NL Central: Division Finally Produces A Team Worthy Of The Postseason. Took Long Enough.
It’s been two weeks since my last update, during which I had a fantastic time, and the Cubs did not.
When we spoke last, the Cubs were three back in the Central and 2.5 games up on Milwaukee, with a one-game wildcard lead on Philadelphia. In the past two weeks, while posting a decent 7-5 record, they’ve lost another 1.5 games, and likely any hope, in the division. Their wildcard lead has expanded to 1.5, but it feels like they’re headed in the other direction. Their only saving grace has been that none of the other involved teams – the Phillies, Brewers, Diamondbacks, and Mets – have done anything to distinguish themselves.*
NL Central Standings
It simply feels stale on the Northside. Jon Lester’s landed firmly on the other side of the shark, which took a solid bite out of his stuff as he went by. Injuries to Contreras, Rizzo, and Kimbrel left large holes in keys spots, and that was before Javy Baez’ thumb problem and Addison Russell’s horsehide diet. With 20 games left in the season, the Cubs’ starting SS is a guy named Nico who’s never played above AA.
In other words, the Cubs’ hopes are about as bright as those fans who still think them the equal of the Yankees, Dodgers, and Astros.
You have to hand it to the Cardinals**, who have played at a .667 clip since the All-Star game, firmly seizing control of a division no one seemed to want. It’s a mystery to me how they’ve done it since they rank 10th or worse in every offensive category in the NL. Their pitching’s been spectacular, ranking in the top three of almost every category, but in an age of unprecedented power hitting, it seems odd that a team whose OPS is worse than Jose Iglesias’ would be pulling away.
NL Wild Card Standings
Milwaukee, like the Cubs, has simply kept treading the same water they’ve been in since the season began. Their 7-4 record over the last two weeks gained them no ground in the division and only a half-game in the wildcard. Christian Yelich, when not going au naturel for magazines, has hit .347 with a .492 OBP, strengthening his case for a second consecutive MVP award. Unfortunately for them, they haven’t had a single quality start in that time, which suggests a tired bullpen come October.
This week, the three contenders square off against the Marlins (Brewers), Rockies (Cardinals), and Padres (Cubs), all on the road. If the Cardinals are to falter, it will start Friday, when they start a three-game series against Milwaukee, while the Cubs face somebody called the “Pirates.”
Oh, wait! Geez, I almost forgot.
The Pirates and Reds once again commendably played all the games the league asked them to, even, I’m sure, winning a few. Aristides Aquino seems to have finally settled into Cincinnati life, hitting .212 over the last two weeks, while the Pirates’ lone highlight was Colin Moran being struck out by his brother, a man who had never thrown a pitch in the major leagues before. This reminds me of a glorious moment in sports history from the suburbs of Chicago circa 1990, when a plucky teenager and genius writer defeated his older brother at tennis, then watched him drive off in a huff, making the genius walk home (in the 27 years since, he has yet to ask for a rematch, knowing his fate).
*Arizona went 9-2, but as they are not in the Central, I don’t have to write about them, and since they are very scary, I don’t want to think about them anymore.
**YOU have to hand it to them, I do not. Unless the “it” in that sentence is a bottle of chloroform.