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April 1, 2014

What You Need to Know

Aces of the NL Central

by Daniel Rathman


The Monday Takeaway
Forty-six innings, 25 hits, two runs, 16 walks, 45 strikeouts.

No, that’s not the line of a good reliever with a bloated strand rate. It’s the line the National League Central’s pitchers combined to post over the course of their games yesterday. Unfortunately for two of the clubs, they happened to be playing divisional foes.

The Reds dropped their opening battle to the Cardinals, but they may yet win the war, because Johnny Cueto could scarcely have made a better return to the mound. A 2.8-win pitcher in 2012, the 28-year-old Cueto sat out nearly all of the 2013 season with a nagging lat strain that flared up thrice and forced him to the disabled list each time, for a total of 117 missed games. On Monday, the right-hander matched zeroes with Adam Wainwright until the top of the seventh inning, when Yadier Molina went yard for the only tally of the game. Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, and Trevor Rosenthal provided a friendly reminder that it’s a bad idea to fall behind the Cardinals in the late innings, but Reds fans have plenty to be excited about despite the defeat.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the Pirates sent their fans home happy behind six dominant innings from Francisco Liriano, efficient relief work, and a 10th-inning walkoff blast by Neil Walker. Manager Clint Hurdle’s bullpen ranked third in the majors with a 2.89 ERA last year, an accomplishment made more impressive by its volume of work: 545 2/3 innings, 85 more than either of the clubs (Braves, Royals) that placed above it. Four bullpen frames into 2014—during which Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli, and Bryan Morris combined to throw 37 of 50 pitches (74 percent) for strikes—the group is unblemished. They sent the Cubs back to their team hotel with the bitter taste of an 0-for-11 line with runners in scoring position, which added to Chicago’s league-worst .218 mark in that department last year. Rick Renteria watched the heart of his order go 0-for-10—wasting seven innings of shutout ball from Jeff Samardzija and two more from Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, and James Russell—in his managerial debut.

To top off the division’s tremendous day on the mound, Yovani Gallardo started his bounce-back bid on a high note, helping the Brewers to blank the Braves. Gallardo worked six clean frames before handing things off to the bullpen, which—in a shock to Jim Henderson fantasy owners worldwide—was anchored by Francisco Rodriguez.

And so, the National League Central squads will carry a 0.39 ERA into Tuesday’s games. Unfortunately, because of the matchups, they’ll bring a .183 average along with it.

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