Updated NL Central Final Standings Predictions After 1 Month of Baseball
It's April 30 and that means that we've now all been lucky enough to experience an entire month of baseball goodness! One whole month of web gems, homers and yes, rivalries.
The NL Central is home to some of the greatest, headlined this year by a tough race between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. But neither of those teams currently holds first place. Will it stay this way?
Taking into account what each team in the division has been able to do so far, what problems each team may find becoming lasting issues and how each team stacks up to the competition, I've predicted the final standings.
Read on to find out where your favorite team will be come October.
5. Chicago Cubs
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Current Record: 10-15
Why fifth Place?
Let's face it, do the Chicago Cubs really have any chance of moving out of the NL Central cellar—especially after the Astros departure from the division?
Well, they do have some bright spots when it comes to their offense. They have seen some surprisingly good performances from catcher Welington Castillo, who is batting .314, and Nate Schierholtz, who is hitting .300.
With that being said, the team as a whole is batting .229, 14th out of the 15 teams in the league.
Even when it does have success at the plate, its bullpen has something to say about it. The early weeks of its season saw a revolving door as the ball was passed from Carlos Marmol to Kyuji Fujikawa to Hisanori Takahashi. The team seems to have found its footing with Kevin Gregg, who now has three saves.
Then there's fielding.
The Cubs' fielding percentage currently sits at .980 and they have 18 errors—the third most in the National League.
There have been rumors of sending bigger names Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro down to the minors if they don't perform, but would this really do any good? Rizzo might not always hit the ball but when he does he crushes it. The Cubs' farm system is middle of the road anyway.
I predict the Cubbies will continue to falter at the plate, making this another long season for fans in Wrigleyville.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Current Record: 15-11
Why fourth place?
But the Pirates are on a tear right now?! This is their year to break .500! I can hear you all yelling at me already.
I do think the NL Central-leading Pirates will end the season on a high note in regards to their record, however not high enough to get them into the playoffs.
Much like the Brewers (who I'll get to in a moment), the Pirates have just begun this season with a series of streaks both good and bad. They may be eight and three in their last 11 games, but they started out the season with a one and five record. I, personally, don't trust them to stay hot.
Their team batting average is just .241, 11th among NL teams. And no one on their starting lineup has more than 13 RBI. So how are they doing this?
Well, pitching for one. Their entire staff ranks third in the league in ERA (3.33), highlighted by Jason Grilli and his 10 saves.
They have an abundance of young talent and a few top prospects up their sleeves. But in the end, I just don't see them being able to put the runs on the board required to hang with the big dogs of the division, although I fully expect this to be a different story in the next few years.
The Pirates will have a lot to be proud of in 2013, as they look towards a bright future. But their fourth place finish won't be one of them.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
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Current Record: 13-11
Why third place?
As previously mentioned, the Milwaukee Brewers have also had their share of winning streaks this first month, at one point taking home nine in a row.
In the race for the middle of the pack between the Brew Crew and Pittsburgh, the former are hitting .245, which is better than the competition. But while they might have an edge at the plate, their pitching staff has posted a 4.04 ERA and only 156 strikeouts (14th in the NL).
Early bullpen struggles with closer John Axford have caused them some grief. Jim Henderson has since replaced him and has six saves to show for it. Things are improving.
The main reason I put the Brewers in third is their experience. With an NLCS appearance just two seasons ago, many of their veteran players know what it takes to win. They still won't be able to compete with the Cardinals and the Reds.
Sure, they have made successful adjustments. But in the end, their lineup just lacks a few superstar bats. Ryan Braun cannot carry the entire team against the likes of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina on one team and Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce on another.
In the end, the NL Central will be a two-horse race, with the Brewers left behind.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Current Record: 14-11
Why second place?
The ever-resilient St. Louis Cardinals are once again proving they're built to compete, having only lost two of the eight series they've played so far and finding themselves tied for second with the Cincinnati Reds.
With a stacked lineup, they're hitting .246. They do have an unfortunate tendency to all slump at the same time, but they still have four players with 14 or more RBI, proving that everyone has the ability to contribute.
The Cards' saving grace at the moment might be their starting pitching, which has provided 17 quality starts.
The bullpen is another story, as the club struggles to find an adequate replacement for the injured Jason Motte. Edward Mujica had taken the role as of late and seems to be settling in. The staff ERA is still third in the NL at 3.33, but the relievers' troubles really show in the number of blown saves—a whopping seven.
Fans in St. Louis shouldn't be concerned about run production, but the bullpen is definitely alarming. Much of the rest of the season will depend on the future of Motte, which should be determined in the next few days.
This is the team that won the World Series just two seasons ago and went to the NLCS last October. If they're in top form, they could end up winning it all again, but they'll have to get there through the wild card because the Reds are taking the division.
1. Cincinnati Reds
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Current Record: 15-12
Why first place?
Expectations have been high for this team. With a roster almost identical to last year's division winning Cincinnati Reds, why wouldn't a repeat be in store?
As a team, they're batting .247. Their success so far lies in their on-base percentage, which sits at .332, and their No. 4 hitter, Brandon Phillips, who has 24 RBI (both second in the NL).
Then, there's their presence on the mound.
The Reds' pitching staff is first in the NL in strikeouts with 229 and fifth in ERA with 3.40. This is all without the dominant Johnny Cueto in their rotation. But the real key to the Reds' victory over the Cards will be Aroldis Chapman, who provides the stability at closer that the Cardinals just don't have at the moment.
I foresee these two teams being even more tightly locked in battle than in 2012, as many of the young Cardinals are that much more experienced in 2013. But in the end, the Reds just haven't shown a weakness.
Expect the champagne to be flowing in Cincinnati come playoff season. While everyone talks about the Nationals, the Reds have the pieces to sneak all the way to the top of the NL.
*All stats are current on baseball-reference.com as of April 30, 2013*