The NL Central not only produced three postseason teams in 2015, but the three best records in the MLB belonged to the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs. The Cardinals won the NL Central, and it took all of 100 wins to do so. The Pirates are in the postseason for the third consecutive season, but they will face the Cubs in the wild-card game. The Cubs are in the postseason for the first time since 2008.
As good as the top three teams in the NL Central were, that is just how bad the two bottom teams were. The Brewers and Reds were out of contention before the All-Star break, and sold away some big parts at the trade deadline. Both teams lost 90+ games, and will have to do some major retooling to compete again in the near future.
|St. Louis Cardinals*||100-62||–|
|Pittsburgh Pirates*||98-64||2.0 GB|
|Chicago Cubs*||97-65||3.0 GB|
|Milwaukee Brewers||68-94||32.0 GB|
|Cincinnati Reds||64-98||36.0 GB|
*clinched playoff berth
The Cubs are back in the postseason for the first time since 2008. The Cubs finished with an impressive 97 wins, a mark that would win the division most years. The Cubs improved by 23 wins from last season. The Cubs certainly were blessed with a lot of talent on the field, but that talent was able to bloom a little sooner than expected largely in part to new manager Joe Maddon. He came in, and on day one he had the Cubs believing they could reach the postseason.
The Cubs were lead by a likely NL Cy Young finalist Jake Arrieta. He finished 2015 with a 1.77 ERA and 2.35 FIP in 33 starts. Arrieta posted an unbelievable 0.75 ERA in the second half. Jon Lester was supposed to be the Cubs ace after signing a big contract in the off-season. Lester will be the Cubs #2 starter in the postseason, but that isn’t because he wasn’t great. Lester posted a 3.34 ERA and 2.92 FIP in 32 starts for the Cubs.
The Cubs offense was lead Anthony Rizzo and two rookies. Rizzo hit 31 bombs and posted a 146 wRC+. Kris Bryant came up with all the hype anyone could possibly imagine, and he didn’t disappoint one bit. Bryant posted a 134 wRC+ and 6.2 fWAR in 150 games. He will likely win the NL Rookie of the Year. Kyle Schwarber was the fourth overall pick in 2014, but he didn’t come up with quite the same hype as Bryant. Schwarber was incredible though, hitting 16 HR in 69 games, while posting a 131 wRC+.
The Cubs will play the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night at PNC Park in the NL Wild Card game. They have to feel good with Jake Arrieta on the mound. The Cubs hitters will have a tough matchup against Gerrit Cole though. Cole posted a 2.13 ERA, with 32 K and 4 BB in 4 starts this season against the Cubs.
Player of the Year: Jake Arrieta: 33 GS, 1.77 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 7.3 fWAR
Biggest Surprise: Kyle Schwarber: .246/.355/.487, 16 HR, 131 wRC+, 1.8 fWAR
Biggest Disappointment: Starlin Castro: .267/.298/.378, 81 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR
The Brewers got off to an incredible start last year, only to have a major collapse. In 2015, the collapse happened at the very beginning of the season. The Brewers went 5-17 in April, and they were already 10 games back on April 25th. The Brewers fired manager Ron Roenicke on May 3rd, and that signaled the beginning of a rebuild. He was replaced by first time manager and former Brewer Craig Counsell.
The Brewers made a big trade deadline deal by sending Carlos Gomez and Mike Firers to the Astros. They also sent Gerardo Parra to the Orioles, and Aramis Ramirez to the Pirates. In early August, GM Doug Melvin stepped down as well. He was replaced by Harvard grad David Stearns.
The Brewers played alright in the middle of the season. They went 14-14 in June, and 13-12 in July. The Brewers however finished the season by going 6-17.
The Brewers didn’t have one great offensive player, but they did have a trio of solid performers in Adam Lind (120 wRC+), Ryan Braun (129 wRC+), and Kris Davis (121 wRC+). The Brewers had disappointing seasons from starters Jonathan Lucroy (94 wRC+), Scooter Gennett (77 wRC+), and Jean Segura (62 wRC+).
Starting pitchers Kyle Lohse (5.85 ERA) and Matt Garza (5.63 ERA) were counted on to be a big part of the Brewers rotation, and they were really bad. Rookie Taylor Jungmann (3.77 ERA, 3.92 FIP) was a bright spot for the Brewers rotation, even though he struggled in his last few starts.
Player of the Year: Ryan Braun: .285/.356/.498, 25 HR, 129 wRC+, 2.8 fWAR
Biggest Surprise: Taylor Jungmann: 21 GS, 3.77 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 1.6 fWAR
Biggest Disappointment: Kyle Lohse: 22 GS, 37 G, 5.85 ERA, 5.12 FIP, 0.0 fWAR
The Pirates are back in the playoffs for a third consecutive year. The Pirates gave the Cardinals a late run at the NL Central title, but instead, they will host the NL Wild Card game for a third straight year.
For the Pirates it was mostly all about the great pitching. The Pirates ranked second in the MLB in both ERA (3.25) and FIP (3.37). The three-headed monster in the rotation was outstanding for the Bucs: Gerrit Cole (2.60 ERA, 2.66 FIP), A.J. Burnett (3.18 ERA, 3.36 FIP), and Francisco Liriano (3.38 ERA, 3.19 FIP). That rotation got another boast when they added J.A. Happ at the trade deadline. All he did in 11 starts was post a 1.85 ERA.
The Pirates bullpen was great too. They had an MLB best 2.69 ERA. The pen was led by closer Mark Melancon, who posted a 2.23 ERA and 2.82 FIP in 76.2 innings. Melancon was 51 for 53 in save chances. Tony Watson (1.94 ERA, 2.84 FIP), Jared Hughes (2.28 ERA, 3.81 FIP), and Antonio Bastardo (2.98 ERA, 3.33 FIP) helped anchor the best bullpen in baseball. They got help at the trade deadline by acquiring Joakim Soria (2.10 ERA, 2.05 FIP) and the surprising Joe Blanton (1.57 ERA, 2.12 FIP).
The Pirates offense was lead once again by Andrew McCutchen (.294/.404/.491, 23 HR, 148 wRC+, 5.8 fWAR). They also got major contributions from Francisco Cervelli (118 wRC+, 3.6 fWAR) and Starling Marte (117 wRC+, 3.5 fWAR). The biggest surprise however was their off-season signing from South Korea, Jung-ho Kang. He hit .287/.355/.461 with 15 HR and 3.9 fWAR. However, the Pirates suffered a big blow late in the season when Kang went down for the year with an injury.
The Pirates will start Gerrit Cole in the wild-card game. Last year, the Pirates couldn’t use Cole in the game because they used him in the final game of the regular season to try to win the division. This year they will have their ace ready to go against the Cubs.
Player of the Year: Andrew McCutchen: .294/.404/.491, 23 HR, 148 wRC+, 5.8 fWAR
Biggest Surprise: Jung-ho Kang: .287/.355/.461, 15 HR, 130 wRC+, 3.9 fWAR
Biggest Disappointment: Josh Harrison: .283/.324/.382, 4 HR, 97 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals won 100 games for the first time since 2005, and captured their third consecutive NL Central title. It didn’t come easy for the Cardinals. They battled injury, after injury, after injury. The Cardinals lost for at least a good portion of the season: Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Jon Jay, and Jamie Garcia. They also lost Carlos Martinez and Yadier Molina at the end of the year, plus had multiple other short-term injuries down the stretch.
The Cardinals overcame all those injury by having one of the greatest pitching staffs of all-time. They allowed two or fewer runs 80 times, which is the most by any club since the 1972 Orioles. The Cardinals 2.92 team ERA was by far the best in baseball. Four of the Cardinals main five starters in 2015 (Martinez, Lynn, Lackey, Garcia) had an ERA below 3.06. The other starter was Michael Wacha, who finished the year with a 3.38 ERA, but that skyrocketed late in the year. His ERA was only 2.96 entering September.
The Cardinals mix and match lineup was just about league average, but it was enough with their great pitching. Their lineup was lead by off-season acquisition Jason Heyward (120 wRC+, 6.0 fWAR), Matt Carpenter (139 WRC+, 5.2 WAR), and rookie Randal Grichuk (138 wRC+, 3.1 fWAR). The Cardinals got big production down the stretch from rookies Stephen Piscotty (137 wRC+) and Thomas Pham (123 wRC+).
The Cardinals will face the winner of the Pirates-Cubs wild-card game. You have to wonder if the injury-ridden season will catch up with the Cardinals, but they seem to be relatively the most healthy they have been all year entering the playoffs.
Player of the Year: Jason Heyward: .292/.358/.439, 13 HR, 120 wRC+, 6.0 fWAR
Biggest Surprise: Stephen Piscotty: .310/.365/.502, 7 HR, 137 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR
Biggest Disappointment: Yadier Molina: .270/.310/.350, 4 HR, 80 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR
Players of the Year
Pitcher: Jake Arrieta, Cubs: 33 GS, 1.77 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 7.3 fWAR
Batter: Joey Votto, Reds: .314/.459/.541, 29 HR, 172 wRC+, 7.4 fWAR
All statistics include games played through 10/3/15 or 10/4/15, and used courtesy of Fangraphs, ESPN Stats and Info, and Baseball-Reference (including Baseball-Reference Play Index).