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

Chicago Cubs


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

Milwaukee Brewers


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

Pittsburgh Pirates


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). 

29 Responses

  1. sultanofswaff

    Good stuff. It has me already thinking about the player projections for next year and how many wins that would leave us with on paper………wondering if 85 wins is within the realm of possibility if:
    Homer and Robert Stephenson get 25 starts at ~3.50 ERA
    Mez & Eugenio get 500 at-bats
    Cozart and Billy are only worth 1-2 wins
    Disco and Raisel are worth 2-3 wins
    Jesse Winker gets 400 at-bats with a WRC+ of ~120.

    • GreatRedLegsFan

      If Reds manage to win 80 games it’ll be a major achievement

    • tgarretson82

      Thats IF Homer is healthy and Walt doesnt slow play Stephenson and Winker (which Im totally predicting Walt to do).

      • Jim t

        If the Reds are not going to compete slow playing Winker and Stephenson is exactly the right thing to do.

  2. ohiojimw

    The Reds and Brewers certainly played a key supporting role in the top three teams also having the best three regular season record in MLB. Even if they were just normally last place bad, the other three teams don’t all get north of 95 wins; and maybe none of them do.

  3. ohiojimw

    And one has to scratch their head over how the Pirates had a losing record versus every other team in their division and overall won 98 games. Look to the NL West where they were 28-5 by my quick count (24-8 v. the NL East wasn’t too shabby either).

    Perhaps these results suggest that when teams see the same pitchers a lot more (i.e. intradivisional play) a significant part of the pitchers’ advantage begins to erode.

  4. doctor

    Sultan, like the positive view but along with the young pitching taking improvement steps in 2016, Reds OF is going to be the big key for any Reds W gains. Bruce 2nd half collapse in his slash line stats troubling. even with his horrendous April, his 1st half was solid and improved month by month up to July, then August and Sept became a shell of himself. Seems to suggest a hidden injury of some sort. I think its likely Winker & Stephenson will need at least a couple months at AAA, so likely mid-year call-ups.

    Getting Mez back would definitely lengthen the lineup depth. Hopefully, Eugenio can come back next year with improved glove work and give Reds 2 plus offensive players while playing solid D at key spots.

    Something to consider is potential return on any Chapman trade this off-season, like maybe a MLB-ready OF bat.

    • ohiojimw

      Good news is that Meso’s bat is almost certainly going to be back. Possibly confusing news is we don’t know to what degree he will be catching and to what degree might need to be in LF to stay in the line up.

      Pretty much everything you said about JBruce also fits for Frazier. I’d been saying for a couple of months, they were the same offensive player from different sides of the plate. Last night I put my eye test to the numbers test. Career OPS/OPS+: JB .781/109, TF .784/113. K%/BB% JB 24/9.3, TF 21/7.5. Annualized WAR based stats do skew to Frazier’s advantage. At this point I am not that familiar with the WAR components to say why. Suffice to say both are very cyclical on offense and have a history of being so to the degree that they probably are what they are at this point.

      • tgarretson82

        I say no Home Run Derby for Frazier next season. The HRD winner curse appears to be still alive and kicking.

    • sultanofswaff

      Same pattern as previous years for Bruce. For the money he’s making, I can’t envision we’d get much for him in trade. The optimal situation would be a viable team with visions of the postseason who needs a veteran presence in RF. Of course, Walt’s best strategy would be to let the market shake out before moving on any trade. The salary escalation will only strengthen his negotiating hand.

  5. whodeythinkgonnabeatthemredlegs

    I think the Pirates are the better bet to take down the Cards. If they get past Arietta they have a real shot at the WS. Royals/Pirates would definitely have some intrigue.

  6. Chuck Schick

    I recently moved back to Cincinnati after 15 years in Chicago and really enjoyed reading RLN this year. It was a bad year, but I enjoyed the discourse.

    I was born in 1970 and for the first 30 years of my life (31 seasons) the Reds were winners 21 times…losers 9 times and 81/81 once. 5 of the 9 losing seasons could be described as ” re-building” and 4 were good teams that were ravished by injury. They made the playoffs 8 times and 3 others (81,94,99) they were good enough but fate had other ideas. That success built a reservoir of good will for me. I’ll always be a fan.

    I often think about today’s 30 year old. His 31 years have produced 13 winners, 17 losers and 1 81/81….but more importantly, from age 15-30, the Reds have had 4 winning seasons and 12 losing ones. How much emotional interest can that guy have? That’s a huge long term concern for me. Indifference is hard to overcome.

    Reasonable people can have differing opinions regarding the decisions made in recent days. I hope they were the right ones. The Reds have to beat 3 very smart organizations in the future. I hope they understand that tradition buys you the benefit of the doubt, but it isn’t eternal.

    • whodeythinkgonnabeatthemredlegs

      For better or worse, the Reds aren’t the only inept franchise in the city. Personally, I just don’t want to support Mike Brown, so BC benefits from that one. The only championship level success I have seen in my 24 years came from high school football and the Cyclones “dynasty” of 2 wins in 3 years (which was awesome). While my generation doesn’t have the wins to hold onto, I think guys like Larkin, Casey and Griffey go a long way in providing strong sentimental connection at a young age. This team’s run from 2010-2013 was good enough to grab me and make me a lifelong fan, if only because that’s all we’ve got. My eyes get real watery even thinking about Bruce hitting the division-clinching home run. Whether we can rebound in the next 1-3 years and contend again, or if it takes another lost decade to build enough karma for a 3 year run, I like to think the city will stick with them.

      • PDunc

        See my post below.

        The same goes for the Bengals, but with even less winning than the Reds.

    • PDunc

      I just turned 30 this summer and grew up a Reds fan in the Cincinnati/Dayton area.

      I was 5 years old when the Reds won the World Series in 1990. I don’t remember it at all.

      I was at Game 3 of the 1995 NL Division series against the Dodgers. I was 10 years old. I can still remember the “No-more Nomo” chants throughout Riverfront when Hideo Nomo was pulled from the game. This is the last home playoff game The Reds have won.

      They wouldn’t make the playoffs again until I was 25 years old, in 2010.

      In between were 11 losing seasons, 1 at .500 and 2 seasons with a winning record.

      For the first 25 years of my life there was 1 championship that I was too young to remember and 1 other playoff appearance.

      I am still a Reds fan, I read this site daily and comment occasionally. It is difficult to have much passion for a team though that has had so little winning in my lifetime.

      • Joey

        I’m twenty-nine and I can’t remember the 1990 World Series. It’s been tough. I’m on this site about every day and comment every once in awhile. I enjoy the analytics and the research that’s done on this site by the writers. I actually emailed the analytics guy who works for the Reds and sent him a link to the Votto with two strikes article that was written not too long ago. Growing up I remember Barry Larkin was the Reds. Then the 2000″s were Griffey getting hurt, Adam Dunn hitting a home run or striking out, and no pitching. Then we started to get good and had great pitching but no hitting outside of Votto. Now we don’t have good hitting or good pitching!

    • kmartin

      Chuck, I am curious, did you ever develop a strong attachment to either the Cubs or White Sox while you lived in Chicago? I was born in Cincinnati in 1953 and moved to Chicago in 1980. I have been here ever since and am still a hard core Reds fan and basically indifferent to the Cubs and Sox.

      • Chuck Schick


        I’m indifferent to the Sox. I went to 3 Sox games in 15 years…all work related and I doubt I watched any baseball.

        I did develop an affinity for the Cubs. I’d say I’m more of an interested observer than a fan, but I do respect that they had the courage to waste 3 seasons on order to create a better future.

  7. WVRedlegs

    The Reds might have their own Jake Arietta sitting (wasting away) down in their bullpen. The Reds have only one more shot to make Chapman a starter. The time is now to make the switch so he can prepare over the winter for such a role. It is a decision that would make the rotation much,much better without making the bullpen that much worse.

  8. Jim t

    Chapman will be traded this winter. Him starting next year means very little when he is a FA after this year. He should have been dealt last year.

  9. sultanofswaff

    Anyone else find it curious that Matt Williams gets fired but Bryan Price keeps his job? Curious in the sense that both guys are very similar in the way they construct lineups and especially how they anoint roles to relief pitchers. Looking at the Nationals plus\minus numbers, by rights they should’ve won the division. Not that it would’ve mattered, but the same argument could and should be made about Price’s handling of the staff.

    • Nick Kirby

      I think the big difference there is two fold:

      1. The Nationals should have not only made the playoffs with that roster, they should have made a run for the title. There is no manager in baseball history that could have taken the Reds to the postseason with that roster this year.

      2. The Nationals clubhouse was an absolute disaster. Despite the terrible season there was little if any negative things to say about the Reds clubhouse this season.

      • ohiojimw

        Manager launches the FBomb tirade.

        The saga of if then when Mesoraco will have surgery goes on for weeks after it is apparent that surgery is the only solution leaving the team essentially a player short the entire time. Eventually, we are told they are holding Meso back from surgery until after he can be used as a DH in an away interleague series. Then inexplicably they decide to do a catching test with his hip two days before the IL series and he is knocked out of the series by it. And I think there may be another twist and turn or two to the saga before Meso finally makes it to the surgery theater.

        As a result of the Meso situation and another injury they play several games with a 3 man bench including the available backup catcher which makes it more like a 2 man bench.

        Byrd and Bell clash in dugout. Byrd is traded within 24 hours. Byrd takes the mostly high road but infers Bell has been an issue all year long. Most media following the team seem to think that that Bell is a lock to be one of the folks let go.

        I guess we must have been watching different Reds clubhouses together.

      • Chuck Schick

        Wouldn’t the Meso situation fall under Walt’s domain? Managers don’t control the roster, who is on the DL or who gets called up.

        The Bell situation is troubling, but it seems as if he going to get canned. What more can they do but fire the guy? Mangers don’t decide who gets traded …. Especially guys with vesting clauses.

        The Tirade was sophomoric and worthy of scorn…but I can recall “beloved” mangers who shoved an umpire,threw bases and fought with the closer in the locker room.

      • ohiojimw

        In reply to Chuck,
        Yeah, the roster is technically the GM’s job but what kind of manager puts up with such shenanigans (Meso situation; playing short) over an extended period? How does he maintain the respect of guys in the clubhouse under such circumstances when he is out pushing a nonsensical company line to the media?

        Same with the Bell situation. If players are beating the mgr’s door down with complaints; and, he can’t or won’t resolve the situation, where’s his authority? This probably explains why accountability in general disappeared.

        Like I tried to infer, he is probably back because he passed the puppet test at every turn which Dusty failed when he refused to throw coaches under the bus.

  10. Jim t

    Sultan the big difference is the Nats have a legitimate shot at winning next year. The Reds are going to be in a rebuild mode. Bringing in a guy to manage a team with the talent of the Nats is not going to be difficult. Paying a good manager to come in and rebuild the Reds will be quite a bit different. I’m sure ownership is thinking why pay Price and someone else to finish 4th or 5 th in their division. Unless a miracle happens Price will be let go when his contract expires.

  11. WoeIsReds

    The main problem is the Reds aren’t going to change anything about the brain trust. The Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs are among the most smartly run teams, with analytics-awareness the Reds lack.

    • Obc2

      2016 — 59W 103L.

      best to begin the fire sale this offseason and not at the trading deadline next season.

      that, of course, should follow new GM acquisition. I’m OK with Price staying, this team is a bona fide lock for last place next season. no sense rearranging the deck chairs on the proverbial Titanic.

  12. ohiojimw

    I noticed on Twitter that many, probably most, teams that missed the playoffs held postmortem press conferences late Sunday or Monday with a combination of field managers and front office types having giving their public take on the season just finished and off season ahead.

    True to form, all we heard from the Reds are that they are heading to Arizona to debrief (and get some sun time in no doubt) and will give us some updates later……