Analyzing the Fiercely Competitive NL CentralAugust 4, 2018
The NL Central is an interesting division following the recent trade deadline. Realistically, there are 3 NL Central teams fighting for playoff spots. The Chicago Cubs lead the division by a game over the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Brewers lead the top wild card spot. With that being said, 2 more NL Central teams sit 4 games back for the second wild card spot, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals. In my opinion, considering the Cardinals were sellers during the trade deadline, I would count them out of all contention. The likelihood is not super high, but we could see 3 NL Central teams come October. I don’t think that will happen, but August and September baseball can be a crazy time and anything can happen.
The Chicago Cubs will win the NL Central. I believe that 100%. They have always had the bats to do it. They just needed it all to come together. The question mark was the pitching. The trade deadline brought in Cole Hamels. On Wednesday night, he made his debut and he got the win, throwing 5 innings, 3 hits and no earned runs. Hamels is the potential difference maker for the Cubs and with him, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Cubs win the Central.
The Brewers sit a game back of the Cubs in the Central but lead the top wild card spot by a game and a half. They have one of the best lineups in the league. Winter addition Christian Yelich is having a monster year, hitting .321 with 16 home runs and 58 RBIs. Free agent signee, Lorenzo Cain, is slashing .299/.393/.425 and Jesús Aguilar is smashing the baseball with 26 home runs, 77 RBIs, and is slugging .582. The Brewers are really good. Except pitching. Their pitching is subpar. Chase Anderson is the so-called ace and is probably a 2 or 3 starter on a normal contender. The Brewers should have made the move for another starting pitcher at the deadline and they didn’t. Instead, they traded for 2B Jonathan Schoop. Yes, he can hit but that isn’t what they needed. The Brewers will clinch a wild card spot in my mind but don’t expect a deep October run if they get starting pitching help in August.
Perhaps the most intriguing team in the NL Central is the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates showed they were all in for a run at the Wild Card when they acquired SP Chris Archer from the Rays and CP Keone Kela from the Rangers. They have surged in July to only sit 4 games back in the wild card. This must have pushed the front office to show some faith in the young core and reward them with the pieces to perhaps make a run at this thing. The problem I see is that the Bucs have been streaky. They had a 26-17 start followed by a 14-31 skid and currently sit at a 16-5 run. Another significant skid could spell the end for the Pirates wild card hopes. In the meantime, be on the lookout and who knows, the Pirates could squeeze their way into October baseball.
Written by Justin Raley