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What insiders like -- and don't -- in NL Central

@AdamMcCalvy
May 9, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- The last time the Brewers met the Cubs at Wrigley Field, it was winner take all in the National League Central. They’ll meet again on Friday at Wrigley Field with first place up for grabs in a division every bit as competitive as everyone expected going into the

MILWAUKEE -- The last time the Brewers met the Cubs at Wrigley Field, it was winner take all in the National League Central.

They’ll meet again on Friday at Wrigley Field with first place up for grabs in a division every bit as competitive as everyone expected going into the season. The Brewers, Cardinals and Cubs are bunched at the top, with the Pirates and Reds within striking distance as teams begin to reach the quarter pole of the regular season.

“It’s all bunched up. It’s all competition,” said Brewers veteran Gio Gonzalez, who gets the ball on Friday afternoon opposite fellow southpaw José Quintana. “You’ve got a hell of a division.”

Is Gonzalez excited to take part in what should be a charged series?

“Just being able to pitch on big league soil is enough for me,” said Gonzalez, who didn’t sign with Milwaukee until two weeks ago. “It’s not about that more sentimental stuff. I get to pitch against a big league team, and that’s all I’m thinking about.”

Here’s what some outside observers are thinking about this division so far:

Brewers

What they like: “I think they’ll hit just fine. Jesús Aguilar is starting to hit. I still think Travis Shaw will start to hit. The cream rises to the top, and offensively, that’s what I think you’ll see. I actually think that by the end, they’ll be really good.” -- AL scout

What they don't: “Their big problem has been the starting pitching. Those guys have to start giving them some quality starts. They’re stretching themselves in the bullpen right now, and that’s going to really tax Josh Hader and make him come in earlier and more often than he needs to come in. Brandon Woodruff [who delivered a quality start with a career-high nine strikeouts in Wednesday’s win over the Nationals] has big upside. Once he gets more innings at the big league level, he’s going to be pretty good. But the rotation and middle bullpen has to come up, or they’re going to wear out Hader by the All-Star break. Those fastballs he’s using 80-90 percent of the time are going to start getting driven out, because if they keep using him for these two-inning stints, his frame just doesn’t hold up all that energy he has to spend.” -- AL scout

Cardinals

What they like: "From an offensive standpoint, they seem to have some guys that barrel balls up consistently throughout the lineup, all the way down. I don't see too many guys punching out a lot. Right now, that bullpen is pretty good. John Gant's stepped up his game. And, like anybody, they're going to go as far as their starting rotation takes them." -- NL coach

What they don't: "They may have a tendency to walk some guys out of that bullpen. And I think the starters can be a bit nibbly around the zone. If you get a patient lineup, you can get some walks. And then they have to rely on some offspeed and hang some stuff. I think the walks could be an issue if those guys nibble around the zone against a lineup that can command the strike zone better than other teams." -- NL coach

Cubs

What they like: “The resurgence of Quintana to go with Cole Hamels and Jon Lester at the top of the rotation makes for a formidable group. And even with the injury to Brandon Morrow, Pedro Strop [who went on the injured list on Wednesday] has so far been enough to handle the ninth. The emergence of Jason Heyward contributing offensively and the growth of Willson Contreras has made it so that there is no time off in that lineup. They’re clicking on all cylinders right now.” -- NL scout

What they don't: “They need to stay healthy because their depth is on the their team. They are really deep one through 25, but not so much below that. Also, if there’s going to be a trouble spot, it’s going to be building that bridge to the closer.” -- NL scout

Pirates

What they like: “I really like their starting pitching. The injuries [to Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer] are tough, because that’s the strength of their team. Joe Musgrove just competes, Trevor Williams knows how to pitch. You could do a lot worse than Jordan Lyles as a No. 5. And how about Josh Bell? It’s still early, but he looks like the real deal right now. Felipe Vázquez is off to a great start.” -- AL scout

What they don’t: “I would have definite concern about their offense -- just don’t see enough impact bats to hang in their division. Jung Ho Kang will run into a few homers, but he’s hurting them with all those strikeouts. They need Gregory Polanco to get hot like he did last year, and they need Bell to stay hot. They need to get healthy, stay healthy and have a lot of things go right. They’re kind of stuck in that dreaded no man’s land.” -- NL scout

Reds

What they like: “The one thing that has surprise me is their starting pitching has really been pretty good. When I saw them in Spring Training, I thought they may score a bunch of runs but also give up a bunch of runs, and actually, it’s been a surprise how good the starting pitching has been. Sonny Gray has gotten back to throwing his curveball instead of so many sliders. That’s the pitch he feels comfortable with.” -- AL scout

What they don’t like: Their bullpen and their offense have been mysteries. I think the offense will come around, but when that happens, I don’t know. Joey Votto and some of the guys you count on really aren’t producing right now. They thought Matt Kemp was going to come in and provide some juice, but he didn’t do anything. Now they’re going to their young kids. And the pitching, Raisel Iglesias is a real question mark. I think their goal is to call up these young hitters, go with the core young guys, and try to make it happen in that small ballpark." -- AL scout

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.