So months ago before the season I made my fearless predictions (I don’t know that they are actually fearless). In looking back on my predictions for the NL Central, I must stick by them.
First off, here is what they were.
1. Cincinnati Reds
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Houston Astros
So now 3.5 months into the season, there is one glaring weakness in those predictions. I underestimated the Pittsburgh Pirates. While I loved the Clint Hurdle hire and thought he could light a fire under the dormant Pirates, I had no idea they would sit just one game back of first at 4 games over .500. Baseball fans around the nation will be watching intently to see if the Pirates can breathe life again into a city that has been absent from the baseball world for almost 20 years now.
I wrote in Steve’s roundtable that I thought the Reds would still win the NL Central division this year. I stick by my preseason pick and my words in the roundtable. Here is why the Reds will eventually win the NL Central.
The Milwaukee Brewers have lots of star power, but they have actually been outscored this season 406-405. They tout the fact that they have Zach Greinke, Yovanni Gallardo, and Shaun Marcum, but their pitching has given up only two less runs than the much-maligned Reds pitching staff this season. They have scored 32 runs less than the Reds.
Finally, the Brewers have noticeable holes at shortstop, third base, and at the back end of their rotation. Randy Wolf has gotten worse as the season goes on, and his 6.23 ERA in July is scaring nobody. Chris Narveson has an ERA of 7.59 in July as well.
Now let’s move on to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals are the other team in the NL Central that scares me the most. They are a veteran club who knows what it takes to win. However, they faded down the stretch last season, and the Reds have a chance starting tomorrow to take it to the Cardinals and set the tone for the second half of the season.
The Cardinals have the good balance of hitting and pitching, especially at home where Jamie Garcia has an ERA of 1.14. They stand at 49-43, but they have had a lot of time to place some distance between themselves and the Reds. They could not distance themselves, and the Reds sit just 4 games back of the Cardinals. Ergo, the Reds are one good weekend this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from breathing down the Cardinals’ necks.
And finally, the other contender is the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates have been carried by their pitching which has allowed their average hitting to be hidden. The Pirates have given up just 346 runs this season which is good enough for 4th in the National League. However because they have just scored 354 runs, I question whether the Pirates have to staying power to stay in the race. Their pitchers are not proven stars. They are guys who pitch to contact having good years. If that pitching does not maintain its level of success, the Pirates may fade back behind the Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers.
MLB.com has an interesting stat that calculates expected win-loss record based on runs scored and runs allowed. The NL Central standings based on that stat would be: (run differential)
1. Cincinnati Reds (+29)
2. St. Louis Cardinals (+26)
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (+8)
4. Milwaukee Brewers (-1)
5. Chicago Cubs (-84)
6. Houston Astros (-94)
I will take off my biased and highly partisan blinders, and merely speak on stats for a moment. The Reds offense has proven over the past two years that they are the best in the National League, and they have led the NL in runs over the past 16 months since the beginning of the 2010 season.
Their pitching underperformed in the first half of the season. Homer Bailey has been on the DL twice. Johnny Cueto missed the first month of the season. The Reds have finally rid themselves of Edinson Volquez who gave away lead after lead despite getting the best run support on the team. Mike Leake‘s best month was June, and Bronson Arroyo was a disappointment.
Hopefully for a while now, the Reds will have some stability in their rotation with Dontrelle Willis in the 5th spot.
The Reds bullpen is in the top third of the MLB in ERA. Nick Masset, Logan Ondrusek, Sam LeCure, and Aroldis Chapman along with Bill Bray form a great middle inning/setup core. The key will be Francisco Cordero. The Reds will likely sink or swim with Cordero the rest of the season. Hopefully they will swim because the rest of their roster appears ready to play better baseball in the second half of the year.