Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Pirates, Reds – it’s literally (almost) anybody’s division right now in the NL Central. In fact, it could end up being one of the tightest races in MLB history. Fun fact: All of the NL Central teams are closer to the division lead than almost every other non-division leader in the league. What?! Yeah. Other division leaders in the MLB are ahead of the pack by at least five games. Not here, friends! As of All Star Week, all of NL Central teams were within 4.5 games of each other! Things have changed a bit since then, but it’s still tight.
That means that for the top of the NL Central, there’s not much room for error, and for the bottom, there’s still hope of a postseason! Either way, it also means a lot of excitement for baseball fans. And that excitement could grow as we draw closer to the July 31st trade deadline and see some of these teams making moves and swapping players. Here’s a look at where each team in the NL Central stands right now…
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1 – The Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are supposed to be here. But they don’t have nearly the comfortable lead that their fans might hope for. Then again, the Cubs were supposed to be on top last year too until they slipped into the Wild Card spot (and then the Rockies knocked them out of the playoffs). Things are a little crazy in Chicago right now, what with a loss to the Reds, Wilson Contreras going to the injured list, and the higher-ups trading Mike Montgomery for backup catcher Martin Maldonado. There’s a lot of speculation about what this means. One thing is for sure though: With only five quality starts this season, massively well-paid pitcher Yu Darvish needs to step it up. While the Cubs are probably stuck with him, on the topic of trades, Cubs President Theo Epstein said earlier this month, “I don’t think sitting on our hands is really a viable option…” Stay tuned to see if they do any more wheelin’ and dealin’.
2 – The Milwaukee Brewers
We expected the Brewers to be near the top of the division after their solid run last season. They also added several players over the last two years, including MVP Christian Yelich. While they’ve seen some ups and downs in terms of offense and pitching over the first half of the season, it looks like they’re doing both well as they head deeper into the summer. Pitcher Brandon Woodruff has faith they can break away from the pack, saying, “I think the second half we’re really going to put it together and try to make a little run.” Word on the street is that the Brewers are in talks with the Giants to acquire reliever Will Smith. One guy on the team who needs to do better though? The once MVP-caliber Lorenzo Cain hasn’t been pulling his weight at the plate all season. More hits from him would really give this team a boost.
The St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals should probably be a bit better than this, but their recent 2-1 series against the Pirates was big for them. Would a key trade help them finish the season strong? Should this team even bother with any trades, given that they haven’t been very good at them in the past? Well, it’s rumored that the Cards could be looking to trade Michael Wacha after his poor performance this season has seen him removed from the rotation for a second time. And Matt Carpenter is having a nightmare of a season as well (probably his worst ever) and now it looks like he’s been added to the injured list. The Cardinals need him to start hitting if they want to move up in these competitive NL Central ranks!
The Pittsburgh Pirates
Things went a little south for Pittsburgh after the All Star Break – the Pirates had previously been only 2.5 games away from first place. They might not be on top now either, but at least they got one much-needed win against St. Louis on Tuesday. Pitching is certainly an issue here. Chris Archer could be a real leader if he could just have more games like his one-hitter on Sunday against the Cubs. To make matters worse, Jordan Lyles is pitching horribly and Trevor Williams can’t keep it together on the mound lately either. So as the Pirates start to look a lot more like sellers in this trade market, will they get rid of closer Felipe Vasquez? He’s basically the one guy who is really pitching well on a consistent basis and there are other teams interested in him. Can they afford to give him up? Only time will tell…
The Cincinnati Reds
Okay, okay, so the Reds probably won’t win the division, but they’re still hangin’ in there! They’re only five games behind the Cardinals and seven games behind the Brewers, and don’t forget that they beat the Cubs this week! Playres like Joey Votto need to start producing and get on base more to help the Reds amp it up, but the team could also make some trades. Will they trade away free agents like Yasiel Puig or Tanner Roark? Who knows?! Heck, even if they’ve put themselves in a tough spot, it’s still fun to watch ‘em play!
Just remember, it might not stay this close in the NL Central for long. By September, things could be looking very different. We’ll just have to wait and see if one team (or two) can pull away from the bunch!