“That’s Amore!” National League Central: Quarter Report
After this week, week seven, most teams will be right around the quarter mark of the 2015 season. Back in college, this was the time I would start the head scratching to figure out why I was struggling in one professor’s psychology course. I had this particular professor for four or five different courses, and I did this in each one of his courses. I relate this to professional sports, particularly baseball, because I believe it’s easier to blow a lead rather than play catch up. If you’re playing catch up in any aspect of life, there are good odds that you will come up just short. In baseball, this can cost head coaches and general managers their jobs. We’ve already seen this is Miami. I will break down each NL Central team, while providing grades, and see if there is any “extra credit” that teams can shoot for to turn their seasons around.
I projected the Brewers to finish 78-84. This would see them at the bottom of the NL Central. Up to this point, they may end up worse than what I projected. They currently sit at 13-25. If they keep this trend up they are looking at a 100 loss season. As a team, they sit at the bottom of the MLB with a .227 team batting average. They are 24th in stolen bases, 12th in home runs, and 25th in runs scored. They’re towards the bottom in many categories, but they’ve shown the ability to hit the long ball. They absolutely cannot survive this season relying on the home run. Their lineup isn’t built for power. Not to mention, Ryan Braun isn’t the same player he once was and hasn’t shown signs of returning. It doesn’t get much better on the pitching side. The Brewers are currently ranked 28th in team ERA at 4.73. The only teams worse than them are the Toronto Blue Jays and Colorado Rockies. Luckily, the Blue Jays have a lineup that can score runs. I want to add one mind boggling stat; Up to this point, their pitching staff has given up 55 home runs to opposing batters. This is one less than the San Diego Padres. Funny enough, the outstanding St. Louis Cardinals team has seen their pitching staff only give up 23 home runs.
As we can see, this team is brutal in every aspect of the game. They don’t have the necessary depth in their minor league system to call up any studs, nor do they have pieces to go out and make a trade. Craig Counsell was tabbed as Ron Roenicke’s replacement on May 4, and boy does he have his work cutout for him. In Roenicke’s defense, this team is garbage. GM Doug Melvin needs to turn to “rebuild mode” so he can protect his job. He’s seen his ups and downs since being named general manager in 2002, but just like all good things, it will come to an end unless a major overhaul is started.
Extra Credit Available: Yes
I understand the Brewers were atop of the NL Central for sometime last season, but there is no way they are going to rebound from this horrendous start. What would I do if I were the GM? I’d look to get some minor league depth in return for a few players. Three players come to mind when I think of a decent return. I want to start with Jean Segura. He’s 25 years old, and has shown the ability to hit and steal a few bases. He’s been solid defensively with a career fielding percentage of .970. It’s safe to say he has pretty good value as a shortstop. With all the rumors of Troy Tulowitzki being moved, why not look at a guy like Segura. No, he’s not the same power hitter that Tulo is, but you can get him giving up less prospects and at a discount rate. Tulowitzki is owed $94mil through 2020 with a $15mil team option in 2021 ($4mil buyout). Segura is set to make $534,000 in 2015 and is arbitration eligible in 2016. Do the math. Even if Segura goes to arbitration he’s not going to make anywhere near what a team would have to pay for Troy Tulowitzki. If I’m one of the teams inquiring about Tulowitzki, I’d start thinking long-term. Tulo’s injury history worries me after what I would have to give up to complete a trade. I believe Segura would be a better value trade, and he’s five years younger. With shortstop Orlando Arcia being the Brewers top prospect, the Brewers can breathe after moving their current shortstop. Segura won’t bring the same quality of prospects, but he could bring a pretty nice return for a team in the buyer’s market.
Two other players come to mind when looking to build by acquiring prospects. Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Gomez are the only other players, other than Segura, who could bring back some sort of value. Rodriguez has a reasonable contract being owed $3.5mil this season and $5.5mil in 2016. He has a $6mil team option in 2017 ($4mil buyout). He will only be 35 in 2017. It’s pretty amazing that he’s only 33 in his 12th season. There is always a “turnstile” from the closer’s role, and a team could get a bona fide veteran with a great track record and a 2.70 ERA. Now, it will be very hard for the Brewers to let go of their prized Carlos Gomez. He’s been so good since he arrived in Milwaukee, but he does turn 30 in early December. Out of the three, Gomez could bring the highest value of prospects. There’s no way he would overtake Mike Trout for centerfield, but he could give the Angels a boost over Matt Joyce in left field or Kole Calhoun in right field. They could easily acquire pitching, including Andrew Heaney. Gomez is owed $8mil this season and $9mil in 2016. He will be 31 when he’s eligible to be a free agent and will demand a pretty decent amount of money knowing his career will be on the decline. Milwaukee can’t afford to dish out the money he will demand and now would be the perfect time to get prospects in return. Now, the main factor will be if Gomez can overcome getting bopped in the head by Noah Syndergaard’s 97 MPH fastball.
In my eyes, no team has underachieved as much as the Pirates. I truly believe the questionable health of Andrew McCutchen has had a major impact with the team’s early struggles. However, there have been many bright spots from Pirates. A.J. Burnett has 1.38 ERA and 3-1 record. Gerrit Cole has claimed the number one spot in the rotation going 5-2 in his first eight starts with a 2.40 ERA. Francisco Liriano’s record (1-3) hasn’t told the story of his season as he’s carrying a 2.96 ERA with a [50:19] K:BB. Two of his losses have been by one run. It’s safe to say he’s held his own in this rotation. Their pitching currently ranks 3rd in MLB. Now, the real issues arise at the back end of their rotation. Their current four and five starters are Vance Worley and Jeff Locke. Each sport ERAs north of 4.00 and have more hits given up than innings pitched. I truly believe they need to bring in another pitcher. If it’s not by trade, I think it’s fair to give Tyler Glasnow a look. Thus far, Glasnow is 2-2 with a 2.76 ERA at AA Altoona. He owns a [29:10] K:BB and opposing hitters are only batting .194 off the righty. If the team doesn’t look to acquire a starter via a trade, I truly believe Glasnow may get the call before season’s end. They’re only 7.5 games out of first and there is a lot of baseball left.
Two hitters come to mind that need to step it up. Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen have had a slow start to the season. While McCutchen is starting to turn the page on his early season woes, Gregory Polanco has yet to heat up. If he doesn’t start to turn the corner, I’d look into bringing in another outfielder and sending Polanco back to AAA Indianapolis. Jung Ho Kang and Neil Walker have been able to pick up the slack, but McCutchen needs to heat up to allow this team to build momentum. I’m assuming there is no structural damage in McCutchen’s knee or I think they’d rather have him go under the knife than play with the possibility of injuring his knee worse. It could possibly be a deep bone bruise or a sprained knee ligament that is healing slowly.
Extra Credit Available: Yes
The Pirates have time to get hot and they have the talent on their roster. My main concern is the four and five spot of their starting rotation. Vance Worley and Jeff Locke haven’t given them what they need and I believe they could fix this from within their own organization. Tyler Glasnow looks like he could be ready very soon, and it’s a possibility if Pittsburgh isn’t looking to make a trade to acquire a veteran, end of the rotation arm. Lastly, McCutchen is a huge red flag. I broke it down in my last article how he is not the same. I’m hoping, for his sake, he’s 100% and is finally returning to form.
The Reds have played fairly well this season. I didn’t expect them to be at the top of the division, and they aren’t. However, Joey Votto is finally healthy and Todd Frazier is producing power numbers. The 37 year old Marlon Byrd has shown a greatly welcomed amount of power, although he’s second on the team in strikeouts. They are still waiting for Jay Bruce to turn it around and I’m sure they’d love to see Billy Hamilton raise his .214 average. Their pitching staff ranks 22nd with a 4.33 ERA, so there is room for improvement from that aspect. A bright spot has been Tony Cingrani coming out of the bullpen. He’s staying healthy and that has been the main objective of having him in the bullpen.
Their hitting is ranked 22nd in batting average, but that should be expected from a team that has produced a lot of power numbers, and is 3rd in the MLB in home runs. It’s safe to say this team is around where they should be. I expected them to be towards the lower middle of MLB. Devin Mesoraco has battled a hip ailment all season and his bat has been nonexistent. All signs point to him undergoing season-ending surgery. Luckily, Brayan Pena has shouldered the load behind the plate. He’s hitting a more than respectable .337 with 29 hits in 86 at bats. The power numbers aren’t there, but he’s only struck out eight times. The Reds have to be loving this production. The other bright spot has been Zack Cozart. He’s been a great addition off the fantasy waiver wire.
Extra Credit Available: No
I can’t see the Reds having the ability to make moves to fix what they need. Jay Bruce has seven home runs, but he strikes out way too much. It wouldn’t be such a concern if he could hit .250, but he currently sits at .190. I don’t think the possibility of moving him exists. Not only wouldn’t any general manager welcome the strikeouts, but he’s owed $24.5mil over this and next season. The production isn’t there for what he’s being paid. The main issue with this team is their bullpen. They currently rank 30th with a 5.17 ERA. Other than Aroldis Chapman, Tony Cingrani, and J.J. Hoover, their bullpen has been atrocious. To try and correct this problem, Raisel Iglesias will be available out of the bullpen in the short-term. The only viable option throughout their system would be to call up Robert Stephenson from AA Pensacola. Unfortunately, Stephenson has a 5.65 ERA with a [30:33] K:BB. Needless to say, he’s not ready and there is no way he could help this dismal bullpen. Unfortunately, I think the Reds are who I thought they were.
If the Cubs don’t win this season it’ll be 107 years since their last World Series championship. Finally, the Cubs have a youthful team to be excited about. Kris Bryant has proved to be the real deal, and although Addison Russell has stuck out often, he’s gotten on base and his defense has been superb. Anthony Rizzo has been making his case for NL MVP, while Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler have played reasonably thus far into the season. Soler is striking out too much, but he’s still sporting a .273 batting average. Overall, the Cubs are sitting in the middle of the pack (18th) with a .249 team batting average, but are 15th in home runs, 14th in RBI, 13th in runs, and 3rd in stolen bases. They are competing in every hitting category.
Pitching has been their main downfall up to this point. Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Jason Hammel have been solid, but they haven’t gotten the needed production from their fourth and fifth starters. Overall, their pitching staff sits at 15th with a 4.05 ERA. Their bullpen needs to greatly improve, as their overall ERA sits at 4.32. The only reliever with an ERA under 3.00 is James Russell (1.13), who has only pitched in 8.0 innings.
Extra Credit Available: Yes
The main additions needed to be made are a starter and a reliever. One guy that I’d be high on acquiring plays for a slow starting Arizona Diamondbacks team, that is Brad Ziegler. He’s a veteran reliever that has been solid in Oakland and Arizona. I love the weird arm angle he throws from, and he could be a great addition to the Cubs bullpen. In addition, they could call up C.J. Edwards from AA Tennessee. He hasn’t started any games this season, so he’s familiar with pitching out of the bullpen. He could make spot starts down the stretch as well. When it comes to looking for there are a few options. Depending on how Billy Beane feels toward the Cubs after giving them Addison Russell, Scott Kazmir could help solidify the back end of the starting rotation. I don’t think the asking price would be too high. Another cheap fix could be acquiring Aaron Harang from the Phillies. Harang just turned 37 and wouldn’t require much to acquire. He’s pitched well in eight starts, going 4-3 with a 2.03 ERA. If the Cubs can add two pieces to their pitching staff they could be in store for big things come this postseason.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are good, and they aren’t slowing down anytime soon. They’ve compiled a 25-12 record, and have one of the best hitters in baseball this season, in Matt Carpenter. Their offense ranks 5th in team batting average, 7th in hits, and 4th in OBP. It’s safe to say, none of their hitters are an easy out. St. Louis doesn’t possess many holes in their lineup. Once Jason Heyward and Matt Adams heat up, look out.
Their pitching staff has been equally as good as their offensive machine. Their pitching staff ranks 1st in MLB with an amazing 2.87 ERA. Michael Wacha has been phenomenal, going 5-0 with a 2.06 ERA over eight starts. Lance Lynn and John Lackey have held down the two and three spots in the rotation. Their bullpen has been dominant as well with a 2.21 ERA ,seeing them 3rd in MLB. The only question their pitching staff has is their third and fourth starters. Carlos Martinez has had his ups and downs and the control issues are still there. The strikeouts have been there, but so have the walks, as he currently has a [43:20] K:BB in 40 innings of work. He’s also allowing 1.5 base runners per inning.
Extra Credit Available: Yes
Since 2007, GM John Mozeliak has been one of the best in baseball. He’s been able to make big moves that help his organization get deep into the playoffs. That being said, the Cole Hamels sweepstakes is still alive. Ruben Amaro, Jr. will hold out until he gets the amount of quality prospects he desires, but the Cardinals would be a perfect fit for Hamels. The only factor I can see making Mozeliak shy away would be the price he’d have to pay to acquire Hamels, and the fact Hamels is owed $23.5mil through 2018. If the Cardinals do land Hamels, there rotation in 2016 would feature Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Hamels at the top of their rotation. It would easily be the top rotation in baseball. Even if it’s not Hamels whom they acquire, there are other options that could fit in after Wacha, Lynn, and Lackey. I still think they could make a move for Kyle Lohse, and turn his season around. Even if they don’t make a move, they still have Jaime Garcia who is slated to pitch Thursday, and Marco Gonzales who is battling back from a shoulder injury in AAA Memphis. If the Cardinals land Hamels, they have to be the front runners to win the World Series.