NL Central surviving just fine without Pujols, Fielder

It’s trite, but one of those great things about sports is that you can (and should) always expect the unexpected.

Major firepower left the NL Central this year, with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder heading off to the American League.

The immediate thought is “well, the NL Central just got a lot less interesting.”  But if you’ve watched sports for any semblance of time, paid attention at all, you had to know that somebody was going to step out from the shadows.

Case(s) in point…

5 of the top 7 batting averages in the National League are from the Central division.

Among the 5 NL batters with 8 or more home runs, 4 are from the Central.  (Cubs’ 1B Bryan LaHair – a minor league veteran who is holding down the position until super-prospect Anthony Rizzo is ready to take over – has more HR than any 1B in the entire MLB.  More than Pujols and Fielder combined.)

The top 3 ERA are all from the Central.  Ryan Dempster (1.02), Johnny Cueto (1.31), and Lance Lynn (1.40).

Every team seems to have at least a few players that I think might be worth dishing out a few bucks to watch.  Even the lowly Cubs have Dempster, LaHair, Starlin Castro (see more below), and Jeff Samardzija, who is starting to look pretty damned good.  The Astros, expected to win maybe 40% of their games this season, have seen great things from Jose Altuve (again, see more below), Jed Lowrie and Wandy Rodriguez.  The Cardinals’ staff has stepped up with Lynn, Jake Westbrook, and Kyle Lohse all impressing, not to mention the bats of Jon Jay, David Freese, and Carlos Beltran.  (Lots of talent there in St. Louis.)  Aroldis Chapman and the Reds.  Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez on the Bucs.  Ryan Braun and the Brewers.

Expect the unexpected.  Even without Pujols and Fielder, there’s some great baseball to be found in the NL Central.

REDS (15-14) @ BREWERS (13-17)
12:10 PM CT

CIN Cueto 4-0 1.31 0.9 3.89
MIL Greinke 3-1 4.11 1.2 3.04

Why You Might Watch This: Hard to believe I’m putting two teams with such middling records as my featured game today, but this is an undeniably interesting pitching match-up.

CARDINALS (19-11) @ Diamondbacks (14-17)
8:40 PM CT

STL Lohse 4-1 2.11  0.6 4.01
ARI Miley 3-0 2.33  0.6 3.74

Why You Might Watch This: Just too many interesting players to watch on the Cardinals right now.

Nationals (18-11) @ PIRATES (13-16)
6:05 PM CT

WAS Detwiler 3-1 1.59 0.5 3.73
PIT Bedard 2-4 2.65  1.0 3.45

Why You Might Watch This: The Nationals are the bigger reason to watch this one. Fun team.

  • Clint Hurdle on slump-busting Pirates.  (No mention of bedding large women.)
  • Jose Tabata has been hitting better of late.  Find out how!

Braves (19-12) @ CUBS (12-18)
1:20 PM CT

ATL Hudson 1-0 6.55 0.2 3.28
CHI Maholm 3-2 5.13  -0.1 4.17

Why You Might Watch This: Because it’s baseball.

Marlins (15-15) @ ASTROS (14-16)
7:05 PM CT

MIA Johnson 0-3 6.61  0.9 3.67
HOU Harrell 2-2 4.76  0.3 4.68

Why You Might Watch This: Because you enjoy rooting against the Marlins and their ill-advised off-season spending spree.  Also, check out Josh Johnson.  6.61 ERA but he has a WAR of 0.9 so far?  How the —-?!  He is currently serving up a rather insane .439 BABIP against.  I know there are those in the sabermetric community who suggest that BABIP is something you have little (if any) control over.  But I’ve always been pretty sure that if I were an MLB pitcher, my BABIP against would be way higher than the league average.  I’ve never really completely bought into that.  If you ask me, Johnson is hurt and there’s a reason he’s getting hit as hard as he is.  Take that 0.9 WAR away, please.  (Note to gamblers: this seems like a good time to bank on Johnson throwing a 3-hit shutout tonight…)


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