With two and a half weeks left in the season, the National League Central is still up for grabs. The Brewers are a game back of the Cubs after taking Wednesday's finale with a 5-1 win at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals remain 3 1/2 games back, with five series to
With two and a half weeks left in the season, the National League Central is still up for grabs. The Brewers are a game back of the Cubs after taking Wednesday's finale with a 5-1 win at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals remain 3 1/2 games back, with five series to play, including six games against the Brewers and Cubs.
This can all change quickly. The NL Central is one of two divisions in baseball -- along with the NL West -- with three potential playoff teams vying for spots. It's high drama every night.
This week in our divisional notebook, we're exploring the one number that best explains why and how each team is where it is now. These stats are meant to serve as a snapshot of how the team got here, and how far it can potentially go in the weeks to come.
The number: 11 fWAR
What it means: The combined Wins Above Replacement total for Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, who, by any calculation, rank as two of the best position players in the NL this season. The number 11 comes from FanGraphs, which has Cain and Yelich tied for first in WAR. Baseball-Reference.com has Cain first and Yelich fourth. Either way, the point remains: Milwaukee added two of the best players in baseball last offseason to be difference-makers, and they have been just that. Yelich and Cain are at the core of what's different this year for the Brewers, who are in a strong position to at least make the NL Wild Card Game. Last year, they missed the lottery by a single game.
The number: 10
What it means: The number of consecutive series wins the Cardinals rattled off over a span of six weeks, a franchise record. In August, they didn't lose a series -- a stretch that included sweeps of the Royals and Dodgers -- and spring-boarded back into the NL postseason picture. The historic success came right after the insertion of a new voice, and spoke to the club's near-immediate turnaround under then-interim manager Mike Shildt. It then prompted St. Louis to remove the interim tag from Shildt's title just 38 games into his new assignment. Shildt's 34-19 record thus far comes with another significant number: 33. That's the victories the Cards have racked up since the All-Star break, and it leads the NL.
The number: .559
What it means:Javier Baez's slugging percentage, tops in the NL. The number sits at the heart of Baez's NL Most Valuable Player Award candidacy, and it speaks to the degree that he's broken out in his age-25 season. Baez has been a Swiss Army knife in the field for the Cubs this season and one of baseball's best defenders.
What's different in 2018 is Baez's offensive production and how consistent and prolific it's been. Behind 30 home runs, 36 doubles and 100 RBIs, he has anchored a lineup that's had to endure long stretches without Kristopher Bryant, a slow start from Anthony Rizzo, and a team-wide struggle to hit with runners in scoring position. The Cubs maintain their grip atop the division largely because of his bat.
The number: -3
What it means: It's the Pirates' run differential after Wednesday's win over the Cardinals, which brought the Bucs back to within a game of .500. If they get there again, it'll be the 10th time this season, and it'll likely yo-yo their run differential back to into the positive, continuing a back-and-forth that's persisted all summer. And that's the point: The Pirates have played at times like one of the Majors' best teams (April through mid-May), and at other times, like one of the Majors' worst (late May to early July).
But at the end of the day, the Bucs are what their record and run differential say they are: an average team.
The number: 5.20
What it means: The combined ERA of Cincinnati's starting staff, the highest in the NL. Those struggles -- from a mixed bag of veterans, young arms and one reclamation project -- have largely negated the work of an offense that includes some of the NL's top hitters. And they've gone a long way toward securing what will be the Reds' fourth straight fifth-place finish in the Central.
For the groundswell of goodwill Matt Harvey seemed to garner since the Mets sent him to Cincy, he's been a slightly below league-average pitcher across 21 starts with the Reds. Anthony DeSclafani and Luis Castillo regressed, while Robert Stephenson's progression flatlined. Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano have pitched like young pitchers in a hitter's ballpark. Then there is Homer Bailey, who is making $21 million this season and is signed through 2019. Cincinnati is 1-19 in games he's started.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.