5 pressing questions in the NL Central

September 6th, 2018

Down the stretch they come in the National League Central, with 3 1/2 weeks remaining in the regular season, three teams hunting for October and everyone facing a critical question as they play toward the finish line.

Here's a stroll around the division, with one question for each club:


The question: Can this starting rotation close the deal?

"The Brewers need another starter" has been said so much it might as well have been the franchise's tagline, and that chorus grew louder after GM David Stearns didn't acquire a starting pitcher at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, then watched Milwaukee's starters log a 4.87 ERA in August, better than only the Padres and Reds among NL clubs. But Milwaukee got right-hander back from shoulder and back injuries on Labor Day, just after it traded with Washington for left-hander . Gonzalez has a 6.55 ERA since the All-Star break, but the Brewers, who sit in NL Wild Card position, are banking that a change of scenery will help beginning Saturday when he makes his Milwaukee debut against the Giants.


The question: Can closer by committee work?

A one-man job for most of the year, the ninth inning for the Cardinals is now a revolving door. This after two meltdowns by led to what may end up being the defining decision of manager Mike Shildt's first year on the job: to go with a closer-by-committee down the stretch. Shildt's soft removal of Norris -- he will still see some save chances, but also pitch the eighth -- paves the way for and , both of whom earned saves this week in Norris's place. Shildt plans to deploy the three based on matchups, situations and availability, citing this flexibility as an asset. But will it work?



The question: Can Chicago cover 's absence?

Manager Joe Maddon conceded this week that Morrow is running out of time to recover from the right biceps injury that has sidelined him since July 18. That means will be the primary closer, and Maddon will mix and match with a bullpen corps that also includes former closers , and , plus with his closer-like stuff. But there's no or to call upon.

"When you have an anchor, that one guy at the end who can get the three-plus outs, you can manage the game differently," Maddon said. "It's like how we used Wade last year in Washington. If you don't have that, you have to manipulate it. Does it become more difficult? It probably does. But it can be done."


The question: Is ready for the shortstop job?

This month is a sneak preview of next season for the Pirates, who expect to bring back their entire rotation and bullpen and most of their lineup. They would like to see improvement from first baseman Josh Bell and third baseman -- a combination of the power they showed last season and the on-base ability they've proven this year -- but they need to see what they have in Newman, a former first-round Draft pick and the likely heir apparent to pending free agent . It hasn't been a smooth start for Newman, who was 4-for-35 with a critical error at second base in his first 14 games, but the Bucs believe he will become good.


The question: Will Jim Riggleman be back as manager?

Scooter Gennett's bid for the batting title is worth watching, but the Reds' biggest question concerns who will be at the helm come 2019. Despite a slew of injuries, Cincinnati has been better under Riggleman (56-66) than it was under predecessor Bryan Price, and that includes a 1-14 record when high-priced right-hander Homer Bailey starts games. The Reds draw the contending Dodgers, Cubs and Brewers over the next two weeks, then finish against the Marlins on the road and the Royals and Pirates at home, so the schedule sets up favorably for a strong finish. Would it be enough to land Riggleman in the manager's office on a permanent basis?