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The National League Central is one strange division

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It’s the division that no one appears to want to win.

Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

As we await play to begin today, Friday, July 5, the N.L. Central is in a spot never before seen.

The five teams are separated by just 3½ games:

Cubs 46-42
Brewers 46-42
Cardinals 43-42
Pirates 42-44
Reds 41-44

This is unprecedented for the N.L. Central so late in the season. One of these teams will eventually take charge, and I think it will be the Cubs. But they’ll have to play better within the division, for one thing, in order to win it. Records and games remaining for N.L. Central teams within the division:

Brewers 23-16 (37 remaining)
Cubs 15-16 (45 remaining)
Pirates 16-17 (43 remaining)
Cardinals 15-17 (44 remaining)
Reds 18-21 (37 remaining)

Other than the Brewers’ record within the division, that’s all pretty uninspiring and one of the reasons the Central is so close. Here are the teams’ records outside the Central:

Cubs 31-26
Cardinals 28-25
Reds 23-23
Pirates 26-27
Brewers 23-26

Well now, that’s interesting. I’ve seen people here say that the Cubs couldn’t keep up with (say) the Braves or Dodgers in a postseason series. Yet there they are, with the best record of any of the N.L. Central teams outside the division. The Cubs went 3-4 against the Dodgers this season, yet all the games were close. They went 2-5 against the Braves, but the April sweep in Atlanta happened when the Cubs were on a particularly bad run on that season-opening road trip.

Friday, the Brewers begin a series against the Pirates at PNC Park. Milwaukee just finished losing three of four to the Reds and they haven’t scored a run in their last 23 innings. You know what the Pirates just did, obviously. The Cardinals visit the Giants this weekend. The Giants aren’t very good, but are on a four-game winning streak. And the Reds, like the Cubs, have Friday off before beginning a two-game home series against the Indians in Cleveland.

So we might be looking at a season where the N.L. Central champion — hopefully the Cubs — has fewer than 90 wins. There are several recent instances of teams that have struggled to get into the postseason tourney and still won the World Series. The 2006 Cardinals won the N.L. Central with just 83 wins (and nearly blew a seven-game lead with 12 remaining), then went 11-5 in the postseason and won the World Series. And in 2000, the Yankees finished with the ninth-best record in baseball (and also nearly blew a big lead, nine games with 18 remaining, by going 3-15 in those 18 games), yet also won the World Series.

So the Cubs’ current struggles might eventually wind up meaning nothing, as long as they can qualify for the playoffs. Joe Maddon’s teams have a history of winning in the second half. Hopefully they take the two weekend games vs. the White Sox, go into the break with a bit of momentum, and regroup after the All-Star Game. They’ll begin the second half with a nine-game homestand, and they’ve played far better at home than on the road.

One thing is for sure: You can’t say this hasn’t been an interesting baseball season.

Poll

Who will win the N.L. Central in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Brewers
    (68 votes)
  • 4%
    Cardinals
    (22 votes)
  • 70%
    Cubs
    (371 votes)
  • 2%
    Pirates
    (14 votes)
  • 10%
    Reds
    (53 votes)
528 votes total Vote Now