It’s time for my first look–in of the season to see how the Brewers, Cubs, Pirates and Reds are doing early on. Here’s what you should know about the Cardinals’ division rivals. The stats cited here do not include Wednesday’s game.
1. Strong pitching: The Brewers lead the National League in run prevention, allowing only 3.17 runs per game. Despite injuries, the Milwaukee starters have the NL’s third-best ERA (3.61) And the bullpen is an early-season surprise, leading the NL with a 2.05 ERA.
2. Brian Anderson, signed as a buy-low bargain free agent, has boosted the Brewers offense with three homers, 15 RBI and a .468 slug. He’s played third base and right field. Jesse Winker, another prominent offseason acquisition, hasn’t ignited. He hasn’t homered and is slugging only .364.
3. Co-ace starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff will be sidelined for a significant length of time with Grade 2 shoulder strain. Woodruff suffered the injury in his start against the Cardinals during the first weekend of the season. “If this was something that happened midseason, all-star break, right before or after that time, I would probably end up being done, to be honest, for the season,” Woodruff said. For now, the Brewers will use righty Colin Rea in the rotation to replace Woodruff. Rea, 32, has pitched for the Padres, Marlins, Cubs and Brewers and has a career 4.85 ERA in 165 big-league innings.
4. Shortstop Willy Adames is the team’s best hitter, posting an OPS+ that puts him 32 percent above league average offensively. Adames has a .370 OBP, .485 slug, four homers and 12 RBI.
5. The Crew is playing exceptional defense, ranking second in the majors with 16 defensive runs saved.
Bonus note: In 34 plate appearances, St. Louisan Luke Voit is batting .273 with a .294 OBP and .303 slug. He has only one-extra base hit (a double) and three RBI. Will Voit’s power return?
1. The Cubs lead the National League in scoring, averaging 5.44 runs per game. They lead the NL with 22 stolen bases. They lead the league with a .320 average with runners in scoring position. They’re fourth in slugging. Chicago has the best starting-pitching ERA in the NL (2.74) and is ranked third in run prevention among NL teams allowing only 3.62 runs per game. Even though the Brewers have a better record, this is probably the most impressive early start by an NL Central team.
2. Shortstop Dansby Swanson, the big-ticket free-agent signing, is batting .344. He hasn’t homered yet, but is propelling the Chicago offense with a .420 onbase percentage. He’s tied for second among MLB shortstops with four defensive runs saved. Cubs players have praised Swanson for being a strong leader in the clubhouse.
3. Cody Bellinger is off to a terrific start, seemingly making a successful comeback from his steep decline while with the Dodgers. The center fielder is batting .302 with a .357 OBP and .492 slug. He has three homers and has knocked home 11 RBI.
4. Among NL hitters with at least 40 plate appearances, former Cardinals third-base prospect Patrick Wisdom leads the NL in slugging percentage (.754) and is tied with Pete Alonso for the most homers (8.) Wisdom’s 187 OPS+ makes him 87 percent above the league average offensively.
5. The Cubs have two of MLB’s finest starting pitchers in Marcus Stroman (0.75 ERA) and Justin Steele (1.42).
Bonus note: Outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who had a strained oblique, just returned from the IL. In his first five games Suzuki hit .350 with a .958 OPS.
1. The Pirates are doing a lot of things right. They’ve improved offensively, ranking sixth in the NL with an average of 4.72 runs per game. They’re fifth in the league with a .432 slugging percentage. They’re also sixth in the NL in run prevention, allowing 4.28 runs per game.
2. Unlike the Cardinals the Pirates are thriving when hitting with runners in scoring position: .283 average, .435 OBP, .435 slug and a .803 OPS. The Bucs are 15% above league average in their RISP performance. It’s been an important key to their success.
3. Outfielder Jack Suwinski is among the most underrated hitters in the NL. He’s slugging .647, has a fine (.350) onbase percentage and is hitting 67 percent above league average per OPS+. Suwinski ranks second in the majors with a 62.5% hard-hit rate. Offensively the Pirates’ outfield – led by Suwinski, Bryan Reynolds and Conor Joe – are No. 3 among NL outfield groups in park-and-league adjusted runs created.
4. Andrew McCutchen, 36, has made a wonderful homecoming return to Pittsburgh. The star of a Pirates team that made the playoffs in three straight years (2013-2015) McCutchen is batting .302 with a .418 OBP and .528 slug.
5. The Pirates suffered a terrible blow when the dynamic young shortstop O’Neil Cruz underwent ankle surgery in the second week of the season. He’ll miss several months.
Bonus note: David Bednar is one of the top closers in the majors. He has a 1.13 ERA in eight appearances and is averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
1. Cincinnati signed 23-year-old starting pitcher Hunter Greene to a six-year $53 million contract that includes a club option for 2029. Greene, one of the most gifted young starters in the majors, is still a work in progress. The hard-throwing righthander has a 4.42 ERA in 143 innings for the Reds over two seasons. He’s struck out 12 hitters per nine innings in the majors. The Reds have the makings of a potentially strong rotation in the form of Greene, Graham Ashcroft and Nick Lodolo. Former Cardinal starter Luke Weaver will make his first start of the season for the Reds on Thursday.
2. The Reds are surprisingly on the dormant side in the power game, ranking 13th in the NL with a .382 slugging percentage. They have only 15 home runs this season; among NL teams only Washington (8) has gone deep fewer times than the Reds.
3. So why do the Reds rank 5th in the NL with an average of 4.82 runs per game? Timely hitting. They’re third in the NL with a .825 OPS with runners in scoring position. And their .281 average with RISP ranks fourth. The Reds, Cubs and Diamondbacks are tied for the NL lead with 64 RBI with runners in scoring position. The Reds are tied for second in the NL in getting baserunners home, with a 34% run-scoring percentage. That’s nearly 10 percent better than St. Louis.
4. The Reds – once again – are horrendous defensively. They’re minus 11 defensive runs saved which ranks 28th in the majors.
5. Reds third baseman Spencer Steer is a pleasant early surprise, batting .320 with a .424 OBP and .520 slug. He’s 46% above league average offensively per OPS+. Other above-average hitters are outfielders T.J. Friedl (130 OPS+) and second baseman Jonathan India (124 OPS+.)
Bonus note: First baseman Joey Votto, 39, is in the final season of his massive contract with the Reds. He labored through injuries last season and had his worst year in the majors with a .205 batting average and an OPS+ that was 13 percent below league average. In August of 2022, Votto had surgery to repair his biceps and a torn rotator cuff in his left arm. He recently withdrew from an injury-rehab assignment at Triple A Louisville. He plans to regroup and try again.
“I think I’m doing really, really well. I have nothing but good things to say. I feel good,” Votto told The Athletic. “I’m bummed that I’m not back. It’s a little embarrassing interrupting an IL stint and pausing it, but it’s not a reflection on whether or not I’m getting better or whether or not I’ll play well in a Reds uniform. So, those are two separate things.”
Thanks for reading …
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During the season all of my baseball stats are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Statcast, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.