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National League Central Roundup

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Brett Barnett

Milwaukee Brewers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Major League Baseball season is one week old and teams around the league, as well as the fans, are still getting used to this odd and tenuous 2020 season. Let’s jump into what’s going on around the National League Central division.

Chicago Cubs (4-2, .667)

For many, the Cubs were expected to fall down the pecking order in the central this season, perhaps to third place. Over the first six games, Chicago has been the best team, totaling a +5 run differential.

It’s early, of course, but Anthony Rizzo is off to a strange start. The lefty first baseman has a .111 BABIP and .235 average, but a wRC+ of 238 and a 1.265 OPS. The reason for this is obvious: Through 26 plate appearances, Rizzo only has four hits – but three of them are home runs. With that said, he’s getting on base 50 percent of the time, thanks to five HBP and four walks. He’s managed half a win by FanGraphs standards.

Starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks began the season well. In typical fashion, Hendricks subsisted on well-located pitches against the Brewers. He threw a shutout on July 24 at Wrigley Field, while allowing only three hits and striking out nine, while walking nobody. It wasn’t the same story the second time around for Hendricks when he faced the Reds in Cincinnati, going only 4.1 innings, allowing seven hits and six earned runs. Despite that bad second outing, his FIP still stands at 2.69, with a similar xFIP of 2.80. Additionally, he’s only walking four percent of opposing hitters.

The Cubs take on the Pirates in Chicago this weekend.

Milwaukee Brewers (3-3, .500)

After dropping two of three to the Cubs in Chicago, the Brewers were able to pick up a pair of wins on the road in Pittsburgh, bringing their record to a .500 winning percentage on the year.

Thanks to a pair of home runs, Keston Hiura is off to a strong start in relation to his Brewers’ teammates. He also carries a wRC+ of 134. Christian Yelich, on the other hand, has been off to the worst start of his career. He has one hit in his first 27 at-bats, and his one hit was a home run. His early wRC+ is -43, while his fWAR is -0.5. He’s striking out 42 percent of the time, while only walking four percent.

Brandon Woodruff is off to a hot start coming off his 2019 All-Star campaign. Through 11.1 innings, he’s only given up five hits and two runs. He’ll take a 2.36 FIP into his next start. Opposing batters have a .190 BABIP against him, which might mean he’s been a bit lucky through two starts. But he’s striking out 37.5 percent of batters, while only walking five percent. His early fWAR is 0.4.

The Brewers head home to take on the Cardinals this weekend.

St. Louis Cardinals (2-3, .400)

St. Louis opened the season by taking two out of three from the Pirates but went on the road to play the Minnesota Twins and lost both games of that shortened series.

Paul Goldschmidt has had the most success at the dish early on. He carries a 147 wRC+ with a .474 SLG and one home run to his name. The veteran Yadier Molina is off to a slow start at the plate, maintaining a 28 wRC+ and a .197 wOBA.

Jack Flaherty has only started one game, but it was a strong start to open the season against Pittsburgh. He pitched seven innings that night, allowing two runs on six hits. He struck out six and didn’t walk a batter. He’ll pitch the opener in Milwaukee.

The Cardinals head to Miller Park in Milwaukee to face the Brewers this weekend.

Cincinnati Reds (2-4, .333)

Many people have picked the Reds to rise to the top of the central division this season, thanks to a fleshed out starting rotation and strong offensive potential in the launching pad of Great American Ballpark. They’ve stumbled out of the gate, though, losing twice to the Detroit Tigers and then twice to the Cubs.

Veteran Joey Votto is off to a strong start in 2020. The 36-year-old first baseman holds a wRC+ of 170 and a SLG of .565. He’s walking 18 percent of the time and striking out nearly four percent of the time. He’s hit two home runs in six games, as has Nicholas Castellanos.

In two starts, Sonny Gray has started well. He’s struck out 44.4 percent of adversaries and carries a 0.71 ERA. Those numbers won’t remain at those levels, but his 1.88 FIP suggests that his outings have still been very good. He’s totaled 0.5 fWAR thus far.

The Reds head to Detroit this weekend for their first road series of the season.

Pittsburgh Pirates (2-4, .333)

It’s been a mixed bag of results for the Pirates in 2020. At times, the offense has looked fairly competent – at other times, the offense has looked as though it should be playing in Indianapolis, not Pittsburgh. Granted, the team ran into Jack Flaherty and Brandon Woodruff, but the point stands that it may be a tough slog this year.

Colin Moran has been pleasantly productive thus far. The lefty already has three home runs on a team otherwise starved for power. His wRC+ of 215 bests everyone else on the team by a relatively large margin. He’s also slugging .800 through six games. Phillip Evans has also gotten off to a pretty good start. His 199 wRC+ is second on the team, although his time has been more limited than Moran’s (Evans has only played in four games).

Joe Musgrove has the largest sample size for pitchers to draw from to try to make some conclusions. There’s an interesting discrepancy between his FIP and xFIP (6.86 versus 3.87, respectively). His ERA falls near the middle of those two numbers, coming in at 4.76. He’s managing to strikeout 32 percent of batters, while the opposition BABIP is .238. Nick Burdi has also looked strong in his two innings of work. His fastball has played very well early on and he looks as though he may be one of the guaranteed formidable pieces in the bullpen.

The Pirates are in Chicago to take on the Cubs this weekend.