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National League Central roundup - 6/11

Brett takes a look across the Division.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates and Brewers continue to tango atop the division, the latter having lost three straight; the Reds have some guy named Elly De La Cruz; the Cubs have a pretty good pitcher in Marcus Stroman; and the Cardinals are 3-7 over their last 10. Let’s get into it.

1: Pittsburgh Pirates (34-30, - GB)

The Pirates are atop the division, and Pittsburgh has gone 8-2 in its last 10, a nice mark that many are disappointed wasn’t better after the club dropped two of three to lowly Oakland. But hey, the Brew Crew got swept by the Athletics, so there’s that.

What to watch: 2,000! Today was the day for Cutch!

Pirates took two out of three from the Mets. Now it’s on the road to Chicago and Milwaukee for the first time for some divisional play.

2: Milwaukee Brewers (34-32, - 1.0 GB)

The Brewers recent skid has benefitted everyone in the central, but none more than Pittsburgh. Milwaukee, now with a -21 run differential, is trying to hang on as we reach the middle of June. After the Brewers’ second consecutive loss to Oakland, Craig Counsell said of his team: “We’re just not doing enough.” You don’t say.

What to watch: Peaks and valleys are the natural progression of things in baseball, and the Brewers have tried not to sink too low while never climbing too high. It should be relatively tough sledding for the Brewers over the next week and a half, with series’ in Minnesota, against Pittsburgh, and against the surprise division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks.

3: Cincinnati Reds (31-35, 4.0 GB)

The Reds went 4-3 over their last week of games, including two wins in an electric series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Cincinnati looks for a series win against the basement-dwelling Cardinals this afternoon. The Reds -35 run differential is still fourth-worst in the National League, but fans in the Queen City seem to be quite excited given the bevy of prospects arriving.

What to watch: Speaking of prospects arriving, there’s Elly De La Cruz. The 21-year-old has been exciting in his first week in the bigs, reminiscent of another Cruz Bucco fans are more familiar with. Speaking of, some on Twitter seem to be setting up a Cruz feud, as it were, making comparisons between the Reds’ Cruz and the Pirates’ Cruz. There are apparently similarities — speed and power, among them — but perhaps we should simply enjoy the players and what unique attributes they bring to the game.

In his first week, De La Cruz has posted a 171 wRC+ and 0.3 fWAR.

Codify on Twitter mentioned De La Cruz’s 31.9 feet per second sprint speed. Yeah, that’s fast.

4: Chicago Cubs (28-36, 5.5 GB)

The Cubs have been disappointing in 2023. While they weren’t necessarily expected to be legitimate contenders in the National League, there was hope that the North Siders could field a more competitive team. Early on, when the club’s run differential made them seem unlucky, it seemed like they could go one of two ways: the record could ultimately reflect the run differential, or the differential could come crashing down. The latter happened (-3).

What to watch: The Cubs disappointment stems not necessarily from a lack of production. In fact, it stems from production. Dansby Swanson has been one of the best shortstops in baseball; Marcus Stroman has been a top 10 Cy Young candidate; and Justin Steele has been mostly excellent. On top of that, Stroman seems interested in an extension, and the club seems uninterested in talking about it.

Frankly, contract disputes aren’t very interesting. But it is noteworthy when a pitcher like Stroman is exceeding most projections (2.42 ERA, 1.7 fWAR) approaches a team about staying around longer term and they balk at even opening the conversations.

The Cubs get Pittsburgh and Baltimore for three each at Wrigley Field over the coming week in what should be a difficult slate for a sliding team like Chicago (2-4 over L6).

5: St. Louis Cardinals (27-39, 8.0 GB)

While the Cardinals’ seven games back deficit in the central is surmountable, it does paint a bleak picture. While Pirates’ fans are content, as they should be, to watch their team battle for first place in a floundering division, St. Louis’ last place mark in that same division spells disaster for a club for whom competing has become typical.

For perspective, the Cardinals would be 12.5 games back in the west and 13.5 games back in the east. Only in the central does their deficit look somewhat reasonable. As it stands, St. Louis is the third-worst team in the National League and the fifth-worst team in all of baseball.

What to watch: One week ago today, while in Pittsburgh, I watched prospect Jordan Walker misplay a ball in left field so badly that I had to wonder if he even cared. Perusing Walker’s Fangraphs’ page, I noticed that his DRS is -7. Granted, that number comes from the location where he typically plays, right field. But it does leave one to wonder how good a player’s offense must be to counteract abysmal defense.

Walker has played in 28 games for St. Louis. Extrapolate his DRS number over a full season (we’ll say 140 games for simplicity’s sake) and that DRS moves to -35. We might be able to chalk it up to a learning curve, but in 2022, the worst outfield DRS was Jesse Winker’s -16 over 972 innings in left field. More than double that would be difficult to overcome. Currently, Walker has a 114 wRC+ but a -0.2 fWAR, thanks mostly to those deficiencies in the outfield.