NL Central Roundup: The Good and The Bad So Far

Some surprises, many disappointments in the first half of the season.

As we are officially past the halfway point of the season (81 games), with the All-Star break and trade deadline not far off, teams have figured out what has been working and what hasn’t to get them in the position they are in now.

Sure, injuries have a part in how some teams and players have performed, but for the most part, we are focused on the players who are and have been taking the at-bats or chewing up innings. Let’s take stock of the National League Central teams in the latest installment of Central Intelligence.

 

NL Central Standings

 

Brewers

 

What has worked: In news that will shock absolutely no one, left-handed closer Josh Hader and right-handed starters Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff and setup man Devin Williams are leading Milwaukee’s pitching staff, the backbone of the team. Burnes (7-4, 2.20 ERA), the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, and Hader (1.88 ERA, 26-for-27 in saves), a three-time NL Reliever of the Year, were picked as the Crew’s lone All-Stars. Woodruff has been a little more average with a 4.01 ERA, but seemed to figure things out during his recent stint on the injured list, striking out 27 in 17 innings and allowing four runs in those three starts. Williams overcame a rocky early season and has a 1.87 ERA after his 24th consecutive scoreless outing Tuesday. Shortstop Willy Adames, while not getting on base as much (.218/.292/.482), leads the team with 18 homers to go along with his 49 RBIs. First baseman Rowdy Tellez is another power source with 17 blasts and a team-best 55 RBIs. Victor Caratini, acquired the day before Opening Day due to Pedro Severino’s PED suspension, has been a nice platoon player at catcher, with seven homers and 18 RBIs. Outfielder Tyrone Taylor has been a pleasant surprise with his nine homers and 32 RBIs.

What hasn’t: All-around good guy Lorenzo Cain (.179/.231/.234) was such a nonfactor offensively that the center fielder was designated for assignment on the day he reached 10 years in the majors. Second baseman Kolten Wong has been an enigma, slashing .231/.319/.398 and having some issues in the field after winning two Gold Gloves in the last three years. Left-hander Aaron Ashby hasn’t quite found his rhythm after joining the rotation following Freddy Peralta’s injury, posting a 2-6 record with a 4.52 ERA overall. Right-hander Adrian Houser had a 4.72 ERA before an elbow injury landed him on the injured list. Various fill-ins on the pitching staff also haven’t stood out, bringing down the Brewers’ overall numbers.

Injuries: Taylor (concussion) could return this weekend against the San Francisco Giants. Right-handed reliever Miguel Sánchez (right UCL discomfort) has been throwing again and could be back sometime after the All-Star break. Right-hander Luis Perdomo (right elbow effusion) has not progressed as expected and remains out indefinitely. Houser (right flexor strain) was expected to take at least another week off from throwing. Peralta (right posterior shoulder strain) has been throwing bullpens and seems to be slightly ahead of schedule, which is a return in August.

 

Cardinals

 

What has worked: First baseman Paul Goldschmidt (.333/.417/.596, 19 HRs, 65 RBIs) is among the top NL MVP candidates, with third baseman Nolan Arenado (.293/.360/.520, 17 HRs, 56 RBIs) not far behind. Combined with right-handers Miles Mikolas (6-7, 2.62 ERA) and Adam Wainwright (6-7, 3.15 ERA) locking down the top of the rotation and right-hander Ryan Helsley (0.71 ERA) being near-flawless at the end of games are reasons the Cardinals are in contention. Rookie outfielder Juan Yepez (.256/.298/.464, 11 HRs, 27 RBIs) and rookie infielder Brendan Donovan (.285/.392/.391, 2 HRs, 26 RBIs) have been a good contributors.

What hasn’t: Opening Day shortstop Paul DeJong was sent to the minors in May and might not return to the majors with the Cardinals, who could use him as a trade chip as the deadline approaches. While DH Albert Pujols provides a highlight every now and then, he is slashing .219/.306/.394 with six homers and 20 RBIs. Bad knees have limited Yadier Molina, who like Pujols is retiring after this season, to 40 games.

Injuries: Left fielder Tyler O’Neill (left wrist contusion) could be activated off the IL Wednesday after going through hitting and throwing drills Monday. He was hit by a pitch on his right wrist last week during his rehab assignment. Molina is expected to go on a rehab assignment at the end of the month and return in early August. Center fielder Harrison Bader (right foot plantar fasciitis) could be back shortly after the All-Star break. Left-handed starter Steven Matz (left shoulder impingement) is also nearing a return as he is on a rehab assignment. Right-hander Drew VerHagen (right shoulder impingement) doesn’t have a timetable for a return. Right-handed starter Jack Flaherty (right shoulder strain) isn’t expected back until at least after the All-Star break if not longer.

 

Cubs

 

What has worked: Center fielder Christopher Morel is the current bright spot for Chicago. The versatile Morel, who has also played shortstop, second base and third base, is slashing .266/.333/.482 with nine homers and 25 RBIs and provides a nice spark. Left fielder Ian Happ, coming off a career-best 25 homers in 2021, was named an All-Star and is slashing .276/.369/.455 with nine homers and 41 RBIs. Catcher Willson Contreras, a subject of trade rumors since the lockout ended, is also an All-Star and is slashing .266/.382/.480 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs. Shortstop Nico Hoerner (.305/.339/.430) is also key for the offense. Right fielder Seiya Suzuki has cooled off from his early hot start and was also injured for a bit. He is slashing .256/.347/.457 with six homers and 26 RBIs. Right-hander Keegan Thompson and left-hander Justin Steele have done well in the rotation, while closer David Robertson, Scott Effross and Mychael Givens are key pieces of the bullpen.

What hasn’t: Left-hander Wade Miley, expected to solidify the rotation, has been hurt much of the season, while pitchers Alec Mills, Daniel Norris and Rowan Wick have been inconsistent. More trades are in the future for the Cubs, so who is left after Aug. 2 (and who arrives in deals) will set the tone for what happens the rest of the season.

Injuries: Second baseman Nick Madrigal (left groin strain) returned to Chicago over the weekend after experiencing tightness in his groin during a rehab assignment. First baseman Frank Schwindel (lower-back strain) is on a rehab assignment and should be close to returning. Mills (lower-back strain) is making progress but does not have a timetable. Outfielder Jason Heyward (right knee inflammation) did light baseball activities Sunday and is being brought along slowly. Norris (left index finger strain) could be close to returning as he is on a rehab assignment. Right-handed starter Kyle Hendricks (right shoulder strain) is hoping to return just after the All-Star break.

 

Pirates

 

What has worked: Believe it or not, the current version of the Pirates is a pretty fun team to watch. With youngsters called upon for one reason or another, 6-foot-7 shortstop Oneil Cruz, outfielder Jack Suwinski and infielder Diego Castillo have bolstered a lineup led by third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, center fielder Bryan Reynolds and first baseman Daniel Vogelbach. A bullpen anchored by closer David Bednar and fellow right-hander Wil Crowe has been pretty good lately and backed up a starting rotation that has been better than expected. Left-hander José Quintana is a trade candidate yet provided stability (3.59 ERA in 17 starts), while Zach Thompson, JT Brubaker, and Mitch Keller have held their own or excelled.

What hasn’t: Right-handers Chris Stratton and Heath Hembree, expected to be key members of the bullpen, have floundered with ERAs of 5.06 and 7.16, respectively. Shortstop Kevin Newman missed 66 games due to groin and hamstring injuries, but his absence helped create the opening for Cruz. Newman is back and has been at second base. The Pirates will be a pest for teams down the stretch if they don’t get demoralized by trades.

Injuries: Reynolds, a potential trade target, injured his right oblique and will be out indefinitely. Outfielder Greg Allen (hamstring) is on a rehab assignment. Right-hander Nick Mears (right elbow surgery) is slowly building his throwing program.

 

Reds

 

What has worked: Not a whole lot, but there are a few good things in Cincinnati. Aside from All-Star right-hander Luis Castillo, who won’t be with the Reds after the Aug. 2 trade deadline, rookie right-hander Hunter Greene has electrified fans with his 100 mph heater (107 strikeouts in 85⅓ innings, 17 starts), but has been inconsistent with results (5.70 ERA). Rookie left-hander Nick Lodolo doesn’t have Greene’s hype but has better numbers (4.44 ERA, 33 strikeouts in 24⅓ innings). Right-hander Jeff Hoffman has blossomed this season as a full-time reliever and could join Greene and Lodolo in being the core of a solid staff of the future. Third baseman Brandon Drury (.276/.334/.536, 18 HRs, 50 RBIs) and left fielder Tommy Pham (.246/.334/.401, 11 HRs, 36 RBIs) have been the two biggest power sources, but both could also be moved by the deadline.

What hasn’t: Injuries and lack of production have caused the Reds to be in the position they are in (we won’t get into ownership’s role in this). First baseman Joey Votto (.211/.331/.372, 6 HRs, 25 RBIs) has been a shell of himself, first baseman Colin Moran (.210/.299/.360, 4 HRs, 22 RBIs) was sent to Triple-A recently, DH Mike Moustakas (.209/.299/.323, 4 HRs, 19 RBIs) has been in and out of the lineup with injuries and second baseman Jonathan India (.221/.273/.321, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs) hasn’t gotten going. Those players were expected to be a key to the Reds’ offense.

Injuries: Left-hander Ross Detwiler (lower-back pain) went on the IL over the weekend and it isn’t sure how long he will be out. Catcher Aramis Garcia (left middle finger soreness) is out indefinitely. Right-hander Luis Cessa (left side) faced only two batters before leaving his last appearance and it isn’t known how long he will be sidelined. Outfielder Aristides Aquino (left high ankle sprain) has resumed baseball activities and could be back sometime after the All-Star break. Right-hander Art Warren (right flexor pronator strain) could be back this month. Right-handed starter Connor Overton (stress reaction in lower back) has resumed throwing and is targeting a late-August return. Right-handed reliever Lucas Sims (back surgery) had a season-ending procedure. Right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez (right forearm soreness) had a setback during live batting practice July 7. Right-hander Justin Dunn (right shoulder) is ready to join the roster, likely right after the All-Star break. Right-hander Tony Santillan (lower-back pain) has yet to start throwing and is looking at returning in September.

 

Note: Injury updates from MLB.com.

 

Photos by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire and Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)

Steve Drumwright

Steve Drumwright is a lifelong baseball fan who retired as a player before he had the chance to be cut from the freshman team in high school. He recovered to become a sportswriter and have a successful journalism career at newspapers in Wisconsin and California. Follow him on Twitter @DrummerWrites.

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