Through the first month of the 2017 MLB season the tightest division in baseball is without a doubt the NL Central. All five teams have had some major surprises, and with 70 percent of the division’s games played against fellow NL Central teams, the standings are separated from top to bottom by just three games. April is in the books, and here’s how the division looks.
Chicago Cubs (15-12)
Coming off of their first World Series Championship in over 100 years, the Chicago Cubs are experiencing a bit of a hangover effect. Despite being in first place through the first month of the season Cubs fans have been disappointed with their teams inability to keep up with the league’s best. Notably, Kyle Schwarber has started slow in his first season off of ACL surgery. Just over a year removed from the surgery, Schwarber is batting under .200 and leads the team with 35 strikeouts. Pitching has been the biggest problem for the Cubs so far with their five starters averaging an ERA of nearly 4.80. That being said, the Cubs are still at the top of the NL Central thanks to an above .500 record against divisional opponents (10-8)
April MVP: Kris Bryant (5 HR, 15 RBI, .291 Avg.)
St. Louis Cardinals (13-13)
The Cardinals have bounced back after starting the season 3-9 to go on a 10-4 run. With eight of those 10 wins coming against NL Central teams, the Cardinals have charged up the standings to the second position. Jedd Gyorko has been the lone bright spot for the Red Birds at the plate. After hitting a career-high 30 home runs in 2016, Gyorko leads the Cardinals once again in home runs in 2017 with six. Strong pitching has been the story so far for the Cardinals. Their starting rotation is led by Mike Leake and is among the best in the majors. Leake boasts a 3-1 record with a 1.35 ERA while posting a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5. The pitching has succeeded largely without the help of the rest of the team. The Cardinals have the worst fielding percentage in the entire MLB.
April MVP: Mike Leake (3-1, 1.35 ERA, .226 OPP Avg.)
Milwaukee Brewers (14-14)
Eric Thames has been a God-send for the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s hitting .326 with 11 home runs, but the most amazing part is his amount of runs he has scored. Thames has crossed home 29 times this season, second only to the 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper. The rest of the Brewers are also scoring like crazy this season, good for third in the league with 143 in total. They lead the league in home runs by the wide margin of four, and five brewers have at least 16 RBI’s. Besides righthander Chase Anderson, the Milwaukee pitchers have been awful. Even closer Neftalí Feliz has an ERA of over 6.00. Look for the Brewers to go on a run, as six of Milwaukee’s nine series in May come against teams with losing records.
April MVP: Eric Thames (11 HR, 20 RBI, .326 Avg.)
Cincinnati Reds (13-14)
The Cincinnati Reds are 6-12 in their last 18 games, including 4-10 against the rest of the NL Central. Their pitchers have the second-worst ERA in the MLB, and are tied for the fourth-highest amount of earned-runs allowed. Brandon Finnegan is the only starter for the Reds with an ERA under 4.00. The pitching has been particularly terrorized by Milwaukee Brewer Eric Thames, giving up eight home runs to the first baseman in the month of April. Billy Hamilton is still stealing bases, and Joey Votto is still hitting home runs, but scoring the eleventh-most runs in the MLB just is not cutting it with the simply awful pitching. Watch out for Adam Duvall as a possible sleeper-pick NL MVP candidate.
April MVP: Adam Duvall (8 HR, 20 RBI, .242 Avg.)
Pittsburgh Pirates (12-15)
With one of the youngest starting rotations in the MLB, 30-year-old veteran Ivan Nova has anchored the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff. Along with Nova, former prospects Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Chad Khul and Tyler Glasnow are now all in the majors, and look poised to be one of the best rotations Pittsburgh has ever had. Closer Tony Watson has picked up right where he left off last season and is among the best sinker-ball pitchers across the big leagues. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh the rest of the team had a terrible first month. They rank second-worst in fielding percentage, and 25th in runs scored. Look out for the Pirates if just one or two hitters can get hot.
April MVP: Ivan Nova (3-2, 1.50 ERA, 0.75 WHIP)