Many of these stats are from July 17, the day I started writing this article. Please don't ask me how it took me a week to write this article.
The All-Star Break is over and the second half of the Major League Baseball season has started. It's time to take a look at how the NL Central teams did in the first half of the season and preview their second halves. I'll be talking about the teams in the order of their positions in the standings as of July 17.
Chicago Cubs (57-38)
The Cubs have a great team overall. Their pitching is sensational, and their lineup is awesome.
Their rotation consists of Rich Harden, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, and Jason Marquis. Harden is an stud and will only continue to get better. Zambrano is a proven ace in the league. Dempster is having a breakout year, as is Lilly. Marquis is a viable option for the fifth spot in the rotation. Plus Kerry Wood is a consistently good closer.
Their lineup can really hit, mixing average and power for an unbeatable combo, highlighted by first baseman Derrek Lee, catcher Geovany Soto, and third baseman Aramis Ramirez.
The only problem appears to be the Chicago's performance on the road: they're 20-26 away from Wrigley - as compared to 37-12 at their home park.
The only thing that could possibly do the Cubs in during the second half is their performance on the road. Chicago is my pick to win the division.
St. Louis Cardinals (54-43)
The Cards, unlike the Cubs, are one-dimensional, and that's probably why the Cardinals are not battling the Cubs for first place in the division.
St. Louis has hit fairly well so far this season, earning a .275 team average with 106 homers and 429 RBI.
Superstar first baseman Albert Pujols has led the way as usual, batting .348 with 18 home runs and 50 runs batted in.
Veteran third baseman Troy Glaus, a free agent acquisition in the offseason, has stepped it up behind Pujols, hitting .282 with 17 homers and 61 RBI.
Catcher Yadier Molina is also hitting for average surprisingly well for a catcher, at .310.
Outfielder Ryan Ludwick went to the All-Star Game, and it's not hard to see why. He's maintained a .289 average while registering 22 long balls and 68 RBI.
Outfielder Rick Ankiel has a .278 average, 22 home runs, and 54 runs knocked in.
Lastly, Skip Schumaker's average has actually dipped by 39 points from last year, to .294, still a very respectable average.
St. Louis's starting rotation consists of Kyle Lohse, Braden Looper (9-7, 4.60), Joel Piniero (3-4, 4.52), Todd Wellemeyer (7-4, 4.04), and Mitchell Boggs (3-1, 6.59).
Lohse (12-2, 3.35) is having by far the best season of his career, but the rest of the starters are second rate at best.
It's obvious that St. Louis has gotten to where they are because their offense is superb. But that doesn't matter because offense won't be hard to come by in the second half - the Cardinals only face two teams with notably good pitching. One of which is a division rival, the Cubs.
Look for the Cardinals to fall short of the playoffs due to their lack of pitching.
Milwaukee Brewers (53-43)
The Brewers have slowly but surely greatly improved to ten games over .500 since May 25, when they were 23-27.
Part of that change is because of their home record; they were 11-9 at home as of May 25 - now they've won 31-of-49 at Miller Park.
But their hitting has faltered - their entire infield except for Prince Fielder is struggling at the plate.
However, outfielder Ryan Braun is batting .287 with 23 homers and 66 runs batted in. That first-half performance earned him a trip to the All-Star Game.
Another outfielder, Corey Hart, has kept up a .287 avg this season with 15 home runs and 58 RBI. Hart was an All-Star reserve.
Otherwise the Brewers are hitting terribly.
Their pitching staff, however, is a different story.
Ace Ben Sheets has been an absolute beast, going 10-3 with a 2.85 earned run average.
CC Sabathia was a decent trade acquisition; he's having a down year (9-8, 3.51). However, if he can become the CC Sabathia of 2007 again (or better yet, 2001) he will be certainly be a force to reckon with.
Manny Parra made his major league debut last year in late July, and he's already a rising star. While Parra didn't do so well last year (0-1, 3.76 in 21 innings), this year (8-2, 3.78) has been a marked improvement so far.
Fourth starter Dave Bush is, at best, average, if not subpar. This year he has five wins and eight losses as well as a 4.39 ERA.
It's no wonder Seth McClung is a fifth starter. This year is his best overall year, but he's only 5-5 with a 4.16 earned run average. He has never had more wins than losses in a season in which he had less than a 6.25 ERA when he threw at least 40 innings.
Once Yovani Gallardo comes back, Bush or McClung is going to be moved. Gallardo, currently on the 15-Day disabled list, is 0-0 with a 1.80 ERA this year. While his won-lost record this year isn't very impressive, Gallardo was 9-5 and had a 3.67 earned run average in 2007.
The Brewers had a great first half, and their success will carry over into the second half of the season and help them make the playoffs this year. True, their lineup looks below average, but it isn't - there are some rising stars on their roster. The Cubs will prevent them from winning the division, but they will top the Cardinals for the NL Wild Card.
Cincinnati Reds (47-51)
The Reds had an abysmal first half. The only reason they're even close to .500 is because of center fielder Jay Bruce's debut and starting ace Edinson Volquez.
Bruce helped the Reds win five out of their first six games of his major league career. But since his debut he has stumbled, hitting .269 with 7 homers and 23 RBI, so has the team faltered.
Edinson Volquez has gone 12-3 with a 2.49 earned run average. It bewilders me how Volquez is the second starter in the Reds' rotation to Johnny Cueto (7-9, 4.90).
Apart from Volquez, Cincy's rotation takes a turn for the worse.
Bronson Arroyo is the only starter (besides Volquez) with a record over .500 on the year - 9-7 - but, on the other hand, his ERA is above 5.50.
The Reds' lineup is not even good, much less great. Most guys in the lineup hit for power - or average - but only one hits for both.
Only second baseman Brandon Philips hits well for average and power. Philips has a .275 avg, 16 homers, and 62 RBI.
The Reds are a team seriously lacking in talent, and their record shows it. The only thing Cincinnati's players will be doing this October is watching the playoffs on TV.
Houston Astros (44-51)
This team is decent, but not quite good - but not quite bad, either.
Starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez owns a 5-3 record and 3.31 ERA.
As is consistent with his reputation, first baseman Lance Berkman is one of the best offensive players in the league this season - he's hitting .338 with 22 homers and 74 RBI. His first half earned him an All-Star roster spot and the privilege of starting the All-Star Game.
Left fielder Carlos Lee has been overshadowed by Berkman's career season. Lee has kept up a .304 average and notched 22 home runs and 80 runs batted in.
Second baseman Kaz Matsui is hitting for average pretty well, with an average of .280.
Shortstop Miguel Tejada is having a major down season (albeit a season that would be very good for most other players), batting .275 with 10 homers and 45 RBI. The point is that Tejada is no longer the All-Star caliber player he was -he's aging, and his production is dropping.
Last but not least, closer Jose Valverde has recorded 25 saves out of 31 chances. However, his ERA, 4.86, doesn't back up his success.
However, Valverde has had highs and lows in ERA throughout his career, so he could potentially go cold during the second half. If he does, that's not good.
Many of Houston's wins have been close, and they will lose that slight, yet important edge in close games if Valverde gets hurt or suddenly can't find the strike zone.
This core of players is good enough, but two good pitchers and four quality position players can only do so much.
But they do have several players on the DL, but not many players currently on the disabled list are important.
Geoff Geary is 2-2 with a 2.45 ERA this year. But he's never pitched more than about 90 innings in one season, and he's about on pace for that this year.
While the Astros have a talented core, six players out of 25 can only do so much, and that's why the Astros are 3.5 games under .500. Better luck next year, Astros.
Pittsburgh Pirates (44-51)
It's not hard to see why the Pirates are in last place.
Their starting rotation is a train wreck. As of July 25 there are only three pitchers in the Pirates' rotation - Ian Snell, Zach Duke, and Paul Maholm.
The only starter with respectable stats is Maholm (7-6, 3.92). But his other two seasons (in which he pitched more than 41 innings) have not been nearly as good, so this season could either turn out to be his breakout season, or it could take a turn for the worst and end up like the last two years. I'll give Maholm the benefit of the doubt because he's already pitched 130+ innings, and he's still doing fairly well.
The bullpen, while better than the rotation, is still merely decent.
Damasco Marte, a closer, is 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA, and has converted 5-of-7 save chances.
John Grabow, a reliever, is 5-2 with a 3.08 earned run avg.
Denny Bautista has performed well in the reliever's role, winning 3-of-5 games and subduing a 3.60 ERA.
Pittsburgh's infield doesn't hit well except for catcher Ryan Doumit. Doumit is one of the best-hitting catchers in the majors, hitting .325 with 12 homers and 35 RBI.
The outfield, however, is another matter.
Left fielder Jason Bay has contributed a .288 average with 22 home runs and 61 RBI.
Center fielder Nate McLouth has put up exemplary power numbers and an above-average batting average (.280, 21 homers, and 70 RBI).
Right fielder Xavier Nady is having a great year, going .330 and registering 13 homers and 57 runs batted in.
While the Pirates' outfield is solid and leads the team, that's not enough. The bullpen, while okay, needs to step it up more. But the starting rotation really needs to get going if the Pirates are going to make any noise. Don't count on it.
The Last Word:
The Cubs are my pick to win the division, the Brewers will get into the playoffs by winning the Wild Card, and the Cards, Reds, Astros, and Pirates will miss the playoffs.