While the Cubs enjoy a day off, I decided to take a look at the state of the NL Central.
Who says the NL Central is a weak division. Right now, four of the six teams are over .500. The top four teams are separated by 3 and a half games. As of the end of play on May 18, here are the standings.
Milwaukee 24-14 —
Chicago 21-15 2
St. Louis 21-17 3
Cincinnati 20-17 3.5
Houston 17-19 6
Pittsburgh 17-21 7
The Brewers have been red hot as of late. In their last three series, the Brew Crew took 2 out of three from the Cubs, swept three from the Marlins, and swept three from the Cardinals. Trevor Hoffman has been lights out, converting all nine save opportunities. The offense has been clicking, led by the Villainous Braun and Prince Fielder. The starting pitching has been better than expected. Will it last? Prince Fielder is the absolute worst defensive first baseman I’ve seen at the big league level. Having watched a lot of bad Cubs baseball over the years, that’s saying something. The strain he puts on the pitching staff over the course of the season by giving teams extra outs is great. The Brewers should trade him the to AL for some starting pitching. At least there he can be someone’s DH. Milwaukee got some bad news today when they learned they had lost Rickie Weeks for the season with a wrist injury. Weeks had nine homers, 24 RBI, and a .517 on base percentage.
I really don’t know how the Cubs have the record they have considering how erratic their starting pitching has been, how dreadful the bullpen has been, and how many key injuries they’ve had. Piniella’s team has found a way to persevere. This does give me hope for this season. Bobby Scales and Randy Wells have been pleasant surprises thus far. Will the Cubs be able to maintain their offense during Ramirez’s absence? Has Derrek Lee finally turned the corner with Sunday’s big performance? Can Marmol be lights out again? Can the Cubs really rely on Kevin Gregg? Will Fukudome have another second half swoon? These are some of the questions the Cubs face.
The Cardinals came out of the gate like gangbusters. Their high powered offense, led by Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick, was clobbering everyone. Albert Pujols is the best player in the game right now, but things are going to get tougher for him now that his protector in the lineup, Ludwick, has gone on the DL. They were just swept by Milwaukee in a series where they produced little offense. Their bullpen has looked shaky at times once again. They don’t have a true closer. Sorry, Dad, But I think the Cardinals are beginning their slide down the standings. Don’t forget who they play next!
Cincinnati was my sleeper team this year. They have a boatload of really good young talent. Could this be the Tampa Bay Rays of 2009? Cincinnati is finding out “In Dusty, we trusty”.
Houston has a scary offense with no pitching. If they try hard, they could end up .500.
The Pirates started out strong. It looked like their young pitchers, such as Duke, Snell, & Gorzelanny had turned the corner like Verlander & Bonderman had for the Tigers in 2006. However, they’ve slid back down in the last couple of weeks. They still could figure in as a spoiler for the contenders down the stretch.
Meet Jose Ascanio, the Cubs new reliever extraordinaire.
Here are the results of the first four batters Jose faced in Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the Astros.
Batter 1 – Hit by Pitch (Hey, watch it!)
Batter 2 – Hit by Pitch (Ouch! That had to hurt.)
Batter 3 – Single to right, RBI
Batter 4 – Oops! Wild pitch, run scores
Someone actually figured out something Larry Rothschild hasn’t been able to, how to make Kevin Gregg, Neil Cotts, & Aaron Heilman look good. Watch it now, these guys have got some competition.