable: Jason Grilli deserves to be in the MVP conversation, as the closer spearheads an elite bullpen, with a 28/29 closing rate and 2.09 ERA. Andrew McCutchen isn’t lighting up like he did through August of last year, but he’s still having a solid season, with a .376/.465 stat line.

Comments: The pitching has been this good in spite of injury problems that are in the process of working themselves out, with A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez healthy again. It’s adding a bat or two at the trade deadline that will determine if this Pirate team can do more than make the playoffs. But the long drought without a winning season (1992 was the last one) is surely over and it would be a shock not to see the Buccos in at least a wild-card game.

Cincinnati Reds (51-40)
Runs: 4th
OBP: 3rd
Slugging: 8th
Starters’ ERA: 3rd
Relievers’ ERA: 7th
Save Chances: 24/34
Notable: The pitching of Mike Leake, with an 8-4 record and 2.69 ERA in 18 starts, is a big reason the Reds have weathered the various injuries to Johnny Cueto. Offensively, Joey Votto is making his own case for the MVP race, with another big year, at .431/.506.

Comments: Cincinnati is another team that needs bullpen depth, and as well as the starting pitching has done without Cueto, it’s impossible to imagine winning a division race of this quality without your ace. Furthermore, Cueto’s return could allow rookie Tony Cingrani to go into the bullpen where he can strengthen that area.

Chicago Cubs (41-49)
Runs: 6th
OBP: 13th
Slugging: 4th
Starters’ ERA: 7th
Relievers’ ERA: 14th
Save Chances: 21/39
Notable: What might this team be doing if veteran starting pitcher Edwin Jackson were pitching up to form, instead of having a 5.11 ERA after 18 starts? The power is a nice surprise, and Nathan Schierholtz’ .504 slugging percentage is the biggest reason why.

Comments: If we weren’t waiting on where the Cubs are going to deal Matt Garza, the relevant question would be whether they could spend the second half making a run at .500. This team deserves a lot of credit for what they’ve accomplished, and if the bullpen wasn’t such a train wreck, they’d already be breaking even. But seeing Carlos Marmol leave town is probably cause enough for celebration on the North Side right now.

Milwaukee Brewers (37-54)
Runs: 10th
OBP: 9th
Slugging: 6th
Starters’ ERA: 15th
Relievers’ ERA: 3rd
Save Chances: 20/31
Notable: Yovani Gallardo was supposed step up and carry the starting pitching, but he has instead posted a 4.83 ERA in 20 starts and gotten pinched for drunk driving. The offense has more bright spots, but how do you not focus on shortstop Jean Segura, with his .354/.485 stat line. Someone in the Angels’ front office needs to be fired immediately for trading this kid for two months of Zack Greinke in 2012.

Comments: It’s been kind of a lost season in Milwaukee, with the steroid allegations surrounding Ryan Braun and his relationship with the BioGenesis clinic. And when you have the worst starting pitching in the league, it doesn’t give a lot of reason to hope on a night-to-night basis. At the very least, Segura is one of several everyday players having good seasons and the local fan base can keep their sights pointed to August 9. The reason for that date? It’s when the Green Bay Packers start preseason games and get everyone’s mind on football season.


St. Louis continues to get the respect in Las Vegas, and they’re a (-110) favorite to win the NL Central. Even though Pittsburgh has a four-game margin on Cincinnati, both the Pirates and Reds are 2-1 picks to finish first place. That’s not a lot of respect for the Pirates, but I guess that’s what having losing seasons every year since 1992 gets you. The Brewers and Cubs are a 1,000-1.