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MLB End-of-May Check-in: NL Central

This division is waiting for someone to take control.

Milwaukee Brewers v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Every day, Pinstripe Alley offers updates on what the Yankees’ top American League opponents are up to through the Rivalry Roundup. The AL East is well-trodden ground there, but with the month of May coming to a close, we’re going to take a peak around MLB as a whole and check in with each of the other five divisions. Who’s surprising? Who’s underwhelming? Who’s simply mediocre at the moment? Read on and find out.

First Place: Milwaukee Brewers (28-26)

Top Position Player: William Contreras (1.4 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Freddy Peralta (0.6 fWAR)

The Brewers went 10-15 in May and currently sit atop the NL Central. If that doesn't sum up the NL central then I don't know what will. An up-and-down May turned scary on May 26th when Willy Adames was struck in the head by a foul ball while standing at the railing of the dugout. He was briefly hospitalized and subsequently placed on the 7-day concussion IL. It was a low point in what was a tough series for the Brewers, who dropped three out of four against the Giants.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ slow start to the season opened the door for teams like the Brewers to take advantage within the division, but the Brewers’ lack of offense has left them stagnant. The Brewers currently rank 25th in runs per game and team batting average. However, a bright spot over the last month has been Christian Yelich, who hit .293 in May. Production from Yelich and Rowdy Tellez, who has an OPS of .856 on the season, will be crucial for their offense moving forward.

Corbin Burnes has established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball but he has simply not been that this season. However, he is coming off one of his best starts of the season, giving up only one run in seven innings of work. It was the first time he pitched seven innings or more since early April. The Brewers need their workhorse to produce like an ace for them to stay atop this division.

Second Place: Pittsburgh Pirates (26-27)

Top Position Player: Jack Suwinski (1.4 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Mitch Keller (1.7 fWAR)

Who are the real Pirates? Probably not as good as their ferocious start and certainly not as bad as the month of May. After starting the season with a record of 20-9, the Pirates have since gone 6-18, including no series wins in May. Yikes. Realistically, they are somewhere in-between, and that is certainly an improvement from years past.

I do not want to trounce the Pirates in this article because certainly, May was, well, bad. But middle-of-the-road teams seem to fit perfectly within the NL Central. June certainly provides opportunities for this club to stay in contention, with matchups against the A’s and Marlins, along with divisional series against the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers. I think June will certainly tell us who these Pirates really are, but this Pirates team being in second place at the end of May should not be understated.

Third Place: Cincinnati Reds (24-29)

Top Position Player: T.J. Friedl (1.7 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Hunter Greene/Alexis Diaz (1.3 fWAR)

I’m going to be blunt, I think the Reds are not a very good baseball team. But somehow they sit in third place in the Central after posting a 12-13 record in May. I cannot stress enough how strange this division is. Maybe my AL East bias is showing. I think ultimately this team will finish at the bottom of the division, but the continued focus should be on the Reds’ young core.

Spencer Steer should be in consideration for Rookie of the Year following a strong month where he hit .311 with five home runs and an OPS of .919. Recent call-up Matt McLain has gotten off to a blazing start in the big leagues, which culminated in winning National League Player of the Week.

The Reds’ promising young trio of pitchers — Hunter Greene, Graham Ashcraft, and Nick Lodolo (now injured) — have struggled this season. Any success from that group would go a long way toward the Reds potentially competing in this division. Greene finished May off strong with six no-hit innings vs the Cubs. Success this season will be determined by the development of their young talent, and less by the standings.

Fourth Place: Chicago Cubs (23-30)

Top Position Player: Dansby Swanson (2.1 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Justin Steele (2.0 fWAR)

The Cubs got off to a decent start this season, posting a 12-7 record to begin the campaign. While seemingly involved in a multi-year rebuild, there were expectations of fielding a competitive ballclub after committing over $300 million to free agents this offseason. The early success soon fizzled as the Cubs have gone 9-17 in May.

Jameson Taillon has struggled mightily this season for the Cubs, after signing a four-year, $68 million contract this offseason. He is currently boasting an 8.04 ERA and has not faced a single batter past the fifth inning this season. The Cubs simply need more out of Taillon to contend. The bullpen has not been much better and is regarded as one of the worst in baseball. Throw in a Cody Bellinger injury from mid-May that will keep him out for a few more weeks, and you can see why the Cubs are struggling as of late.

However, It has not been all bad in Chicago this season. Marcus Stroman continues to pitch like an ace, particularly over his last three starts in which he has only given up three runs in 23 innings. His May culminated with a complete game shutout against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays. Offensively, Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner continue to put up solid numbers, but production in key moments is lacking with this offense. This team has pieces but has not been able to put it all together this season. If the struggles continue, look for trade rumors to surround this club as the season moves forward.

Last Place: St. Louis Cardinals (24-32)

Top Position Player: Paul Goldschmidt (2.2 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Jordan Montgomery (1.1 fWAR)

Remember when Willson Contreras was going to play the outfield? A disastrous start to the season has given way to solid baseball from a team too talented to not contend within this division. Following five straight losses to start May, the Cardinals have gone on a tear, racking up wins and placing themselves within striking distance of the Brewers.

If this team is going to contend, it will be on the back of a players like Paul Goldschmidt. A consistent and reliable player for this franchise, he almost single-handedly ended an eight-game losing streak for the Cardinals, hitting three home runs in a game against the Tigers in early May. Fellow 2022 NL MVP candidate Nolan Arenado, however, has only contributed a league-average bat in 54 games; he’ll need to play closer to his 151 wRC+ form from last year.

Former Yankees southpaw Jordan Montgomery has led the rotation thus far, and Miles Mikolas has turned his early struggles into a solid season. He has a 2.40 ERA so far this month, including back-to-back seven inning performances in which he allowed only three runs total. The rest of the rotation needs to pick up the pace, though.

The Cardinals need their best players to be their best players, and if May is any indication, this team will soon be fighting for the top spot in the NL Central.