In every sport, there seems to be some sort of hangover for the defending champs. In baseball, the Chicago Cubs are the defending World Series Champions, and they are definitely suffering from a hangover. Sitting at a pedestrian 32-32, they have spent a vast majority of the season at or below .500.
It’s not just the Cubs that have been mediocre; the entire division has been average at best. It’s woefully awesome, because as bad as it’s been, the entire division is still in the race. The Cincinnati Reds who are 29-35 sit in last place, but are still only four games back.
The Cubs don’t seem to have an answer to the problems they’ve been having. They can’t get out of their own way. When they hit well, they don’t pitch well. When they pitch well, they don’t hit well; it’s like a never ending cycle this season. They recently lost three out of four to the Colorado Rockies, and looked bad in the process, getting outscored 25-10 in the series.
Reigning NL MVP, Kris Bryant, does have a .403 on-base percentage, but his batting average stands at .273, and he only has 28 RBI’s. He’s doing his job, but he’s not at the same time.
The Milwaukee Brewers got off to a hot start, and have had at least a share of first place since May 27th. Eric Thames, who was the headliner to start the season, has seem to hit a wall. While he still has 16 home runs, his batting average has dropped all the way down to .256.
Milwaukee also had to deal with a slew of injuries. Ryan Braun is still on the disabled list with a calf strain, and there’s no timetable for his return, but he is reportedly close to a rehab assignment. Jonathan Villar suffered a lower-back strain in Arizona, and at the time it looked really bad. It’s also unclear when he will return.
Their pitching is what’s kept them atop the division, led by Chase Anderson’s 2.83 ERA, and Zach Davies team-leading seven wins. Lewis Brinson was called up to take Villar’s roster spot, and has gotten off to a slow start with only one hit in his first 11 at-bats. If Thames can regain his April form and Braun can get healthy, the Brewers can stay in the race.
As for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, they’re still in it, but the question is for how long?
The Cardinals are used to success, but if it weren’t for the Oakland A’s being so egregiously bad on defense, you’d notice that the Cardinals aren’t great defensively either. They’re tied for 11th in baseball with 41 errors and they’re tied for 15th in team fielding percentage. Their pitching is solid, but with their average defense mixed with a subpar offense scoring only 4.07 runs per game, they may fall out of the division race fairly quickly.
As for the Pirates, well, they’re really missing Starling Marte. They’re just extremely lucky that once they finish their series with the Rockies, who they always seem to beat in Pittsburgh, they play three straight divisional series. If they don’t win those series, they might have to face the writing on the wall and look to sell at the deadline.
Lastly, we have the Cincinnati Reds, who quite frankly shouldn’t even be close to being in the race. Their starting rotation has the worst ERA in baseball, and their pitching staff as a whole is second worst in ERA. They’ve given up the second most earned runs in baseball, and the third most runs total. Let’s not forget they’ve also given up the most home runs and walked the most batters.
If it weren’t for the fact that Joey Votto is borderline impossible to get out, Zack Cozart having the highest WAR amongst short stops and Billy Hamilton pretty much stealing whatever base he wants, then who knows where this team would be.
All in all, the NL Central is just one big mess and all it might take is for one team to win 15 of 20 games to put themselves in a prime spot to win the division.