Four out of the five teams that are a part of the National League Central are currently over .500 entering play on May 9th (sorry Cincinnati), and all five teams are competitive to open the season too, so the NL Central division is shaping up to be a doozy in 2019. While this was a division that was pegged to be one of the toughest to win this season, the first month or so was not agreeing with those predictions.
All teams seemed to be struggling to begin the year, and for a while the Pittsburgh Pirates looked to be a much stronger team than most had predicted, even leading the division for a bit. While they have sunk back to fourth currently, which is where they most likely will remain for the vast majority of the season, they seemed to be riding high to begin 2019.
Now the race seems to be only between three teams, which is exactly how it was predicted it would be. The Chicago Cubs currently lead the division by one-half game over the second-place Milwaukee Brewers, who are ahead of the third-place St. Louis Cardinals by a lone game.
Dominating the newspapers for all the wrong reasons to end the 2018 season, the Chicago Cubs are still dominating the newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2019 – let me explain.
Playing underneath expectations to begin a season is one thing, as their April was a big-time struggle, but housing a domestic abuser in Addison Russell on their 40-man roster is another, and they just so happen to be doing both.
Russell, whose time on the field was not even cut short even when he was suspended (he stayed fresh in the minor leagues while serving his major league suspension), faced an onslaught of boos in his first game back at the big-league level on the eighth of May, which is the least that fans could do to show how much they appreciate him.
The easy solution to this whole debacle was to simply release Russell, cutting ties with a walking poor excuse of a human and letting all bad news go out the door with him, not even having to back him up once in a public statement. However, the team decided to go the complete 360 opposite way, publicly stating their support of the investigation and of Russell, not clearing themselves in the process and stating their lack of care for anyone unfortunately involved in a domestic violence situation.
The team even went so far as to instruct writers to abstain from writing any content that included smearing Russell in any light, instead, focusing on well-timed spotlight pieces that instead acted as deflections away from the whole situation. Suffocating the voice of journalism, especially in the world of shedding light on a disgusting and unfortunate situation, is absolutely never the way any person or organization should go, yet here we sit.
Not even being able to get out of their damn way, the Cubs somehow managed to stumble through the storm that has now come full circle and currently sit in first with a 22-13 record.
Pitching, pitching and more pitching – what has been an eventful beginning to their 2019 season has all hinged on their pitching staff, most notably their starting rotation. Built to focus on three youthful arms in Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, and Corbin Burnes, Woodruff has been the lone mainstay and has not missed a turn in the rotation, while Peralta was on the IL for a start and Burnes was sent down to the minors to refine his stuff.
While the team views him long term as a starter, Craig Counsell has been employing him as a bullpen arm once he got called back up, where he currently serves as a better option. While that may not continue, Burnes at least has a fallback option if he still cannot handle a starting gig.
Offensively, this team needs to construct a statue for Christian Yelich already, the man can hit. Already at 16 home runs, the reigning NL MVP looks to be well on his way to repeating as the award winner in that category.
Yelich is turning in an out of this world season so far, not even hampered by a slight back tweak in early May. He has been an important piece in making up for the lack of offensive outputs by both Jesus Aguilar and Travis Shaw.
St. Louis Cardinals
After bringing in Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller this offseason, the St. Louis Cardinals have kinda sorta made improvements so far in 2019? Hard to tell for sure, but third place and still close to the top two makes for a successful month-plus so far.
They absolutely can never pitch to Yelich again, as he has become their arch nemesis, hitting home runs left and right, including having his first career three-home run game in their first series this season.
Jordan Hicks, Michael Wacha, and Miles Mikolas have all been solid arms for the Redbirds this year, and Goldschmidt would be getting more publicity if it was not for both Yelich and Cody Bellinger, as Goldy has had a very strong offensive start to the year.
Both the Pirates and Reds have interesting cores of players that they are building around for 2019, but unless a meteor hits or something else drastic happens, then they will be looking at the trade deadline as a rummage sale to get rid of their junk.
Predicted as a tough division to win coming into the year, the NL Central is finally at that point where it is getting very difficult to compete – a factor that looks to remain in place all the way through the remainder of the year.