By Mark Grote–
(CBS) The Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs hogged up a combined 295 wins during the regular season.
“I’m just glad I’m not in the NL Central,” Royals manager Ned Yost recently said on his team’s recent visit to Wrigley Field.
For the first time in MLB history, the top three records in baseball were all in the same division, and — unlike for Yost and his AL Central champion Royals — there’s no escaping the mighty NL Central for the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds.
“Hopefully what we are seeing now are the labor pains before the delivery of the baby,” said Reds manager Bryan Price, whose team finished with a record of 64-98. “The baby is not going to be delivered at the end of 2015.”
Further complicating the plight (and apparent pregnancy) of the Reds in trying to get back in line with the big boys is the emergence of the young Cubs, who regularly played four rookies together.
“The surprise was to be able to have Kris Bryant come up and have the type of year he had, and then to get (Kyle) Schwarber, and have that type of impact,” Price said. “Of course, there is no secret in what (Anthony) Rizzo can do.”
Price praised the additions of Miguel Montero and Dexter Fowler as “veteran stabilizers,” before bringing the conversation full circle to another Cubs freshman.
“The way Addison Russell has played, and in particular in the second half, has become a really nice offensive player to go along with his tremendous defense,” Price said.
What it generally comes back to for managers and scouts when discussing the success of the 2015 Chicago Cubs is the top-end pitching, notably Cy Young contender Jake Arrieta.
“He is able to repeat four-plus pitches whenever he wants,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. “That’s a lot for a hitter to handle, almost too much.”
Arrieta (22-6 with a 1.77 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Cubs on Wednesday night in a winner- take-all wild-card game against Gerrit Cole and the Pirates. Despite the frantic praise being heaped on a deserving Arrieta by the baseball galaxy, Counsell also believes in the “secret weapon” effect.
“Tthe playoffs are a different animal,” Counsell explained. “Whichever team gets the surprise pitching performance will be the team that goes the deepest.”
Managing also becomes crucial in the postseason, because the leeway that a player may have been afforded in game 47 could fade to zilch in game 163. Plus, selecting precise spots for your relievers becomes a can’t-miss prophesy for the man in charge.
“Joe Maddon has done a terrific job of kind of moving guys around,” Price said. “He has also found a way to solidify pieces of their bullpen that may have been questionable earlier in the year.”
Price cited Travis Wood and Clayton Richard relievers who have found new life under Maddon.
Which one of the NL Central’s big three has the best chance of going deep into the playoffs and perhaps to the World Series?
“I’ll stay away from predictions,” Price said. “These are three outstanding teams. I always like the team that over the course of the long haul had the best year. And, that’s St. Louis, but it’s not over yet.”
Nope. The baby has yet to be delivered.
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on WBBM. Follow him on Twitter@markgrotesports.