The second half of the MLB season is upon us and there are many questions surrounding the NL Central. Are the Brewers a legitimate playoff team? Are the Cubs going to miss the playoffs? What are the Pirates and Cardinals going to do? So far the Brewers have been arguably one of the biggest story lines of 2017 while the Cubs have been a disappointment following their World Series. So without further ado here are my predictions.
Division winner: Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are only 5.5 back of the Brewers. Sorry to all you Brewers fans, but remember 2014? I think every Brewer fan is worried a repeat of that is going to happen and still refuses to believe this run is for real. The Brewers are not going to be terrible. They have solid starting pitching and an above average offense. In 2014 the Brewers starter ERA was ranked 16th in the league at the break while FIP was 4th highest. In the second half the Brewers were a bottom 10 team in the league in starting pitching. This year I feel is a bit differently with both Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson having legitimate success. The bullpen is also an area of concern. Knebel is a stud, but to get to him is trouble. Overall the bullpen ranks 21st in FIP. On the other side of the ball, the Brewers failed to produce runs. They ranked 13th in baseball with 99 wRC+ through the first half of 2014 but then slumped their way to a 85 wRC+ which was 5th last in all of baseball in the second half. The Brewers depended on the long ball in the first half, and when they hit less home runs in the second half, it halted their offense. The Brewers are currently 2nd in home runs and 11th in wRC+ which means that they need to start producing runs in other ways than just home runs.
As for the Cubs, their wRC+ is only 4 worse than the Brewers all while Rizzo and Bryant are “struggling” in the public eye. The rest of the Cubs hitters such as Russell, Contreras, Schwarber, and Baez will eventually heat up. As for the pitching, they have the 4th best bullpen in terms of ERA and 9th best in terms of FIP. The starting pitching has struggled, but the addition of Jose Quintana will only help. According to Chris Bosio, the pitching coach, the team just needs to find their identity. They are not the same team as last year. They need to conform to this years’ team. The Cubs have not played their best baseball and they are just 5.5 games back of the division while people believe that the Brewers are playing their best baseball.
The Cardinals should still be feared as well. They have the 6th best ERA in baseball, and their FIP backs that up being 7th best in the league. They are right in the middle of the pack when it comes to offense according to wRC+, but with the emergence of DeJong, the continued success of Jedd Gyrko, and the inevitable heat up of Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals offense can only get better.
The Pirates are a long shot in this division. The hope is that Marte returns from suspension to hit around .300 with some power and play great defense. The pitching staff has been trouble with Gerrit Cole being the most inconsistent “ace” in baseball. They are 7 back of Milwaukee and do not look too good for that big of a comeback,
While the Brewers currently hold a steady lead in the division it is far from safe. The Cubs and Cardinals both have a legitimate chance at the division. The question becomes have the Brewers played their best baseball? If so they better keep on the gas peddle because any slump and one Cubs or Cardinals hot streak will have the Brewers struggling to hold onto the division.