It’s not easy to follow 30 teams. It’s natural, as a fan, to see a guy have some rough numbers early in the year, file it away in the back of your mind, and just have that perception for the rest of the year. “Oh, him? Yeah, he’s having a bad year.”
Sometimes, though, those players dig out. Good players, after all, tend to remain good players. So this week in the National League Central notebook, we take a look at a few guys who may be doing better than you were aware. Maybe they’ve come on strong after a slow start, or maybe they’ve just been quietly steady all year. But they’re all contributing.
Brewers: Gio Gonzalez
Gonzalez unfortunately hasn’t pitched a lot, missing 7 1/2 weeks with an injury. But when he’s taken the mound, he’s been excellent for a team that has desperately needed it. And he’s done it in a different way than you may be used to. Gonzalez has led his league in walks twice, and issued 80 free passes in 171 innings last year. This year, he’s throwing strikes. Gonzalez has issued 13 walks in 45 2/3 innings. He hasn’t walked more than three batters in a start yet, and he has walked more than two batters only twice. What seemed like little more than a desperate flyer for the Brewers has turned out quite well.
Cardinals: Jack Flaherty
With yet another superb start on Wednesday, Flaherty is now working on a month straight of excellence -- 49 K's, 10 walks and a 0.94 ERA over his last six starts. But you can go back much farther and still see a long run of quality. Dating back to when his ERA peaked at 5.25 in late April, he has a 3.36 ERA, 118 strikeouts, and 36 walks. For the season as a whole, his 150 K's ranked 10th in the NL as of Wednesday afternoon. Flaherty hasn’t reached the game-in, game-out level of the game’s very best, but his top end is as good as just about anybody, and he’s hitting it more and more often.
Cubs: Yu Darvish
It seems like any time Darvish puts together a couple of good starts, there’s a rush to say that he’s “back.” And it may be unfair to Darvish to expect that he’ll ever be the guy who posted the sub-3.00 ERA and led the American League in strikeouts in 2013. He’s pushing 33 and has had multiple operations on his elbow.
It’s not just a couple of starts. And he’s not just missing bats, he’s throwing strikes. Darvish hasn’t issued more than two walks in a start since June 5. Over his last nine starts, he has 68 K's and seven walks. Over his last 12, he's recorded 82 strikeouts and 13 walks, with a 3.55 ERA. He’s been too susceptible to the long ball, but overall he’s pitching quite well since a brutal start to the season, and he’s a big part of the Cubs’ optimism as the pennant race heats up.
Pirates: Bryan Reynolds
The rookie outfielder didn’t get off to a slow start. He just wasn’t in the Major Leagues. Acquired in the Andrew McCutchen trade, Reynolds hit throughout the Minors but seemed more like a high-floor, low-ceiling player than anything to get excited about. He’s kept hitting in the Majors, though, and maybe it’s time to start getting excited.
Reynolds has consistently been a .300-plus hitter, and he’s at .335 this year. He has moderate power and a decent grasp of the strike zone. It’s been a disappointing year in Pittsburgh, but Reynolds has been a nice surprise.
Reds: Eugenio Suárez
The slugger came out of the gate a bit slow, hitting .230 in March/April, and after a strong May, endured a really rough June. He’s been torrid since late June, though, and overall is quietly enjoying yet another excellent season. Suarez has already reached 30 homers for the second straight season, and his .523 slugging is right in line with last year. His batting average is down a bit, but he’s still taking his walks at a decent clip while blasting dingers and playing an adequate third base. Suarez is nobody’s idea of a superstar, but he’s a very good player having another very good year.