The make up of the National League Central Division, doesn’t look any different. The Brewers are STILL in first and the Cardinals are still the primary team to take the division away from them. The Pirates, though, are beginning to look like the team everyone expected. While their record is still sub .500, Andrew McCutchen was named NL player of the week, which was a shining bright spot for the team who was expected to do extraordinary things this season.
1. Milwaukee Brewers (41-29, 3-3, 1st in NL Central)
The Brewers did not play spectacularly this past week. They went 2-1 against the New York Mets and lost their series against the Cincinnati Reds 1-2. Despite the week’s record, though, the Brewers played well enough to extend their division lead over the Cardinals. At the end of the May, the Cardinals were playing some of the best baseball around while the Brewers were struggling. Since then, the story has been a little different. The Brewers are not playing spectacularly, but they are doing enough to hold on to the division lead. They are winning when they need to and are doing what is necessary to keep a winning team into the summer months of the season. They just made room in their roster to pull utility man Elian Herrera up from the minors and reinstall Tom Gorzelanny to the pitching staff. They also signed their top 3 draft picks, meaning this may not be the only season we see the Brewers at the top of the NL Central.
2. St. Louis Cardinals (37-32, 4-1, 2nd in NL Central)
This first half of baseball has been very disappointing for the Cardinals. They got off to a slow start and surrendered their division title to the Brewers early in the season. So far, they haven’t been able to close the gap. The Cardinals got within a game and a half of the division before squandering it in their series against the Royals. Now, they find themselves 3.5 games back despite the fact that they have been playing better baseball since June 6th. In the past ten games, the Cardinals have only suffered 2 losses, yet they still find themselves sitting in 2nd place in the division.
The Cardinals, though, are not down for the count. While the Brewers have been doing just enough to hold their division lead, the Cardinals are in the race for the long haul. The Cardinals are like the best horse in the derby, carefully waiting their turn to take the lead and surge down the home stretch. No, the Cardinals may not be where the expected to be at the beginning of the year, but they are exactly where they need to be. Second place in this division isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is still a lot of season and time left for the Cardinals to make up the deficit, and they’ve already proven time and time again that they are the team who can unseat the Might Milwaukee Brewers.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (34-35, 5-2, 3rd in NL Central)
The Pirates may still have a record below .500, but it’s certainly not time to count them out quite yet. The Pirates had the second best record in the NL Central this week, allowing them to move up in the rankings and get a little closer to the sunlight. The Pirates dug themselves into a deep hole in the beginning of the season, and many people started to give up on them. It looked like their amazing 2012-2013 season was just that: amazing and a once and a lifetime opportunity.
This past week, the Pirates disproved those doubts. They won their series against the Cubs and the Marlins and rode a 4 game win streak before losing a heartbreak to the Marlins on Sunday. However, the next 13 games will be extremely important for the Pirates. They open up a home series against the Red before embarking on a 6 game road series against the Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays. All of these teams are struggling, and the Pirates can’t afford to drop any games against them if they want to continue climbing toward a Wild Card spot.
4. Cincinnati Reds (33-35, 4-3, 4th in NL Central)
If there is something to say about the Reds, it is that they certainly experienced a surge of power in their series against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Reds scored 21 runs in the series, including 13 in the final game. However, the Reds play has been inconsistent. They’ve bounced around the .500 line all season, and have not been able to stay consistent on either side of the line. Aroldis Chapman will continue to be a bright spot for the Reds and has been their most consistent player since he returned. The Reds will need to be more consistent if they hope to make a run for the playoffs in July and August. Their upcoming series against the Pirates, Blue Jays, and Cubs may be the perfect opportunities to get over the .500 hump.
5. The Chicago Cubs (28-39, 3-4, 5th in NL Central)
The Cubs seem to be relatively comfortable in the cellar of the NL Central. They really haven’t resided anywhere else since the start of the season. However, they haven’t been playing terribly. They took one in their series against the Pirates and won their series against the Phillies 2-1. While the Cubs won’t be making a trip to the playoffs this year, their future is looking bright. They are young, learning, have some phenomenal prospects in the system, and were able to sign their top draft picks. Cubs fans need only need to look to the future to smile, which may not be so distant after all.