Every week, the PL team publishes an update to our power rankings, reviewing the biggest risers and fallers of the past seven days. As always, the full rankings can be found at the bottom of this article…but where’s the fun in that.
With the dust settling on a thrilling All-Star break and Trade Deadline, it feels like it’s now time to settle in for what is sure to be a wild ride towards October. There are a number of exciting playoff races brewing (pun unintended), but this week we’ll focus on two contenders trending in opposite directions in the National League Central.
St. Louis Cardinals – #9 (62-50, +4):
Back on July 16th, I wrote that, despite being in a firm second place at the time, I didn’t see the Cardinals ending the year behind the Brewers. If the season ended today, I’d be offering palm readings. St. Louis now sits 1.5 games above Milwaukee, and their run differential – my evidence for that mid-July prediction – remains meaningfully better than the Brewers, +77 vs. +37.
The Cardinals are in the midst of a hot streak, going 8-2 over their last ten games and recently reeling off a seven-game win streak that included a sweep of the Yankees. As usual, that success begins with the slugging duo of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. The MVP candidates have done nothing but hit since the start of August, with Arenado boasting a ridiculous 1.488 OPS and Goldschmidt not far behind at 1.259.
On the mound, the Redbirds have gotten immediate production from their deadline acquisitions. Jordan Montgomery has gone 11 innings with his new team without allowing a run (including a dominant performance against his former team the Yankees). José Quintana, acquired from the Pirates, has been almost as good, striking out 13 batters in his first 12 innings while giving up three runs. Meanwhile, closer Ryan Helsley continues to dominate and deserves Reliever of the Year attention with his 0.76 ERA and 13.2 K/9.
Unfortunately, while the new additions to the rotation have thrived, Miles Mikolas, the team’s best starter all year has had a couple of off outings recently. The trend came to a head this week with a disastrous 10 ER performance against the Rockies that raised his ERA over half a run. Lacking a true ace, the Cardinals will need both Mikolas and Adam Wainright to be at the top of their game down the stretch. The rotation will also be getting a boost with the return of Jack Flaherty, who is just beginning a rehab assignment in Triple-A.
The Cardinals have a tremendous chance to build on their division-leading lead, as they take on the Brewers for two games this weekend before a light 11 game-stretch against the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Cubs.
Milwaukee Brewers – #13 (60-51, -4):
The Brew Crew swaps places with St. Louis this week, falling to #13 in our rankings after going 3-7 over their past ten. Unfortunately, the stretch hasn’t even come against the league’s best – they dropped five of six versus the Reds and Pirates.
Milwaukee, lacking a thunderous offense, relies on their pitching staff – especially their star-studded rotation – to lead the club. Since the beginning of August, that staff has been the 5th worst in the majors by fWAR. What’s possibly worse is that despite already being in a losing stretch, their staff has actually been somewhat lucky – their FIP sits a full run higher than their 3.81 ERA. Aces Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff have both been good but not stellar, each giving up 5 ER over two starts. Freddy Peralta has also struggled since returning from the IL, and the Brewers don’t have room for more inconsistency with Aaron Ashby and Eric Lauer at the back of the rotation.
Milwaukee’s offense has honestly been better than expected this year, scoring 4.6 runs a game, good for eighth-best in baseball. That production has slowed a bit, as they’re averaging 4.0 a game this month. Rowdy Tellez and Kolton Wong are both hitting well, but they’re the only everyday players with an OPS over .800. Hunter Renfroe, a reliable bat all year, is hitting just .172 this month.
It’s a bit hard to identify the cause of this recent slide – it’s possibly just a correction to the team’s real talent. Without Burnes and Woodruff dealing, this group is readily overshadowed by the bats and defense of St. Louis. Milwaukee has an odd stretch ahead of them with four alternating series against the Dodgers and Cubs. It’s imperative that the Brewers don’t fall farther behind the Cardinals, for the Wild Card race is possibly an even tougher challenge against clubs like the Padres and Phillies.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)