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State of the NL Central: June 18

So close.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Not a lot has changed since we checked in with the N.L. Central last week. The Cubs are within inches of the number one spot, the Reds are still hanging in there at the bottom rung, but can comfort themselves by knowing the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles are still doing worse.

How things change this coming week will depend a lot on the matches we see, so without further ado let’s find out what went right last week, and what needs to go right this week to see the Cubs make their claim to the throne.

Milwaukee Brewers 42-29

The Brewers — whose wives also beat the Cubs’ wives last week in a charity softball game — had the kind of week where they could have lost their hold on the top spot, if things had just gone slightly differently. They lost their first of three games to the Cubs, but won the next two in shut-out performances. Those two wins would prove enough to keep them ahead, because they went on to Philadelphia and dropped two of three to the Phillies.

They’ll be having an all-division-rival week this coming week, taking on the third and fourth ranked teams, but it’s a heavy schedule with travel and no rest days, which might see the Brewers struggle more.

Up Next: @ Pirates (3 games); vs Cardinals (4 games)

Chicago Cubs 40-28

If only the Cubs could have claimed just ONE more victory against the Brewers, we might be in a different place today. As it is, though, they’ll need to work to prove themselves this week, and they might just have the perfect schedule to do it. Though the Dodgers are resurgent lately, winning seven of their last ten games and climbing back up to second place in the NL West, they are still only 17-14 on the road. The Reds are only 15-22 at home. So it’s a nice looking week for the Cubs to get ahead.

They balanced out their series loss against the Brewers last week by taking two of three games against the Cardinals, and after getting shut out on Sunday you can expect they’ll be hungry for a win tonight. Like the Brewers they’ll get no rest this coming week, though, so they’ll need to work to avoid sloppy play and injury.

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

St Louis Cardinals 37-32

The Cards paired their series loss against the Cubs with another series loss against the Padres. They won’t find any easy wins in the week ahead. The Phillies are 5-5 in their last 10 games and only four games back in the NL East, and after starting the season in a bit of a laughing stock scenario, they find themselves in a division with no clear cut champion, and with the right amount of push they could make a serious bid for the postseason (they currently have the same number of wins as the Nationals, who most selected as being the clear division winner). So don’t expect the Phillies to lay down and let the Cards win.

Likewise the Brewers will be fighting tooth and nail to stay on top and the Cardinals will be playing in enemy territory for both series. Not ideal odds.

Up Next: @ Phillies (3 games); @ Brewers (4 games)

Pittsburgh Pirates 35-36

The Pirates split their series last week, losing two of three to the Diamondbacks (who they’ll see again for four games this week), and winning two of three against the Reds.

Like the Cards they’ll be squaring off against the something-to-prove Brewers, and then they’ll be hoping to claim revenge on the Diamondbacks in a rematch. The Pirates have a 15-20 road wins record, so there’s a solid chance they might be able to eke out a series win on one or both of these if they play their cards right.

Up Next: vs Brewers (3 games); vs Diamondbacks (4 games)

Cincinnati Reds 26-45

At the beginning of the year, with how poorly folks speculated the Detroit Tigers would do, this upcoming week might have seemed like an easy proposition for the Reds. But the Tigers have won seven of their last 10 games and just came off a sweep against the Chicago White Sox, whose 24-46 record is right in line with the Reds. The Tigers are a mere 2½ games back in the admittedly weak AL Central, but they won’t be easy opponents for the Reds. Likewise the Cubs are gunning for the top in the NL Central.

Last week the Reds took on a different AL Central opponent: the Royals, and swept the two-game series, including a sweet 7-0 shut out. They followed it up by dropped two of three to the Pirates. This coming week is going to be a tough one for the Reds, no doubt about it.

Up Next: vs Tigers (2 games); vs Cubs (4 games)