Some food for thought as we move into the dog days (are we already there?)
NL Central pitching has been by and large extraordinary. In terms of ERA only for starters, it has three teams in the top 4 in baseball (Pittsburgh at #1, St. Louis at #3, and Cincy at #4, with only the Dodgers breaking them up). Of note, I'd say, there is one -- one -- AL team in the top 10, Detroit. Again, that's ERA only, in a still arguably stronger hitting league, but still.
Cincinnati tops baseball with innings pitched by starters at 710.2, making it fairly impressive, I'd say, that they sit at #4. Even more impressive is that Cincinnati is down in spot #28 for pitches per plate appearance, meaning that the workhorse starters are holding down their share of innings while still maintaining efficiency. There's not a huge spread in this stat among teams.
Cincy starters are a middling-to-good 7.47 k/9 for starters, 11th in the majors, four places behind Pittsburgh's 7.27 and one ahead of St. Louis's 7.44.
The bullpen is where I think the dog days stuff gets interesting. I was kind of surprised to see that Pittsburgh is still third in the majors in bullpen ERA at 2.89; Cincy is 13th at 3.86 and St. Louis is down in 22nd place at 3.91. Pittsburgh's bullpen, though, currently stands at fifth place in innings pitched, behind the less-than-stellar teams of Toronto, Minnesota, Milwaukee and Colorado. Pittsburgh ranks 25th among teams in IP by starters, so their bullpen has done a tremendous job picking up the slack, but it's veering on severely overworked at 379.1 innings. Cincy's bullpen is in 25th place with 319.1 innings and St. Louis is dead last at 308.1.
I don't pay enough attention to the Pirates' in-game management on a daily basis, but I do feel that if ever there's a time to believe that management has an effect, it's going to be in how that staff is managed over the next several weeks. On paper, it seems like the starters have been pitching well enough to be taken deeper into games than they clearly have been. Have the Pirates just been cautious with them? Can they afford to continue to do so?
St. Louis, by contrast, has relied very heavily on their starters, and they've needed to, and it does continue to amaze me how well they've done given the injuries they sustained early on. My take is that Cincinnati has the most balanced staff at this point (which is not to say that it's the best), and has the least to worry about in terms of workload in the next couple of months, knock on wood, especially with who we have returning. I do think that St. Louis's bullpen has been underperforming and honestly overall I give them the nod in pitching over the next two months. And don't kill me, but couple with the offense, this validates for me that St. Louis is still the team to beat in the Central.
I do think that pitching is what it's going to come down to in this division. It's been the bread and butter of two of these three teams all season, and nobody can blink on it. Going to be a fun ride, hopefully.
Would love to hear other people's thoughts and analysis.