Pittsburgh Pirates Should Go for Broke Because NL Central Is Down, Or Is It?
By Joe Luchok
All-Star Guest Poster
As the Pittsburgh Pirates open the biggest series they have had in many years, I have read numerous claims that the National League Central Division is in a down year. That has been repeated so much it seems to have been accepted as truth. The question is, it really a down year in the Central?
Two of the best records in baseball are in the NL Central with the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. The third place St. Louis Cardinals would be tied for first in the NL West. The top three teams in the NL Central have combined for 180 wins, while the top three in the NL East have 171, and the top three in the NL West have 166.
Maybe the weak are so bad because the top teams are beating up on them? The Pirates have only played 44 of 104 games against the NL Central, and some of those games were against the Reds and Cards. The white-hot Reds have only played 41 games against the NL Central.
Maybe people think the division is weak because the Milwaukee Brewers are weaker than they have been. The Brew Crew may be weaker, but the Pirates are stronger. Last year on August 2, 2011 the top team in the NL Central had a lower winning percentage than either the Pirates or Reds have today, while the last place Astros had a lower winning percentage last season than they have this season.
The Cardinals also have a higher winning percentage than they had on this date last season as well as the best run differential in baseball at +102.
As Brian O’Neill of the Post-Gazette wrote today, “Here are your top four major-league slash lines, ranked by slugging, since June 7:
Andrew McCutchen .415/.473/.699
Matt Holliday .395/.475/.695
Michael McKenry .333/.389/.692
Ryan Ludwick .312/.371/.681”
Notice anything? All four play sluggers play in the NL Central.
There’s no doubt there is a great deal of talent in the NL Central. The division is home to the league’s top batting average, the top two and four of the top five in homeruns, top three in RBI, and three of the top five pitchers in wins, and four of the top five in Wins Above Replacement.
Maybe people think the NL Central is down because the Pirates are up. The Pirates played well until late July last season so it should not be unexpected that they would play well this season.
I have no idea how the remainder of the season will turn out, but there is no statistical evidence showing the NL Central is having a down season.