If the playoffs started today, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Chicago would be in the playoffs. There is no other division that has been as dominant as the NL Central. St. Louis has dominated MLB, but Pittsburgh became arguably the hottest team in baseball before the All-Star break. Within the last month, Chicago’s pitching staff has been just as dominant as any in baseball. The current team ERA leaders are as follows: St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers. All three of these NL Central teams rank in the top 20 in team OBP, stolen bases, team strikeouts, and walks drawn. These teams are easily doing it in the batter’s box and from the pitching mound. There are a lot games left to play and crucial division games will come into play, but there’s no reason all three can’t land in the playoffs. I want to take a look at three trios of players that are aiding in the success of all three National League Central playoff contenders.
St. Louis Cardinals
They are who they are, year in year out. Fans were gasping when Wainwright went down, but with his injury the Cardinals still haven’t missed a beat. Word on the street is that Wainwright could make a return in the playoffs, or even before. This would be the equivalent to the best trade deadline deal. Of course, there are many key players that have contributed to St. Louis’ best start in franchise history, but what three players are the main catalysts?
Say what you will about his recent struggles, but Carpenter was one of the tops hitters in baseball the first two months of the season. He struggled in June and thus far in July hitting just .174, but much can be attributed to his pitch selection. On Sunday night’s radio broadcast I broke down his struggles to one important factor: pitch count. When ahead in the count Carpenter is batting .341, and while behind he’s hitting a gruesome .197. He can’t afford to let pitchers get ahead of him, and he needs to make them pay while staying away from off-speed pitches. Naturally, this is tough to do when you’re down in the count, but if he can lay off the breaking balls outside the zone, he can rebound quickly. Carpenter has played an integral role in the success of the Cardinals, and I look for Carpenter to end the season positively leading into the playoffs.
I had him and I let him go. I truly thought walks were going to derail his season, but the same could be said about closer Trevor Rosenthal. In April, he had four quality starts in a row before the Monday night game against the Cubs. Martinez lasted just 3.2 innings while surrendering seven earned runs on nine hits and four walks. His next start was no better as he yielded seven runs to the Pirates on seven hits and four walks. Since those starts Martinez has been untouchable brining his record to 10-4 with a 2.51 ERA and 1[15:47] K:BB. I forgot he’s only 23-years-old, but he’s carved out a role in the Cardinals starting rotation for years to come. If his production carries into the playoffs, we could be looking at a playoffs performance similar to Madison Bumgarner’s just a season ago.
When Peralta was signed at $53mil for four years many were left scratching their heads. No one knew how Peralta would fair in St. Louis, but he’s been nothing short of spectacular in his first two seasons. With Matt Holliday and Matt Adams missing an extended period of time, someone needed to step up. That player was Jhonny Peralta. On the season, Peralta is slashing .300/.357/.480 with 14 HR and 48 RBI. He’s been solid on defense as well, committing only three errors in 339 total chances, leading to a fielding percentage of 99.1%. Holding down the third spot in the batting order, I look for Peralta to continue his strong season and be a key factor for the Cardinals.
Everyone knew it was a matter of time before the Pirates heated up. There was no way McCutchen was going to struggle for an entire season. Gerrit Cole has shown why he was the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. Both players have lead this team to their great run, and there’s no reason why they can’t be at the heals of the Cardinals for the rest of the season. Who are the three main culprits to the success of the red hot Pirates?
It would be awkward writing this article and not naming Andrew McCutchen. I’ll admit I was skeptical about McCutchen bouncing back from his dismal start to the season. His knee wasn’t healthy throughout Spring Training and it carried over into the regular season. I was looking for some reason to explain why he hit just .194 in the month of April. Well, look at that! Since April, McCutchen has gone on a tear, hitting .330/.337/.271 in May, June, and July respectively. He’s raised his average to .294 with 12 HR, 56 RBI, and 50 runs scored. This is the production you want from a guy that has been an NL MVP. To put his doubters to rest, McCutchen blasted a solo homerun in the bottom of the sixth inning in last week’s All-Star game. Look for this production to continue, and pat yourself on the back if you were able to land the Pittsburgh slugger for a low buying price.
If the season ended today, Cole would have to be the favorite to win the NL Cy Young. There are many pitchers that are deserving, but Cole has been dominant and has boosted the Pirates as of late. He’s 13-3 on the year with a 2.30 ERA, 1[16:28] K:BB, and 1.12 WHIP. He has yet to have an ERA over 3.00 through four months of the season. I don’t see this workhorse slowing down anytime soon. Before the season started I stated that Michael Wacha and Gerrit Cole would have huge seasons, and be at the All-Star game in Cincinnati. My prediction was right, and Cole could be looking at his first Cy Young award of many.
It was going to be near impossible for the Pirates to replace Russell Martin. There were no catchers available that were even in the same league as Martin. The responsibility and pressure fell onto the shoulders of Francisco Cervelli. He’s responded admirably, handling one of the top pitching staffs in baseball while having success in the batter’s box. On the season, Cervelli is hitting .287 with 4 HR, and 30 RBI. These may not be mind-boggling numbers, but they stand out for a player that has only amassed 200 at-bats once in his eight-year career. He’s been one of the unsung heroes for a team that looks destined for great things come this fall.
It’s hard being a Cubs fan. The organization has let many people down. Hell, they’ve let me down more times than any amount of women have. Yet, the Chicago Cubs will always be the greatest thing in my life. After Theo took over, there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel. After seeing the success he brought to Boston’s organization, one could only hope that he could do the same with the “Loveable Losers”, while cementing his own place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. 2015 has been fun, and there are a few players I’d like to acknowledge as the oil that’s kept this engine rolling.
On January 6, 2012 Theo brought over his prized possession from the San Diego Padres. As you know, Rizzo was drafted by the Red Sox in 2007 when Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Cubs scouting director, Jason McLeod, were in Boston. The Cubs hit the jackpot. How San Diego let this happen is beyond me. There’s no way I would trade a pitcher for the caliber of hitter Rizzo is. This season has been a breakout for Rizzo. Rizzo is hitting .294 with 16 HR, 51 RBI, 49 R, and 12 SB. He’s been a fantasy asset, the Cub’s MVP to this point, and looks to lead the Cubbies moving forward. If there was any one player to own from the Cubs, Rizzo has to be that player.
I’ve waited for the Cubs to land a player like Arrieta since the days of Matt Clement, Ryan Dempster, and Joe Borowski. These are players that received a change of scenery and made a huge impact on the organizations they went to. It was a low risk, high reward addition, and Arrieta has been phenomenal. Since joining the Cubs in 2013, Arrieta has gone 25-12 with a 2.90 ERA. The Cubs desperately needed a dominant starting pitcher and Jake Arrieta has been not only the Cubs’ ace, but a top starting pitcher in MLB. On the season, Arrieta is 11-5 with a 2.52 ERA, 0.979 WHIP, and 1[33:28] K:BB. Moving into September, the Cubs have to feel confident with a 1-2 punch of Arrieta and Jon Lester.
There was not one player that I could put on this list, after Rizzo and Arrieta, that would leave Maddon off. Maddon has brought excitement to a young Cubs team that looks primed for greatness. He’s a philosophical genius when it comes to the game of baseball and has taught the Cubs how to have fun while being successful on the field. Maddon has lead the Cubs to a 49-41 record, sitting third in the NL Central just eight games out of first and occupying one of the two Wild Card spots (the other being Pittsburgh). I could feel the excitement build in his press conference as he said all of the right things, while becoming close with the media. He even invited them for a beer and a shot post-press conference. If you missed it, watch the video.
(Click the BLUE link to listen)
Major League Fantasy Sports Radio: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday July 25th from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by The Sports Palooza Radio Network. Call in at 646-915-8596. This week we will discuss some pitchers that may be laying around on the wire in some leagues, or undervalued that could make for a nice addition down the stretch.