We have now crossed the 60-game mark for each team in the National League Central, on course for a full season of 162 games.
With all this time available, some trends have become clear for the teams in the division. Some are positive, some are negative, and some tilt worryingly between the two extremes.
Here’s a trend for every club in NL Central as we slowly approach the halfway point of the season.
BEERS: The jugs prove to be precious
During their first 60 games – the equivalent of the shortened 2020 season – the Brewers starters were worth 7.2 wins over the replacement in 2021 by the Fangraphs measure, which is the highest in the Major Leagues. This is a remarkable development for a club historically built around offense, which has never, in a franchise history spanning 53 seasons, led the Majors into fWAR from its owners.
Most of that value comes from Brandon Woodruff’s big three, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, who essentially were a no-hitter waiting to happen every time they stepped on the mound. All three rank in the top 10 of Major League qualifiers in terms of strikeout rate, most valid walks per inning pitch and average of opponents. When Peralta worked less than five outs from a no-hitter in the Brewers’ latest homestand, manager Craig Counsell said, “He’s coming with these guys.” – Adam McCalvy
CARDINALS: Staff level control
Choose your poison: the walks, hit hitters – doing either when the bases are squeezed – or wild throws. The Cardinals lead Major League Baseball in all of them. (Also, percentage of steps, number of steps per nine innings, number of steps per strikeout, if you’re keeping full score.) Most concerning is how many uncompetitive at-bats arrived when the bases were loaded, including an MLB – starting 15 free passes in such scenarios and four plunks. That the Cardinals are the second best in NL in batting average against with busted bases indicates one thing: they have a great pitch when competitive, but it’s been hard to find out, especially in recent weeks.
And it’s not hard to see why. The Cardinals have been incredibly bitten by the injury virus, with three-fifths of their initial rotation – Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Kwang Hyun Kim – unhindered, the top two of the long-term variety, as well as some of their bullpen arms to high leverage. But these were concerns that extended long before such injuries and can be centralized especially in the bullpen, where not even the faithful Alex Reyes is safe. The walking rate within the relief corps is the second worst of any club in the expansion era (since 1961). The cards are giving out 90 feet, and in tandem, he wins. – Zach Silver
PUPPIES: Veterans leading bullpen
There have been some wellness stories in the Cubs bullpen this season. Tommy Nance has gone from indy ball to Majors and looks like a real weapon. Newcomers like Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele made their debut and helped stabilize the group. Dillon Maples – a treasure trove of advanced metrics in past cups of coffee – developed into a multi-inning strikeout artist.
In reality though, the Cubs bullpen story has been the end-inning combination between the closest Craig Kimbrel and setup men Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Dan Winkler. As a quartet, those veterans had combined for a 1.54 ERA with 119 strikeouts versus 36 walks in 99 1/3 innings before Wednesday’s action.
The rescue corps was pushed hard, especially with setbacks and stretches of short exits from the rotation, but manager David Ross was able to rely on his lagging group to block things with an advantage. Going on Wednesday, the Cubs bullpen ranked second in the Majors with an ERA of 2.75. It was a key for Chicago to come out of its April slump as a team. – jordan bastian
PIRATES: RESPON without reward
For some teams, hitting a high clip with runners in scoring position is nice, but it’s not necessary due to their home run prowess. For the Pirates it is absolutely necessary.
The good news? Pirates are in the top half of the league when it comes to at-bats with runners in scoring position. The bad news? Coming in on Wednesday, their .608 OPS in those situations is the worst in the league and they lead only the Brewers (.197) with a batting average of .210 with RISP.
With 41 homers, the worst in the league, nine less than the closest first team (the Mets, 50), the Pirates can’t afford to waste these opportunities. Some Pittsburgh hitters are thriving on them, including Adam Frazier, whose average of .425 with runners in scoring position only follows Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.429) in MLB entering Wednesday. But they will need more consistent shots in the big moments of formation to win games. – Jake crouse
The Reds bullpen is the last of the Majors with an ERA of 5.82 entering Wednesday and you shouldn’t look past some statistics below as to why. Rescuers from Cincinnati led the Majors into permitted home runs (37) and were second in gears (134) entering Wednesday. Because they are ranked near the bottom of the NL on pitches pitched per innings, more pitches could equate to more opportunities to get in trouble.
During Tuesday’s 5-1 defeat to the Brewers, the Reds’ bullpen conceded nine steps while scoring five points. Like many league pitching staffs, the rotation fails to go past six and seven innings often enough, which can expose thin bullpens like the Reds to pitch more innings and more pitches per inning. – Mark Sheldon