How Will The NL Central Shake Out

June 23, 2018

One of the most competitive divisions in baseball over the past few years is in another close race here near the halfway point of the season. For the first 2 months of the season 4 teams were consistently within 3-4 games of each other the whole way. The Pirates came out to an unexpectedly good start with the Cardinals starting hot and the Cubs and Brewers playing well as many expected. 

This division has been controlled by the Cubs the past few years, starting by knocking out the Pirates and Cardinals in the playoffs and going on to win back to back division titles as well as a world series in 2016. The Brewers have been an up and coming team the past few years with a few young stars in the making mixed with proven veterans they couldn't quite hold off the Cubs last year. A few off-season moves including the addition of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain and the Brewers are looking to give the Cubs another run for their money.

 

Nearly 3 months in and the Brewers have been slightly better than their neighbors down south leading the way most of the season but Chicago has stayed within reach up till this point and will be looking to make a late season run and pass the Brewers as they did last season. The Cardinals and Pirates have began to slide a little bit but it's not too late to expect one of these teams to make a run. Pittsburgh may have a tougher time as in my opinion they got off to an extremely great start for their talent and it will be tough to continue that. The Pirates are now 9 games back sitting 3 games under .500 and if they want to make a run at a playoff spot they will need to pick it back up soon. 

 

St. Louis is another story. The Cardinals are 6.5 games back but have enough pieces to where if they can get a few guys to pick their game up a little bit and possibly pick someone up at the trade deadline they could make a run at the Brewers and Cubs. 

Milwaukee currently sits at 45-30 the best record in the National League and 2 games over the Cubs as of the morning of 6/23. Chicago however have the best run differential in the NL and its not even close. The Cubs currently sit at +92 with the second best team being Atlanta at +70. Chicago has not struggled to score this year but have been very streaky offensively. I don't know how it sits currently but about a month and a half into the season the Cubs led the league in 10 run games and were also top 5 in the league in times being shut out. The Cubs have at rough record in 1 run games this year sitting at 7-12 while Milwaukee is 18-9 in such games. Typically when you see a team struggle in 1 run games you can point the finger at the bullpen but Chicago has had one of the best bullpens in the league this year.

 

Whenever you have two teams stay as close as the Brewers and Cubs have through the first half you always have to see what will make the difference in the second half. For me it is the Cubs division to win or lose and this is why. 

 

The Brewers have been a fairly consistent team all year both within the game and over the course of the season. Chicago has been wildly inconsistent. The Cubs have seen Kris Bryant go on his longest HR streak of his career, Anthony Rizzo have his worst month ever and Javy Baez go 2 months without a walk. The Cubs however have seen those same guys go on stretches where they hit .400 with 20+ RBI over the course of a few weeks. The Cubs pitching has also been very inconsistent this year. Jon Lester has an ERA just over 2 but Kyle Hendricks has struggled with giving up Home Runs, Yu Darvish has an ERA around 5 and has been hurt the past month and Tyler Chatwood has a ridiculous walk rate this year. 

All that being said, Chicago is third in the NL in Runs scored and First in the NL in fewest runs allowed. If the Cubs can find some consistency, improve their record in those 1 run games then you could see them pull away big time in the second half. As I mentioned, Chicago has a +92 run differential this year while Milwaukee is just at +58. If Chicago cannot find consistency then look for Milwaukee to continue to hold the division lead as they have proven that they can win close games and are beating teams they should.

 

My prediction is that both of these teams will be playing in October, one obviously as a wild card and the other as the division winner. I don't think St. Louis or Pittsburgh will have enough in them to make a run at the division title and currently Milwaukee is the #1 team in the NL with Chicago at #3 just 2 games back. This could be very similar to the 2015 season with Pittsburgh and St. Louis where the top two teams in the NL are in the same division and the team with the second best record has to play in the Wild Card. Ultimately I think Chicago will win the division but I say that as a Cubs fan. Honestly as many problems as they have had this year with Darvish being terrible, Hendricks and Quintana being sub par and the offense being inconsistent I think they have more room for growth where I don't see how Milwaukee can get that much better. Chicago is also 8-3 against Milwaukee so far this year and only have to go to Milwaukee one more time this year so that could be the difference as well.

 

The Scary thing is this could very well be a first round match up in the playoffs if the winner can hold on to that #1 spot in the NL which would force a match up with the wild card winner.

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