With a month and some change left in the regular season, the race for the National League Central is heating up. There are currently four teams in the entire MLB with at least 70 wins on the season. Three of those teams come from the NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals boast the best record in baseball at 77-45. The Pittsburgh Pirates trail the Cardinals by 3 1/2 games with a record of 73-48 and the Chicago Cubs trail by 6 1/2 games with a 70-51 record. Pittsburgh leads Chicago for the first wild card spot by three games and the Cubs lead San Francisco by five games. Each of these teams have been great since the All-Star break. St. Louis is 21-12, Pittsburgh is 20-13 and the Cubs are 23-11 in that span. The Cardinals have had a strangle hold on this division for some time now, but for as much as they are winning, they aren’t running away from the pack as their counterparts are keeping right up. The Cardinal are 9-4 against the Cubs and 7-6 against the Pirates. Chicago is 7-5 against the Pirates.
September will be a very interesting month for how this division pans out. The three teams will play one another twice during the final month of the regular season. Neither team has a difficult schedule, as each team will play just one team with a .500 or better record. Other than that, the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs should be able to take advantage of what the schedule makers did for them. The best team that either of these three teams will play is when the Pirates travel to Los Angeles (67-55, first place in NL West) for a three game series, but the Pirates just swept the Dodgers a couple weeks ago in Pittsburgh.
Pitching is the key for St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Chicago. The Cards lead the majors with the best team ERA at 2.68. The Pirates are 2nd at 3.17 and the Cubs are 7th at 3.54. These teams do a good job of keeping the opposition from reaching base. Opposing teams bat .241 against the Cards, .250 against the Pirates and .242 against the Cubs. Each staff has a tremendous WHIP (STL- 1.21, PIT – 1.25, CHI – 1.20). All three bullpens are solid as well. 50 of the Cardinals 77 wins have come with a save at the end of the ballgame. The Pirates have 41 saves and the Cubs have 37. Pittsburgh has a streak of 18 straight games where the bullpen has been involved in the decision, the most since the franchise did it back in the early 1900s.
With good pitching, the batting doesn’t have to be all that great, but it helps when you have a positive run differential. St. Louis has scored 475 runs in the season, ranking 22nd, but have a run differential of +109. Pittsburgh has a run differential of +74 and the Cubs have one of +33. Chicago doesn’t have the best average (.242) but do a good job of getting on base (.319) and that is tied with St. Louis who bats .253. The Pirates bat .260 and have an OBP of .321.
The pitching amongst the three teams vying for the NL Central crown is very good. The hitting isn’t bad and can be very fun to watch. This division is far from a lock for the Cardinals to win. The Pirates and Cubs are not going down without a fight, but even if neither of those two teams win the division, they have a firm grip on the wild card. As the season is about to turn to the final month before the playoffs, sit back and watch how this division unfolds down the stretch.