National League Central Standings: Cubs struggling but still in the hunt
Sam Navarro - USA Today Sports

National League Central Standings: Cubs struggling but still in the hunt

by - Staff Writer -

The 2023 regular season is now underway, and what an exciting start to the year it has been. Baseball has undergone some rule changes to speed up the game and increase action, but there has been no shortage of storylines in the league and the NL Central so far this season.

Vegas picked the Cardinals as the favorite to win a division featuring a lot of roster movement over winter and Spring. However, as has been the trend over the last few seasons, the NL Central is not cramped with competitiveness like some of the other divisions have proven to be.

At the very least, this division is loaded with talent throughout. Another week has come and gone in the season, and we are almost through May — we at CUBSHQ are here to break down the action of the NL Central periodically as the season progresses.

Here is our fifth NL Central update of the year:

Pittsburgh Pirates 25-22

The Pirates were widely expected to finish last in this division throughout the last few years, but the progress they have made over the years does not pencil them in as a bottom feeder in this division. Their strong start to the 2023 season has them in first place through almost a month of baseball.

Bryan Reynolds is leading things for the Pirates with six home runs and 27 RBI already, with a stellar .282 batting average. Jack Suwinski's 19 home runs led all rookies last year, and he has seven dingers on the season thus far. Andrew McCutchen has also seen some success in his return to Pittsburgh and has been a strong producer in the lineup. O'Neil Cruz was expected by many to take a giant leap this season, but he is on the injured list.

Mitch Keller and Vince Velasquez have been the Bucs' best starters, and David Bednar is still closing things down in All-Star fashion. Since we last updated, the Bucs have cooled off, dropping two of three to the Rockies, the Orioles, and Diamondbacks and splitting a two-game set with the Tigers.

UP NEXT: This week, the Pirates take on the Rangers at home and then visit Seattle for three with the Mariners. The Pirates took game one of the series at PNC against Texas with a 6-4 win.

Milwaukee Brewers 25-22 (tied for 1st place)

Like last season, the Brewers were constructed to prevent runs, not score them. The Brewers are boosted by an excellent pitching staff of Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff, and Corbin Burnes — a three-headed monster that stacks up against anybody in the National League. But just like last season, the Brewers have faced some injuries lately in the pitching staff.

Despite not having a potent offensive attack, the Brewers have been able to string together some nice wins in the early going. Offensively, Milwaukee has been led by Rowdy Tellez and Willy Adames, similar to last season. Brian Anderson and former Brave catcher William Contreras have been welcome additions thus far.

Since we last updated, the Brewers dropped two of three against the Dodgers but then swept the Royals in three games. Then Milwaukee lost two of three to the Cardinals and Rays.

UP NEXT: The Brewers are back home this week, hosting the Astros and the Giants for three games each.

Chicago Cubs 20-26 (4.5 games back)

The Cubs finished in third place in the NL Central last year and made it a point of focus over the offseason to make drastic improvements to the team — which also fit baseball's new rules. The Cubs may have let Willson Contreras go, but they committed to long-term contract extensions with Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ, both of whom enjoyed breakout campaigns in 2022. Plus, the Cubs acquired Trey Mancini, Eric Hosmer, Cody Bellinger, Tucker Barnhart, Jameson Taillon, Brad Boxberger, and Michael Fulmer over the offseason to improve the team — plus the big ticket item of Dansby Swanson to be the team's starting shortstop for the next seven years.

In the early going, the moves have paid off. But since it has been rocky waters.

The Cubs are still near the lead in the National League in runs per game and are top five in the MLB in both batting average and starters ERA. Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele have been as good as any two starters in baseball, Patrick Wisdom is tied for near the MLB lead in home runs,

Nico Hoerner is near the MLB lead in steals. The Cubs have three qualified players hitting over .300 and have been fun to watch.

However, bullpen struggles and the bottom half of the lineup being nonexistent has turned the Cubs fans from excited to panic. The Cubs have even looked to Iowa for some reinforcements as the season comes into swing, like Matt Mervis and Christopher Morel, who has been a nice boost to the struggling squad.

Since we last updated, the Cubs dropped two of three to the Cardinals, Twins, and Phillies while also getting swept by the defending champion Astros.

UP NEXT: This week, the Cubs begin a long homestand with three games against the Mets and then host the Reds over the weekend.

St. Louis Cardinals 21-28 (5.0 games back)

The St. Louis Cardinals are the reigning NL Central Division Champions, but for the first time since I was born, this will be the first season that the Cardinals do not have Albert Pujols or Yadier Molina on the roster. The St. Louis Cardinals did not make much noise in the offseason but acquired former Cub Willson Contreras as their new catcher. However, less than a month into the season, he has already been relieved of his catching duties (and now they have announced he is back of late).

Jordan Walker was their top prospect and was called up to start the season, and he has been an absolute stud for them early on. The Cardinals struggled badly out of the gates, despite the offense being led by NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt's seven homers and .300 average. The Cardinals are still below .500 by a healthy margin. Still, they are the only team in the division that you could confidently say is playing good baseball — and the return of Adam Wainwright to the rotation and perennial All-Star Nolan Arenado looking like himself again certainly helps.

Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, and Jordan Montgomery have been the top three on the mound but have faced their fair share of struggles so far. Flaherty is starting to come back into form, though.

Since we last updated, the Cardinals have improved, beating the Cubs and Brewers two out of three, the Dodgers three out of four, and sweeping the Red Sox.

UP NEXT: This week, the Redbirds are in Cincy against the Reds and then in Boston for three against the Red Sox.

Cincinnati Reds 20-27 (5.0 games back)

The Reds are once again expected to be one of the worst teams in the MLB early on, entirely in another rebuild. Joey Votto is the only recognizable name on a team with players like Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Nicholas Castellanos, Jesse Winker, and Eugenio Suarez.

The Reds' claim to fame has been flame-thrower Hunter Greene, who is developing into a young ace in baseball.

Offensively it has been a mixed bag thus far.

Since we last updated, the Reds took two out of three from the Mets and Marlins before dropping two out of three against the Rockies and being swept by the Yankees.

UP NEXT: This week, the Reds host the Cardinals and then travel to Wrigley for three with the Cubs over the weekend. The Reds beat the Cardinals in game one of the series, 6-5.

Stay tuned all year for updates on the NL Central.

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