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State of the N.L. Central: May 7, 2018

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The Cardinals claw their way to the top of the heap.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a week makes.

Just last Monday we were looking at the Cubs as the number two team in the NL Central, right within reach of first, and this week they’ve been knocked right back down to fourth. Thus is the danger of a division where there is only a 3½-game difference between first and fourth place.

The heavy amount of inter-division play this week was a major contributing factor in the top team shuffle, seeing the Pirates take a dive right alongside the Cubs, while the Brewers settled in second. The Reds are the only team with a sub-.500 winning percentage and continued to languish in fifth without showing much hope of getting out of the division’s basement.

Here’s a look at how things shook out last week.

St. Louis Cardinals (20-12)

Well, it’s pretty easy to see why the Cardinals are on top this week: they won literally every game they played. In a two-game matchup against the Chicago White Sox, they won both games 3-2. Then they moved on to sweep the Cubs in a three-game series.

It’s worth noting that though they won each of their games last week, none of the wins were particularly runaway victories. Against the Sox, one of the worst teams in the AL Central, they took each game by only one run, and against the Cubs they were likewise neck-and-neck.

A win is a win as far as the standings are concerned, but the Cards aren’t going to keep sweeping teams with such minor margins. Except maybe the Twins, who they’ll face next...

Up Next: vs. Twins (2 games); @ Padres (4 games)

Milwaukee Brewers (20-15)

First things first, let’s address Josh Hader, who might have had the single most impressive outing by a reliever, well, ever.

The Brewers were also bolstered this week by a series sweep against the Reds, but didn’t fare as well against the Pirates, who took their series 2-3, one game being a 9-0 shutout on Sunday. Ouch.

The Indians, who the Brewers will take on in a two-game series starting Tuesday, are the A.L. Central’s top team... but barely. They’ve been struggling mightily, and might just give the Brewers a chance to climb the ladder. The four-game match against the Rockies won’t be an easy one, as the Rockies are currently second in the NL West and sporting an identical win percentage to the Brewers.

Up Next: vs. Indians (2 games); @ Rockies (4 games)

Pittsburgh Pirates (19-16)

The Pirates got swept in a four-game series against the struggling Washington Nationals this past week, and not close losses, either. 12-4, 9-3. Definitely not the optimistic scores of a team hoping to hold on to first place in the Central. They redeemed themselves slightly with a series win over the Brewers, and a nice shutout game on Sunday, but they finished the week limping for the most part, and lost their claim to the number one slot.

Like the Cards and Brewers, they start the week with some interleague play, facing off against the Chicago White Sox, and obviously hoping for the same results the Cardinals had last week. Then they’ll be seeing their old friend Andrew McCutchen as the Giants come to town. The Giants are currently third in the N.L. West and by no means a pushover club. The Pirates will need to fight if they want to get back on top.

Up Next: @ White Sox (2 games); vs. Giants (3 games)

Chicago Cubs (16-15)

We’ve already discussed the Cardinals sweep, and if you’re a regular reader of the site, you certainly know all the minor details of what went right and wrong for the Cubs this past week. More wrong than right, unfortunately. They won only a single game last week, a 3-2 victory over the Rockies, but were later decimated by the Colorado club in a 11-2 loss on Wednesday. They couldn’t regain their footing afterwards, and the series against St. Louis kept the Cubs down.

They head into the new week facing the Miami Marlins, who have proven they aren’t nearly as bad as pre-season indicators might suggest. Then they’ll be the next Central team to take on the White Sox in the annual crosstown matchup. It promises to be an easier week for the Cubs, but not one where they should let their guard down.

Up Next: vs. Marlins (3 games); vs. White Sox (3 games)

Cincinatti Reds (8-26)

The Reds were swept by the Brewers, then lost 2-3 to the Marlins (another reason the Cubs shouldn’t sleep on the Miami club, sing they shut the Reds out 6-0 on Saturday, and scored another eight runs on Sunday, meaning the team is looking to go on a winning spree).

With the Mets and the Dodgers up next on the docket it’s actually hard to tell what will happen to the Red this week. The Mets started out hot but have been struggling lately, and the Dodgers are just looking for the right kickstart to get them going again this year as everyone expected. The Reds might be just what they need.

At least Joey Votto is still fun.

Up Next: vs. Mets (3 games); @ Dodgers (4 games)