Sunday, July 3, 2022

30 Games In: NL Central Report Cards


With one month and change officially in the books for the 2022 baseball season, we are beginning to see teams and players round into form after a very strange and unique offseason. While there are still over 130 baseball games to be played by each team, we can begin to see who the contenders are, who the pretenders are, and whatever the heck the Cincinnati Reds are.

Focusing on the Chicago Cubs and the National League Central division, let’s give an early report card for all five teams. News flash: it is basically shaping up like everyone thought it would in March.

Milwaukee Brewers (19-11)

Report Card: A-

After a sluggish start (the Brewers lost three of their first four games) to begin 2022, the Brewers have established themselves as the top contender in the NL Central, currently sitting at 19-11. Their +31 run differential is the third-highest in the National League, they are 10-4 at home, and enjoyed a home run barrage recently, clubbing 20 homers in six games, a franchise record.

They’ve been led by emerging star shortstop, Willy Adames (.873 OPS), slugging first baseman Rowdy Tellez (best name ever?) with a .966 OPS, and the re-emergence of outfielder Christian Yellich (.792 OPS).

In March, the main thing baseball fans talked about in Milwaukee was the three-headed pitching monster of Corbin Burns, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta. That trio has performed well for the most part (Brandon Woodruff has scuffled), but the other starters (Eric Lauer and Adrian Houser) have turned heads, too. Milwaukee now boasts five strong starting pitchers with Lauer (1.82 ERA in 29.2 innings) and Houser (3.42 ERA in 26.1 innings) joining the conversation.

They also have a sixth starting pitcher waiting in the wings should anyone get injured, as 24-year-old Aaron Ashby has looked dynamite at times in 2022, with a 4.24 ERA and 9.6 K/9 (strikeouts-per-nine-innings). Plus, Josh Hader is still Josh Hader. He has a 0.00 ERA in 11 games so far.

So far, so good for the Brew Crew.

St. Louis Cardinals (16-12)

Report Card: B+

At 16-12, the Cardinals would be a playoff team if the season ended today (yes, it’s still early May) as they are currently third in the National League Wild Card race.

They are riding the hot bat of third baseman Nolan Arenado, who is proving perhaps that he wasn’t merely a beneficiary of the favorable Coors Field hitting environment as a Colorado Rockie. Heading into last weekend, Arenado was second in all of baseball with a .674 slugging percentage and third in OPS with a 1.100 mark, just a few decimal points behind Manny Machado and Mike Trout. Arenado has shown awesome plate discipline to date, with 12 walks and just 16 strikeouts. He may be on his way to an MVP-caliber season.

Tommy Edman has been Robin to Arenado’s Batman, with a .851 OPS, seven stolen bases, and a 14:15 BB/K ratio. If, and more likely when, superstar Paul Goldschmidt gets hot, this offense can take off. Goldschmidt has just two home runs so far, though he is hitting .284 with a .381 on-base percentage.

St. Louis is also enjoying solid starting pitching, ranking sixth in baseball with a starting rotation ERA of 3.12. The Cardinals’ starters have produced a league-best 50.5 groundball percentage, which is keeping opponents’ hits in play (and not over the fence as home runs). Miles Mikolas (1.53 ERA), Adam Wainwright (3.18 ERA), and Dakota Hudson (3.56 ERA) have all pitched well in the early going.

Ace Jack Flaherty continues his comeback from injury and could provide a big boost to the Cardinals’ staff when ready.

Pittsburgh Pirates (12-16)

Report Card: C

The Pirates are hanging in there! Not much was expected of the Pirates in early March with a ho-hum roster and low payroll. But they are in 3rd place at the moment and are certainly not the worst team in baseball, so at least there’s that.

And perhaps the best news of all for Pirates fans? Seven of their next nine games will be against the Reds and Cubs, so they may get to a .500 record by late-May with any luck.

The strength of the Pirates so far has been their bullpen. Closer David Bednar has a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings, and relievers Dillon Peters and Wil Crowe have been standouts so far. Peters has a 2.16 ERA in 16.2 innings (two starts, seven relief appearances) and Crowe has a 2.33 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 8.4 K/9 through his first 19.1 innings.

Offensively, some major red flags are looming, however. The Pirates have just 14 home runs as a team, the third-worst in all of baseball. They’ve scored the sixth-fewest runs as well. All-Star Bryan Reynolds has come out of the gate slow, with just six RBI’s so far with a pedestrian .235 batting average.

But hey, it could be worse. They could be the Reds (see below).

Chicago Cubs (10-18)

Report Card: D+

The Cubs started hot with a 6-4 record but have won just four games since April 19 and are in the middle of a brutal stretch of games.

The Cubs recently played 11 straight games against playoff teams from 2021, and the Los Angeles Dodgers simply beat them up this past weekend. They are in San Diego this week to face the 19-11 Padres. Yikes.

Rookie outfielder Seiya Suzuki was one of April’s biggest stars but has now entered a deep slump which has coincided with the Cubs’ poor play. Before Mother’s Day weekend, Suzuki hit just .178 over his previous 11 games. What’s worse, is he took just one walk in that time frame but struck out 13 times. His .462 OPS over this stretch leaves much to be desired. Hopefully, for Suzuki and the Cubs, the league has not caught on to the 27-year-old rookie yet.

The biggest issue facing the Cubs right now is likely their starting rotation, which has produced the fourth-worst ERA (5.16) in baseball. Cubs’ starters rank in the bottom-third in innings pitched, strikeouts, and home runs allowed per nine innings. Marcus Stroman (5.13 ERA, 26.1 innings) has so far disappointed. Kyle Hendricks was brilliant last night in the Cubs’ win over the Padres, going 8.2 innings and nearly notching a complete game, but he struggled coming into that start, with an ERA over 5.00 and a strikeout rate (6.9 K/9) that doesn’t intimidate anyone. The Cubs expect to get No. 3 starter Wade Miley back soon, which should give this team a small shot in the arm.

Otherwise… it’s trending the wrong way for the north siders.

Cincinnati Reds (6-23)

Report Card: Is there a grade lower than F- ?!

Do you really want to read more about this team? Look at that record!

The Reds are off to a historically bad start.

They are on pace to lose about 140 games, have a -74 run differential already, and are 12.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers – and it’s only May 10!

To be fair to the poor Reds, they’ve played more road games (17) than home games (12) and have a league-high 15 players on the injured list. Their best player, All-Star pitcher Luis Castillo, just returned to the roster a few days ago.

Still though.  C’mon, Reds.

They made it clear over the offseason that they were not going for it this year, as they parted ways with pitchers Wade Miley and Sonny Gray, and sluggers Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, and Nick Castellanos. That was nearly 90 home runs and 250 RBI’s to replace.

Should we go on? The Reds’ starting pitchers have a combined ERA over 8.00. The Washington Nationals are second-highest, with just a 5.83 ERA. The Reds’ pitching staff has walked 133 men already (in just 246 innings) and has allowed 41 homers already.

The league-wide batting average across all hitters in baseball is about .222 (which is bad). But against the Reds’ pitching, hitters are enjoying a .283 batting average.

Should we go on?

No. My head hurts. The Reds are just awful.

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