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NL Central update: The Cubs are within a half game of the top spot

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A mere half game separates the top two positions in the division.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Most of the changes in the standings this week took place at the bottom of the ranks, with the Reds finally climbing out of the bottom spot. The Brewers and Cubs continue to flip flop in the top spot, with only a half game between first and second place, meaning this week it’s really anyone’s spot to win.

Let’s take a look at what led them here, and way lays ahead.

Milwaukee Brewers 40-32

To start the week the Brewers had a short two-game series against the Astros which was split one game apiece. They then headed on to San Francisco where they played three games against the Giants and lost two. The Giants have a pretty dismal record at home, only 15-21 over the season. For the Brewers to drop two of those games may not indicate anything serious, but it’s certainly worth noting.

This week they’ve already gotten started with a game against the Padres — which they lost — and will see the San Diego team twice more. They’ll then return home for a four-game series against the Reds. The Reds have struggled with a 15-21 record on the road, so it will be interesting to see how the Brewers fare.

Up Next: at Padres (2 more games); vs Reds (4 games)

Chicago Cubs 39-32

The Cubs faced rough competition over the past week, up against the top two teams in the NL West. They lost two of three games against the Rockies — though their single win was a 10-1 crushing, so that’s nice. They then headed to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers over four games, and managed only a single win. Now, the Dodgers are 28-9 at home this season, so the results aren’t exactly shocking, but it would have been nice to see the series split at least.

Now they return home for a Chicago vs Chicago match, facing the White Sox for a two-game series. The White Sox are 14-19 on the road, even when that road is only a few miles away, and the Cubs are 24-11 at home, so things are skewing in favor of the North Side there. After that it’s a four-game series at home against the Mets. The Mets are 14-24 on the road, so this could be a very good week for the Cubs if they play things the right way.

Up Next: vs White Sox (2 games); vs Mets (4 games)

St. Louis Cardinals 37-34

Where the top two teams struggled a little this week, the Cardinals managed to actually have a very productive one. Likely the reason they’re currently only 2½ games back from first place. They took two of three games against the Marlins (though the Marlins did collect a 9-0 victory in the mix). Then they faced the Mets for four games and won three, which is hopefully a previous of things to come for the Cubs.

In the week ahead they face the Marlins again — and have already won the first game in the series — and have three games remaining in the series. Then interleague awaits with a three-game home series against the Angels. The Angels are 17-19 on the road right now, not dismal, so the Cardinals will need to work if they plan to climb any further in the standings.

Up Next: vs Marlins (3 more games); vs Angels (3 games)

Cincinnati Reds 32-38

What’s this? The Reds have pulled out of the bottom place and are now fourth in the standings. How did they manage it? In part, it was the Pirates, which we’ll touch on in a moment. But they also split a two-game series against the Cleveland Indians, then won a single game in their three-game series against the Texas Rangers.

They’ve opened their three-game series against the AL West-leading Houston Astros, winning the first game. Then they will head to Milwaukee for a four-game series against the Brewers. They have only a half game lead over the Pirates right now, so the two teams might continue to swap places over the coming weeks.

Up Next: vs Astros (2 more games); at Brewers (4 games)

Pittsburgh Pirates 32-39

The Pirates have gone 2-8 over their last 10 games, a record which puts them in the company of the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles. They lost all four games they played against the Braves (who have a 9-1 record over their last 10 games). Then won two of three against the Marlins.

Up next they’ll face the Tigers, a duel of two terrible records. Pirates will have home field advantage, and the Tigers are only 14-19 on the road (their home record, remarkably, is even worst). The Pirates are only 13-18 at home, mind you, so it’s really hard to say either team has the advantage or disadvantage here. Then the Pirates will host the Padres, who are 7-3 for their last 10, and have a 17-17 away record.

Up Next: vs Tigers (2 games); vs Padres (3 games)