After another week of play, the NL Central continues to show why it is one of the worst divisions in all of baseball, but one of the most competitive divisions once again in 2021.
Both the Cubs and Brewers concluded weekend sweeps against division rivals on Sunday to continue their hot play in June. Cincinnati is suddenly one of the hottest teams in all of baseball, and while the Cardinals have largely struggled in June they entered a soft spot in the schedule with a chance to rattle off lots of wins before the All-Star Game. Meanwhile, trade rumors around one of the Pittsburgh Pirates best players have started to swirl after a significant injury to a young player on one of baseball’s best teams.
Here is your weekly update on where things stand in the NL Central as we head into a busy weekend across the division.
Chicago Cubs (38-30), tied for first place
The Cubs completed a three-game sweep of the Cardinals at Wrigley Field on Sunday Night Baseball, winning a pair of close games on Friday and Sunday night, including a comeback win on Friday after the Cardinals pitching blew up from the fifth inning on.
The Cubs conclude a set of 17 games against teams with a record over .500 on Thursday against the New York Mets at Citi Field. The Cubs lost the first three games in the series by scores of 5-2, 3-2 and 6-3, but are looking to avoid the sweep with Kyle Hendricks set to take the ball on Thursday.
No matter the result of Thursday’s game in New York, the Cubs will finish that 17-game stretch with a record over .500. Chicago’s schedule then softens for five games against the last place Miami Marlins and the second place Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field where the Cubs have a 24-10 record this season.
Milwaukee Brewers (38-30), tied for first place
Brewers fans had to feel good about their chances to take over first place early this week with three home games against the Reds while the Cubs traveled to New York, but the Brewers followed their three-game sweep of the Pirates up with three consecutive losses to Reds in Milwaukee.
The Brewers, who have a Major League worst .210 team batting average, combined to score just four runs in the three games, which included a 10-inning extra innings affair on Tuesday night.
A lack of offense continues to be the Brewers biggest downfall this season, and until Milwaukee is able to find a way to add some consistent run production to their lineup, it’s fair to assume the Brewers will be on the of the more streaky teams in the National League.
Milwaukee is blessed to see their next 10 games against the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, two of the worst teams in the National League. The Brewers posted a 9-1 record from May 29-June 6 against teams with a record under .500, including a four-game sweep of the Diamondbacks. Should the Brewers continue their dominance over teams with losing records, we could potentially see Milwaukee in first place come next week.
Cincinnati Reds (35-31), 2.0 GB
Coming off a three game sweep of the Brewers, the Reds find themselves just two games back of first place heading into a three game set with the Padres in San Diego.
The Reds have won 8-of-10 games, including six straight wins split between the Brewers and Rockies. Cincinnati’s offense has exploded for 41 runs over the lsat six games, but slowed down for just four runs in the last two over the Brewers.
Jesse WInker has continued his MVP type season with an OPS over 1.000 and Nick Castellanos is right there with him with his Major League leading 23 doubles.
During the win streak, the Reds have seen their pitching really improve, allowing just 14 runs, but they have played against two of the worst offensive teams in baseball. It will be interesting to see how Cincinnati pitching pairs against a potent Padres lineup this weekend.
St. Louis Cardinals (35-33), 3.0 GB
After back-to-back days with walk-off hits from Paul Goldschmidt and Yadier Molina the Cardinals were able to sweep the Marlins in St. Louis. The sweep improved the Cardinals record to 5-9 in June, but there is hope on the way for the Redbirds.
The Cardinals have 17-straight games against teams with a sub .500 record, continuing this weekend with a four game set in Atlanta. If the Cardinals are able to get hot and beat bad teams — like they should — St. Louis could quickly see themselves back atop the division, if the teams they are chasing drop a few games.
The return of Kwang Hyun-Kim to the rotation this weekend with an outing of 6.0 innings and just one run followed by seven scoreless innings from Johan Ovideo on Wednesday has proved the Cardinals some momentum that they can potentially use this weekend in Atlanta.
At the plate, Goldschmidt has started to heat up in June with a .311/.380/.578 month with three home runs, including a walk-off on Tuesday night.
Pittsburgh (23-44) Pirates, 14.5 GB
The Pirates are in the midst of a 10 game losing streak, which includes sweeps against the Dodgers, Brewers, and Nationals.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier in the next five games with a homestand against the Cleveland and the White Sox, currently the best record in baseball.
Speaking of the White Sox, their second baseman Nick Madrigal just suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier has a similar game to Madrigal as a good contact hitter. Frazier has a .324 average this season with a .386 OBP. Frazier is under contract until 2023 and also has the ability to play outfield, most notably left field — the same position as Eloy Jimenez who is one of the less gifted left fielders in baseball. That’s a deal that could make sense for the White Sox in both the short and long-term.
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