A winning streak and a confusing run differential are the main takeaways from the week that was in the National League Central. Let’s get into it.
1: Milwaukee Brewers (32-27, - GB)
The Brewers are first place in the division for another week. But the team’s -23 run differential is cause for concern. The club’s x-W/L is 27-31 which, even in a weakened NL Central, would yield a fourth place team.
Brewers play a six game homestand next week, three against Baltimore and three against Oakland.
What to watch: Through 22 plate appearances this last week, Christian Yelich has been his squad’s MVP. I’ve made a deal about Yelich needing to regain some MVP shape for the Brewers to have a shot at anything more than a central title. Watch for Yelich’s continued progression; perhaps he can become a name that bounces around households more frequently once again.
2: Pittsburgh Pirates (31-27, 0.5 GB)
The Pirates have won five consecutive games. It looks as though some of the figures we’ve seen over the first two months of the season are beginning to level out, and the Buccos are 6-4 over their last 10.
Pirates get six consecutive home games next week, three against Oakland and three against the New York Mets.
What to watch: There are three teams who, by run differential, are essentially the same club: Pittsburgh, Chicago, and St. Louis. Seeing as how the Pirates are the only ones currently in a position to overtake Milwaukee for first place, it’ll be interesting to see if Pittsburgh can do anything to separate themselves from their adversaries. After the hot start, the club has had to tread water — and struggled to do so — in the month of May. Heading into the legitimate summer months, it’s time for actual division contenders to reveal themselves.
3: Cincinnati Reds (26-33, 6.0 GB)
The Reds, though six games under .500, continue to surprise in some ways. Or perhaps it’s that different teams (Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh) are surprising in other ways. Cincinnati is middle of the pack as far as standings are concerned, but the team’s -31 run differential is fourth worst in the National League.
Reds get the Los Angeles Dodgers for three next week at Great American Ballpark before traveling to St. Louis for three.
What to watch: The Reds have improved their road record over recent weeks. That work will continue when they play at Busch Stadium against a team in the Cardinals who’ve struggled both at home and on the road.
4: Chicago Cubs (26-32, 5.5 GB)
The Cubs are 4-6 over their last 10 games, but with the Cardinals gradually sliding back into last place, Chicago has been artificially propped up for the time being. Still, the Cubbies were +6 in the run differential department heading into last night before losing to San Diego by six runs, but that’s a far cry from their over +50 mark earlier in the year.
Cubs will be in Anaheim for three and San Francisco for three during the upcoming week.
What to watch: Much was made about Seiya Suzuki when he arrived in Chicago last season. He delivered a 116 wRC+ but just a .770 OPS. Suzuki’s numbers have improved this season, but he’s flying largely under the radar. With a 136 wRC+, Suzuki has played well, appearing in 43 games.
While his play didn’t align to those numbers over the last week, he was still the second highest performing Cub over that span. That speaks to the kind of player Suzuki can be when fully engaged and not injured.
5: St. Louis Cardinals (25-35, 7.5 GB)
After clawing back into relative NL Central contention, the Redbirds have dropped two of two to Pittsburgh over the weekend. Falling back to the bottom of the division, St. Louis will look to avoid the sweep this afternoon.
Cardinals will begin the week with three in Texas before going back to Busch Stadium for three against Cincinnati.
What to watch: In attendance for St. Louis at Pittsburgh Saturday, with Jordan Hicks on the mound, I couldn’t help but think about all that potential that just hasn’t come together. I remember when Hicks came in throwing absolute gas in 2018.
Since arriving, he’s been mostly average. Despite incredible velocity and high strikeout rates (33.7 percent as of this writing), his 16.3 percent walk rate this year simply won’t get it done. Hicks, nearing age 27, might never reach his potential, but it’s worth continuing to watch.