Finally! The Cardinals open play in the NL Central division this weekend with a three-game series against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers.

To commemorate this important occasion, here’s a look at what’s been going on with the five NL Central teams over the first three weeks of the regular season.

The NL Central appears to be better than anticipated, but (all together now) it’s a wee early to be issuing proclamations. But we can get a sense of each team’s strengths, weaknesses and issues in baseball’s developing season.

In alphabetical order, here’s a capsule look at the five teams in the NL Central through Thursday. The projections and probabilities listed here are from FanGraphs. Runs scored and runs allowed are the rankings among the 15 National League teams.


Record: 11-6
Projected Record: 83-79
Division Title Probability: 26.4%
Postseason Probability: 44.6%
Runs Scored Per Game: 5.76 (2nd)
Runs Allowed Per Game: 4.29 (5th)
Run Differential: +25

Three Things:

1. Potent Offense: Only Atlanta and Baltimore have averaged more runs per game than the Brewers (5.76) this season. And the Crew leads the NL in home runs per game (1.41) and are first or second in batting average (.277), onbase percentage (.351), slugging (.445) and OPS +. There’s also an effective speed component, with Milwaukee stealing 24 bases in 28 attempts. The Brewers have eight hitters with an OPS+ that tops the100 league average: outfielder Christian Yelich (222), catcher William Contreras (191), shortstop Willy Adames (155), center fielder Blake Perkins (147), third baseman Joey Ortiz (138), second baseman Brice Turang (131) first baseman Rhys Hoskins (112), outfielder Sal Frelick (104). That is very impressive.

Milwaukee’s young phenom outfielder, Jackson Chourio, is still adjusting to going against major-league pitching for the first time. But this 20-year old clearly has abundant talent and should be a standout for years to come.

Timely hitting is a substantial part of Milwaukee’s success on offense. The Brewers are the best in the National League at hitting with runners in scoring position, batting .346 with a .905 OPS. The Brewers are 59 percent above league average offensively with RISP, per wRC+.

The Brewers have a prominent concern going forward: Yelich had to go to the IL with a lower back strain. And he has a history of back problems, so this is nothing to take lightly. In his 11 games before suffering the injury Yelich had five homers, was batting .333, put up a .422 onbase percentage, and slugged .744.

2. The Starting Pitching Is Doing Fine: It’s not easy for the Crew. The front office traded ace Corbin Burnes to Baltimore, Brandon Woodruff will miss the season while rehabbing his shoulder, and Wade Miley is on the IL after making just two starts in 2024. Despite the serious challenges, the Brewers have a respectable 4.16 starting pitching ERA that ranks 8th in the NL. The new ace is Freddy Peralta, and he has a tremendous 39.4 percent strikeout rate and 2.55 ERA in three starts. (He faces the Cardinals Friday night at Busch Stadium.) As for the rest of the rotation, Milwaukee is getting by with Colin Rea, Joe Ross, DL Hall, Bryse Wilson and Aaron Ashby. They’ve used eight different starters so far. Milwaukee’s staff is supported by an excellent defense that’s tied for second in the majors with +7 Outs Above Average.

3. The Bullpen Is Surviving: The Brewers had a tough break when their formidable closer, Devin Williams, suffered stress fractures in his back during spring training. The general expectation is that he will miss the first half of the season (and perhaps more.) That’s a huge loss, because the native St. Louisan is one of the best shutdown relievers in the game. But the bullpen has gotten at least one save from three different relievers – Abner Uribe, Joel Payamps and Thyago Vieira – and the overall ‘pen ERA (3.42) ranks fourth in the NL.

Summary: It’s been a positive launch for the Brewers, who have exceeded early expectations under manager Pat Murphy. He knows what he’s doing, and previously served as bench coach to the departed manager Craig Counsell. The Brewers are still winning games in that Brewer kind of way: 4-0 in one-run games, 8-4 against winning teams, and 7-2 on the road. They’re also No. 2 in the NL in run differential. But the Brewers rotation is vulnerable, and the bullpen is hardly a sure thing. The Yelich injury – if serious – could lower Milwaukee’s upside offensively. But the Brewers deserve a lot of credit for rallying and playing well after losing their manager, their No. 1 starting pitcher, and their elite closer.



Record: 9-10
Projected Record: 82-80
Division Title Probability: 21.4%
Postseason Probability: 38.6%
Runs Scored Per Game: 3.68 (t-13)
Runs Allowed Per Game: 4.16 (3)
Run Differential: minus 9

Three Things: 

1. Dormant, Depressing Offense: the Cardinals have scored three runs or fewer in 13 of their 19 games, the most in the NL second most overall. Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Jordan Walker have combined for only two home runs in 193 at-bats. The Cardinals are 14th in the NL in batting average and OPS and last in the NL with only 0.68 homers per game. Nolan Gorman has struck out in 35.5 percent of his plate appearances and has only one meaningful home run. Walker’s OPS+ is 47 percent below league average offensively and ranks 173rd among MLB hitters that have made at least 50 plate appearances so far.

At least the Cardinals have gotten positive, above-average offensive performances from Willson Contreras, Masyn Winn, Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar and Ivan Herrera. Arenado seems to be finding his swing. But Goldshmidt’s early-season signs of decline are alarming. His OPS+ is 52 percent below league average offensively and ranks 121st among the 126 hitters that have at least 70 plate appearances this season.

2. Effective Pitching: The Cardinals’ overall 3.85 ERA is fourth best in the NL, and the team is third in the league in run prevention. The starting pitching ERA (4.21) is down from the ghastly 5.08 in 2023. Led by closer Ryan Helsley, the St. Louis bullpen leads the National League in save rate (80%), is second in the NL in strikeout rate (28.1%) and third in ERA (3.27). But the Cardinals need a better performance from starting pitchers Miles Mikolas and Kyle Gibson; combined they’ve been blasted for 27 earned runs in 40 and ⅔ innings for a 5.97 ERA.

3. It’s Fundamental: The Cardinals lead the NL with seven defensive runs saved, lead the NL in extra bases taken (37) and are fifth in the NL in “runner runs” per Statcast. With a malingering offense, manager Oli Marmol has his team scratching out small-ball runs to filch some wins. And the Cardinals have sharpened and polished their fundamentals after the hazy mess of 2023. But the big bats have to show up, or it will be another lost season in St. Louis.

Summary: Given the condition of their decrepit offense, the Cardinals are fortunate to be 9-10. The pitching-defense and run prevention have given the Cardinals a chance to stay close until the offense reanimates.



Record: 11-7
Projected Record: 84-78
Division Title Probability: 30.9%
Postseason Probability: 49.9%
Runs Scored Per Game: 5.61 (3)
Runs Allowed Per Game: 4.78 (13)
Run Differential: +15

Three Things:

1. Starting Pitching, Good & Bad: The Cubs rank 12th in the NL with a rotation ERA of 4.37. Free-agent purchase Shota Imanaga has been brilliant, pitching 15 and ⅓ innings (three starts) without allowing an earned run. But the outstanding Justin Steele is on the IL with a strained hamstring. Jameson Taillon (back) hasn’t made a start this season but is about to return from the IL. There is legitimate concern over Kyle Hendricks (age 34) who had a 12.71 ERA in four starts. But there is hope in impressive rookie Ben Brown, a top prospect, who has an 0.84 ERA in two starts.

2. Too Many Giveaways: New manager Craig Counsell, who did a superb job of running his bullpen in Milwaukee, is still getting assimilated in Chicago. The Cubs have blown four leads, including an eight-run advantage earlier this week at Arizona. They’ve converted only 44 percent of their save opportunities, ranking 12th in the NL.

3. Instant Impact: This past offseason the Cubs acquired the young power hitter Michael Busch from the Dodgers. The trade looks great for Chicago. Busch has six homers, 13 RBIs, and is slugging .689. His early OPS+ is 89 percent above league average offensively. Busch, who bats left, seems likely to emerge in the NL’s Rookie of the Year discussion.

Busch’s presence has helped compensate for a slow start by Cody Bellinger, who is batting .200 with a .371 slug. The Cubs offense may slow down with right fielder Seiya Suzuki (oblique) on the IL. Before the injury he was batting .305 with a .525 slug and tied for the team lead at 13 RBIs.

Another issue is third base; the Cubs have gotten a .200 batting average and 59 wRC+ from the spot – which translates to 41 percent below league average offensively.

The Cubs, like the Brewers, are doing a superb job with runners in scoring position, generating a wRC+ that’s 45 percent above league average offensively in RISP situations.

Summary: The Cubs are dealing with some problems – injuries, bullpen, defense – but should settle down as Counsell gets a handle on his team. And Chicago has help on the way thanks to the No. 2 minor-league system as graded by MLB Pipeline. The Cubs are 5-1 at Wrigley Field this season and on Friday will open a seven-game homestand against Miami (4-15) and Houston (6-14).



Record: 11-8
Projected Record: 80-82
Division Title Probability: 11.9%
Postseason Probability: 24.6%
Runs Scored Per Game: 4.84 (8th)
Runs Allowed Per Game: 4.26 (4)
Run Differential: +11

Three Things:

1. Elevated By Starting Pitching: The Pirates rotation has a 3.40 ERA that ranks 3rd in the NL. There’s considerable excitement over rookie righthander Jared Jones, who has a 3.13 ERA and 36.4 percent strikeout rate in his first four big-league starts. Martin Perez (2.55 ERA) has been surprisingly good, Mitch Keller has a 3.53 fielding-independent ERA and Marco Gonzales (2.65 ERA) was thriving until going on the IL with a forearm strain. For now the Pirates are keeping top prospect Paul Skenes at Triple A Indianapolis. Skenes – a righthander who was the first overall pick in the 2023 draft – hasn’t allowed a run in 12 and ⅔ innings in Triple A and has struck out 27 of 47 batters faced for a preposterous strikeout rate of 57.4 percent. It’s only a matter of time before Skenes is promoted to the big club.

2. Offense. Defense. Struggling: After a fantastic start the Pirates were 2-6 in their last eight games leading into this weekend. In the eight games the Bucs averaged 3.2 runs and were held to three or fewer runs in all six losses. Pirates hitters are 13th in the NL in slugging and have the third-worst strikeout rate among NL teams. The dynamic shortstop talent, O’Neil Cruz, is off to a quiet start after missing all but a small fraction of last season with a broken leg. Catcher Henry Davis – the first overall pick in the 2021 draft – has done little offensively, hitting .173 with weak power. But this lineup does a good job of drawing walks and getting on base. Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Hayes, Edward Olivares and Connor Joe are all hitting above league average per OPS+. The Pirates are burdened by a substandard defense, ranking 14th in the NL and 29th overall in Outs Above Average (minus 10.)

3. Hazardous Bullpen: Pirates relievers have a 4.88 ERA (11th NL), have blown six leads and have locked in only 46 percent of their save opportunities. They have the most blown saves (7) in the National League. Closer David Bednar (13.50 ERA) has converted only two of five save opps, and free-agent acquisition Aroldis Chapman has walked five batters and given up three earned runs in his last three appearances. It could be worse; Pirates relievers have allowed only 25 percent of inherited runners to score.

Summary: The Pirates improved to 76 wins last season after finishing with less than 70 victories in their three previous full seasons. So progress is being made, the farm system ranks ninth, Skenes and Jones can be a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Better days are ahead. But in 2024, can the Pirates reach 80+ wins and have a winning season for the first time since 2018? To be determined.



Record: 9-9
Projected Record: 79-83
Division Title Probability: 9.3%
Postseason Probability: 19.6%
Runs Scored Per Game: 5.28 (5th)
Runs Allowed Per Game: 4.72 (12th)
Run Differential: +10

Three Things:

1. Power and Speed: The Reds have a lot of ways to score runs. They have power, ranking fifth in the majors in extra-base hits, ninth in slugging, and 10th in home runs per game. They lead the majors in stolen bases (34) and have succeeded on 81 percent of their steal attempts. Five of the Reds regular hitters are above the league average in OPS+, and third baseman Spencer Steer is crushing it with a .302 average, .571 slug and 18 RBIs. And the gifted shortstop Ely De La Cruz has five homers, a .356 OBP and .600 slug to go along with his seven stolen bases. The depth of the offense has enabled the Reds to overcome slow starts by second baseman Jonathan India, free-agent third baseman signee Jeimer Candelario and first baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand. (Plus the injury to infielder Matt McLain, who slugged .504 last season.)

2. Solid Starting Pitching?  We don’t know if this will last all season, but the Reds rank 5th in the NL with a 3.95 rotation ERA. Nick Lodolo just returned from his latest stint on the IL to pitch 5.2 shutout innings in his first start. This rotation has considerable upside with Lodolo, Hunter Greene, Frankie Montas, Andrew Abbott and Graham Ashcraft – but these guys have to stay healthy. Free-agent pickup Nick Martinez, filling in for Lodolo, had a 7.20 ERA in two starts and has been relocated to the bullpen.

The Reds bullpen is an issue. Their 4.69 ERA ranks 10th in the NL and a high walk rate (12.4%) is definitely a problem. The gang has done a good job of preventing inherited runners from scoring (only 19%) but closer Alexis Diaz has a 4.91 ERA and opponents have clobbered him for a 53 percent hard-hit rate. Free-agent reliever signee Emilio Pagan has a 5.14 ERA.

3. The Infield Defense Must Improve: Reds pitchers have allowed a .318 batting average on ground balls this season, by far the highest in the major leagues. Even worse is the ground-ball batting average (.343) against Cincinnati’s starting pitchers. The infielders just aren’t getting to enough grounders, and that’s a liability. On the other hand, the Reds outfield leads the NL with five defensive runs saved.

Summary: The Reds are 3-5 in their last eight games, but the offense should click at a high level all season. The question is pitching. (Isn’t it always?) The Cincinnati front office made several offseason upgrades to strengthen the pitching staff, but we aren’t sure if the durability will hold. The run-prevention concerns already have surfaced, and it won’t be easy to reverse the early trend.

Thanks for reading … have a wonderful weekend.


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.