The National League Central race saw little in the way of movement in the second full week of the season. There were some standout pitching performances as well as some less than desirable results at the plate, with every team struggling to find a groove with the lumber. When all was said and done, the division was home to both the best record in the major leagues as well as the worst. Here is the weekly roundup from top-to-bottom for the week of Aug. 3 through Aug. 9.
1. Chicago Cubs (10-3), Division Leader
Last week: 3-1
The Cubs are behind the pace thanks to the postponement of their weekend series with the Cardinals due to the pandemic, but currently own the majors’ best winning percentage at .769. You would have to call it a successful week for Chicago after taking the first three games of a four-game set (2 home, 2 away) against the Royals and then having three days off over the weekend. They will likely want to clear their heads and address some issues in the batter’s box after hitting a very un-Cublike .236 in the series and striking out a whopping 42 times in 127 at-bats. The story of the series was the starting pitching. Alec Mills, Kyle Hendricks, and Yu Darvish each went seven innings and gave up a combined three runs in their starts. Just as they were looking at the possibility of a sweep, Tyler Chatwood was blown up in the finale.
Stud of the Week: Mills/Hendricks/Darvish
When your first three starters for a series have a combined 1.29 ERA and each get a win in the process, you are going to win a lot of games. The Royals were helpless.
Dud of the Week: Chatwood
Although the entire Cubs offense was dud-worthy, it is pretty much impossible to overlook Chatwood’s start. He made it through 2 1/3 innings and was beat up to the tune of 11 hits and eight earned runs en route to a 13-2 loss. It is safe to say his name will not likely appear here again anytime soon.
The Cubs will play two games at Cleveland (10-7), and Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger will not make his scheduled start after violating COVID-19 protocol over the weekend. Chicago will then return home for four division games against the Brewers (6-7) at Wrigley Field.
2. Milwaukee Brewers (6-7), 4 GB
Last week: 3-4
The Brewers split the home-and-home series with the Chicago White Sox, losing the first two at home and then taking the second pair in Chicago. They followed that up by dropping two division games to the Reds but finishing as 9-3 winners in the finale. They won the last game of each series with a combined score of 17-6. As was the case across the division last week, Milwaukee’s offense trudged along with little consistency, but they scored enough to stay in games and had some big at-bats from Christian Yelich, Jedd Gyorko, and Justin Smoak. Brandon Woodruff pitched well in a two-start week, holding Chicago and Cincinnati each to two runs but did not earn a decision in either game, the second of which due to struggles with the pitch count which limited him to four innings. 27-year-old Adrian Houser had his second straight excellent start, this time hurling seven scoreless innings in a 1-0 win against the White Sox.
Stud of the Week: Christian Yelich
Yelich has had a rotten start out of the gate, batting sub-.100 until the last seven days. He seems to have begun the trek to turning those fortunes around, with six hits in 20 at-bats, eight walks, three homers, and six RBI last week.
Dud of the Week: Brett Anderson
In fairness, Anderson was just activated before his two-start week. That said, the veteran lefthander who experienced a renaissance in 2019 is off to a rough beginning after lasting a combined 6 2/3 innings and giving up 5 runs on 120 pitches.
The Brewers host Minnesota (11-6) for three games and then head to Chicago for a four-game divisional set against the Cubs (10-3). In a short season, the importance of these seven games against division leaders cannot be understated. Milwaukee will hope for a boost from Ryan Braun in his return from the IL, as well as Luis Urias who will make his Brewers debut.
3. Cincinnati Reds (7-9), 4.5 GB
Last week: 3-4
Cincinnati got off to the week on the right foot, taking the first game of a home-and-home series with Cleveland before losing the following three, in which they were dominated by the Indians’ pitching. They followed with a trip to Milwaukee, where they won two before losing the final game of the series and headed into a day off on Monday. The song remained the same for the Reds as the starting rotation remained one of the best (as they have been thus far this season), but their inability to score in clutch situations eventually cost them. Sprinkle in a few meltdowns from the bullpen (a familiar refrain in 2020) and it was a disappointing week for fans. Mike Moustakas has landed on the IL after being hit by a pitch on Tuesday. Nick Senzel and Pedro Strop were both sidelined with groin issues, and the depth has been exposed in their absence. None of the injuries are considered serious, but the team was lucky to escape the week without losing much more ground.
Stud of the Week: Jesse Winker
There were several candidates here, but if the Reds want to get things going, they need Winker to hit and he might be turning a corner. He finished the week 9-20 (.450) with two doubles, a homer, two RBIs and three runs scored.
Dud of the Week: Michael Lorenzen
Lorenzen has been one of the most stable forces in the Reds’ pen for several years. 2020 has been much different and last week was par for the season as he tossed 2 2/3 innings with five hits, four walks, and five earned runs while yielding a .500 BAbip and a 1.029 OPS.
After the off day on Monday, Cincinnati hopes to capitalize on a six-game homestand featuring Kansas City for two and four matchups with division foe Pittsburgh. Wade Miley is expected to rejoin the rotation on Wednesday, meaning Tyler Mahle and possibly Tejay Antone could move into bullpen roles for added flexibility.
4. St. Louis Cardinals (2-3), 4 GB
Last week: N/A
The Cardinals have not played a baseball game since July 29, and games continue to be postponed as new positive tests for COVID-19 continue to crop up intermittently. As it stands now, they have 45 days to play 57 games and already have 4 double-headers scheduled in September and five games that have not even been rescheduled to this point. Calling it absurd to think they will play 60 games would be an understatement. At some point, baseball is going to need to figure out a fair way to handle this. They cannot simply forfeit games because giving the opposing teams free wins is not fair to the teams that play all 60, while just ignoring the games entirely could cause a massive discrepancy in win percentages. One thing is for sure: MLB will need a plan sooner than later.
Stud of the Week: Nobody
Dud of the Week: Everybody
The Monday through Wednesday series with Pittsburgh has already been postponed, as has the scheduled double-header (a make-up) on Thursday. If they right the ship, they could potentially return on Friday in Chicago to take on the White Sox in a three-game series.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates (3-13), 8.5 GB
Last week: 1-6
The Pirates started off the week with a home-and-home series with the Twins, losing two in Minnesota and splitting 1-1 at home before remaining in the friendly confines to host the Detroit Tigers, who swept them 3-0. As is the theme in the NL Central for the week, the bats were largely silent. The Pirates did break out for 13 runs in the opener of the Detroit series (a loss) but were not much help when they managed just 21 runs and a .674 OPS in the other six matchups. The Pirates do not have the pitching that some of their divisional counterparts have and were under pressure most of the time, allowing 50 runs in 7 games. Derek Holland was shelled for 13 runs over two starts including giving up four home runs in the first 11 pitches of the game against the Tigers on Saturday. The lone bright spot for the staff came when Trevor Williams fired seven innings of three hit, one run baseball only to take his third loss of the season.
Stud of the Week: Phillip Evans
One of the more productive players at the plate last week went 8-20 (.400) with a home run, seven RBIs and five runs scored. Unfortunately, this is a bittersweet nod as his week (and likely season) ended Saturday after a collision with Gregory Polanco where he suffered a concussion and a broken jaw. He was placed on the 45-day injured list.
Dud of the Week: Miguel Del Pozo
Del Pozo has already been optioned to the team’s alternate training site after his performance last week. When the team is not doing well, if you have got a lead, you need to protect it and Del Pozo was ineffective in that role. In three appearances he blew two saves, giving up three runs (and another 4 runs on inherited runners) in three innings and was allowing opponents to hit .385 against him.
The Pirates get the first three days of the week off due to the postponement of a series in St. Louis and will travel to Cincinnati to take on division rival Reds for four games beginning Thursday.
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