5-1-23 – By Corey Shrader – @CoreyShrader on Twitter
The first month of the season has come and gone and things have been…wild. Just like everyone predicted, the Pirates have the best record in not only the NL Central, but the entire National League. But, we aren’t here to talk about the Pirates hot start, the rest of the Inside the Bucs Basement crew is doing a great job covering that. Our purpose for being here is to take a whirlwind look around the division. Below you will see the standing as of May 1st, 2023. Look upon them and smile, Pirates faithful. After you finish Nicholson nodding, let’s jump right in to the team reviews!
|National League Central Standings|
|St. Louis Cardinals||10||18|
Milwaukee Brewers (16-9)
Milwaukee is off to a nice start given the amount of injuries they have battled. A testament to the team’s overall depth & willingness to call upon and trust resources from the minors, the record is still good enough for second place.
The lineup has been carried by the duo of Rowdy Tellez, Brian Anderson, both off to very productive starts. Despite losing several starters, this team continues to be a tough opponent. Since most are familiar with Rowdy and Brian Anderson, here are the guys I’d like to focus on from the start:
William Contreras – The young backstop is off to an impressive, and somewhat puzzling start to 2023. Like his older brother, Contreras is mostly known for his bat, but it has been his glove that is carrying his value so far. However, he has made some strides in his plate approach, drastically cutting his K% & whiff % in service of his average/hit tool. I expect to see him hit for power as the season wears on and if the approach sticks, he is going to be a very productive player for Milwaukee.
Garrett Mitchell – My ROY runner up prediction, Mitchell came out of the gate with a blistering hot start before the league began to adjust to him & going down with a serious shoulder injury. It looks like Mitchell will be sidelined for the majority of the rest of 2023. He will hope to return late in the season or for the offseason.
Joey Wiemer – Wiemer is a freak athlete. Near top of the scale power/speed/defense. The big question coming up has been swing & miss/approach related. So far in the majors he is doing the exact opposite. Approach has been very good, but hitting for very modest power. He is a truly intriguing prospect with legitimate superstar potential given the toolset. He is absolutely someone to watch as the season wears on.
Brice Turang – Turang opened with a hot start just like Mitchell, but he too has hit a bit of a skid as opposing teams have got more time to study him. Defense is carrying his profile right now, but he is a good all around player & if he can adjust too, he should be a fixture for MIL.
Freddy Peralta – Perlata has opened the season looking like he has rediscovered an approximation of his 2021 breakout. While not the same level of domination, he appears to be hitting his stride as a very good, borderline SP1. He will be very important for this team given the other losses.
Corbin Burnes – Burnes has had a lackluster start by his standards. The underlying numbers say he might be just fine, but it is worth noting that he is missing something from the last few years. He has recently suffered a pectoral ailment that might explain this, but it is something to watch.
Brandon Woodruff – Woodruff was off to his typical start before being sidelined with “shoulder inflammation.” Any time there is an arm or shoulder ailment popping up this early for an arm it is never a good sign. The good news is that he looked very sharp in his 11.1 IP before the IL move, but it would be an irreplaceable injury if Woody is out for significant time.
Eric Lauer/Wade Miley – Lauer has been sub-par, Miley has been quite effective. The underlying numbers say Miley should come down to earth some, but its been great for a 5th starter.
Minor League Check In
Jackson Chourio – The uber-prospect is off to a bit of a slow start, but the K% is down to a manageable 25% at AA for the 19 year old. Expect the take off in the coming month or two.
Tyler Black – Perhaps one of the biggest early prospect breakouts, Black is off to a great start at AA. Terrific plate approach 20.3%/17.4% BB/K & growing power and speed. A big time riser to this point.
Chicago Cubs (14-10)
A bit of an early season surprise here, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. In our preseason look we discussed how this team certainly has some talent and should be a thorny opponent for almost anyone.
The Cubs have had a top 5 offense by WAR, wRC+, & wOBA. A stellar start. Here are the early standouts:
Cody Bellinger – It looks like Bellinger is reclaiming his career in Chicago. While I still do not think we can expect the days of 7.8 WAR, MVP Belli, he looks like a well above-average player, possibly even an All-Star.
Patrick Wisdom – Wisdom looks like a true slugger at the moment. Absolutely smashing the ball with a 94.6 EV but also has the traditional K issues of this profile. Regardless, he has been great and it looks real. Will likely be streaky due to the approach.
Nico Hoerner – The Anti-Wisdom with top of the scale plate discipline. Hoerner is a good all around ballplayer & tied with Bellinger for Cubs WAR leader. Does everything well, elite approach, great hit tool, strong defense, speed. Only real below-average tool is power, but the production has been strong & looks legit posting a .367 wOBA & 131 wRC+.
Trey Mancini/Eric Hosmer – They’ve been bad, folks. They are vets with track record to their names, but they are clogging up the roster right now & likely taking PAs away from guys we will talk about in a bit.
Chicago’s pitching staff has come out hot with four of their starters dialed in early. The bullpen is middling, but they’ve got some real stopping power. Again, this team is annoying to play on all fronts:
Justin Steele – As we discussed preseason, Steele does indeed look to have arrived. His slider is one of the best in baseball by run value at a -4 and he pairs it with a very valuable 4-seamer that also ranks song the best in the game. The peripherals back his hot start up & he looks to be a real dude.
Drew Smyly – Smyly is enjoying a great season & he has long been a guy that has evidently good stuff. Everyone saw his perfect game broken up in a hilarious manner (not so funny to Smyly I am sure). The peripherals back this start up too as he is generating weak contact & poor contact regularly.
Marcus Stroman/Jameson Taillon – Stroman looks great early. The K’s are ticking up above career norms on the strength of his Cutter/Slurve. He is out pitching his peripherals some, but he’s looking locked in early. Old friend Jamo has some more ugly surface numbers, but his underlying stats tell a different story. He should see some more success soon.
Hayden Wesneski – All spring Wesneski looked like a true beast & a breakout was coming. The story of the regular season has been different. He has been very hittable so far and frankly, not good. But he does have intriguing stuff and could certainly turn it around.
Adbert Alozay/Brandon Hughes/Mark Leiter Jr/Keegan Thompson – Aka the Bullpen, these guys have all been mostly stellar and the numbers back up their early success.
Minor League Check In
Christopher Morel – The Swiss Army Knife, Morel has been lighting up AAA to the tune of a .518 wOBA and .219 wRC+. His major flaw is his K issues, but he is not being challenged in AAA and needs a call up.
Matt Mervis – Mervis looks like a bopper. Like Morel, he appears to be ready and waiting. The fact that Hosmer & Mancini are blocking these two is unfortunate. Expect to see them soon.
Cincinnati Reds (10-15)
The Reds have had a pretty good start for a team that has been expected to be poor. The offense has been pretty bad, but the pitching has been quite excellent, ranking top 10 in combined RP/SP WAR.
Jonathan India – After a disaster 2022 India looks to be an improved version of his ROY campaign self. He is hitting the ball harder and his plate approach is even improved. Great bounceback season so far here.
T.J. Friedl – Friedl is enjoying early season success but his peripheral numbers aren’t backing it up much. He should be a solid piece, but it is unlikely that he is more than a second division starter in the end.
Everyone Else – Essentially every other Red has been poor. Not much else to say here,but the exception of India, Friedl, Steer has been replacement level or worse so far.
Hunter Greene – Greene is a good pitcher. His fatal flaw so far is that he gets hit hard when he is actually hit. The sky is the limit for a guy with his skillset. The underlying numbers say his team defense is hurting him statline & that part is unlikely to change right now, so ultimately his surface numbers could take a hit despite his nastiness.
Graham Ashcraft – In the midst of a breakout (as noted in the preseason look), Ashcraft has some really big stuff. The major knock being lack of K-stuff and some walk issues. It is conceivable that he takes another leap forward by either cutting the walks or finding more Ks.
Nick Lodolo – A very disappointing start for Lodolo. I believe in the talent and think he will get it right, but he has some real issues right now with giving up homers and getting hit pretty hard in general. He’s running a very high BABIP (.471 yuck), but that should adjust as the season goes. The ceiling is unlimited for a pitcher with his stuff & deception.
Alexis Diaz/Alex Young/Lucas Sims – This trio is nasty. Diaz takes after big brother Edwin and is a K machine posting an absurd 50%+ k rate. Young has been spectacular as well with a devastating changeup against RHH & a killer curveball against LHH. Sims has just returned from a long injury layoff, but has looked like his old self so far.
Minor League Check In
Elly De La Cruz – The mega-prospect missed the start of the season and has just got rolling at AAA. A total unicorn prospect in the mold of Oneil Cruz. The only thing that can stop him is his K issues. He is coming this year to GABF.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand – CES is preparing to kick the door down. He has DRASTICALLY cut his K rate from 25.7% all the way down to 9.5% (!!!) in AAA. The production is wild, a .579 ISO, .649 wOBA, & .293 wRC+. No nits to pick right now. He looks like a dude.
Matt Mclain – A 2021 first round pick, Mclain is going breakout just like CES. Posting power & speed with a good patience profile and hit tool. His AAA line so far has the looks of an exciting regular for the Reds.
St. Louis Cardinals (10-16)
For me, the biggest shock in the start of 2023. St. Louis looks a bit lost. Poor defense, middling pitching, and good offense. The talent is still here, but the vibes are all messed up, frankly.
Paul Goldschmidt – The same as it ever was. Goldy is still a dude. The anchor for this lineup. Not much else to say.
Nolan Gorman – An early season breakout for Gorman. His peripherals suggest his production may jump even more. His approach is still near the danger zone (28.4 k rate, 38.4 whiff rate), but he punishes the ball and his approach is ticking up with raised BB rates & lowered chase rates. Looks like the masher everyone hoped for.
Tyler O’Neill – A personal favorite of mine, the yoked Canadian is off to a slow start. Some of this is due to being in the Skipper’s doghouse, but he is also underperforming his peripherals. Makes high quality contact, hits the ball hard, but the K issues are creeping up. His xwOBA of .360 hard hit rate hints at more coming.
Nolan Arendao – Arenado is having a poor season by his standards. He has been a guy that outperforms his peripherals for a few years now, but this year it has not been the case. Making pretty poor contact so far and not doing much besides playing high quality defense.
Jordan Walker – The highly talented, hulking prospect broke camp with the team but was recently demoted. In my opinion, the Cardinals mis-managed this situation by not letting him play it out. He was not killing it, but he also did not look terribly overmatched. For now, he is back in AAA and I’m sure we will see him again soon.
Jordan Montgomery – JorMont has been his usual self so far and that has been good enough to be the Cardinals best starter. Similarly to Greene, JorMont is being hurt by poor defense, but he looks to be locked in as an underrated & valuable starting pitcher.
Ryan Helsly – Off to a shaky start, the fireballer is getting hit hard early and having an issue with the long ball. Walks have ticked up some & strikeouts down some. I think he will right the ship, but unlikely to repeat 2022’s insane production.
Jack Flaherty – Flaherty is posting solid surface numbers so far, but I’d be wary of buying in too much. He looked dominant at Seattle, but overall, he just does not seem to be the guy everyone hoped for, largely due to his injury riddled past.
Minor League Check In
Matthew Liberatore – Liberatore has added velocity to his game in 2023. It takes him from having a “meh” profile, to a “oh” profile. He is cruising in AAA with his new found velocity bumping his ability to get Ks and his control already being solid. He will be in the rotation at some point, probably sooner than later, in St. Louis.
Tink Hence – The 20 year old came out of the game looking like a rocketship prospect, but has been shut down with an “undisclosed” injury. Not much information beyond that. He remains one of the most tantalizing pitching prospects in the game.
Gordon Graceffo – Graceffo enjoyed a breakout in 2022. While he slowed down some upon reaching AA, he looks to be back on track in AAA. Hard to say when to expect a debut, but he looks to be a guy that should get a look in 2023.
And there you have the April edition of Know Your Enemy. It has been a very fun start for Bucs fans, without a doubt. Pittsburgh will not see a single division opponent in May 2023, which seems impossible, but here we are. Things may turn on a dime by the time the May edition comes about, but I hope this piece gives you some more insights into the NLC competition.