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National League Central roundup - 7/11

Here’s what’s happening this week.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the All-Star break, some distance is opening up between the top two teams and everyone else. The Reds winning ways continue; the Brewers hit the throttle a bit more; the Cubs scuffle towards mediocrity; the Pirates road record continues to bring pain; and the Cardinals are simply bad.

1: Cincinnati Reds (50-41, - GB)

Coming into Saturday’s affair with the Brewers, the Reds had won eight of their last 10, and needed a win to keep Milwaukee from tying things up in the central. (They got it.) More and more, it seems as though Cincinnati is going to stick around to make a run at the division, particularly if the Brew Crew can’t find a true identity.

But we know a good month of baseball does not a long-term winner make. Just look at the Pirates’ April.

What to watch: The Reds are very young, so let’s take the long view on this one. Who would’ve thought that Cincinnati’s rebuild, with all of the discontent among the fanbase with ownership and a nearly Oakland-level desire to not win, would suddenly surpass Pittsburgh’s rebuild by a mile?

Reds’ roster by birth year:

1996: Alexis Diaz, Tyler Stephenson, Jonathan India,

1997: Spencer Steer

1998: Graham Ashcraft, Will Benson

1999: Andrew Abbott, Matt McLain

2002: Elly De La Cruz

If the Reds assemble some more starting pitching and add one or two more pieces, they’re going to be good for years.

2: Milwaukee Brewers (49-42, 1.0 GB)

The Brewers had taken seven out of 10 and, after hovering close to that .500 mark for much of the last couple months, have pulled away a bit and managed to keep pace with the Reds. Like Cincinnati, Milwaukee still has a negative run differential (-14), but they are apparently undeterred in pursuit of a division crown.

What to watch: The Brewers are on a nice little run over the last few and haven’t dropped a series since June 21, but that could change Sunday afternoon. Coming off a split with the Cubs, the best Milwaukee can now do after losing Saturday is pull within one game of Cincinnati heading into the break. Their race with the Reds is quickly becoming the leading headline in the central.

3: Chicago Cubs (42-47, 7.0 GB)

The Cubs are +26 in the run differential department, which is approximately where they’ve sat for the better part of the last couple months, but aren’t really showing any signs of meaningfully improving their record, and especially not since the two teams above them have begun to heat up.

What to watch: I don’t get on Twitter much, and it’s usually for group correspondence, but my feed is exclusively Major League Baseball. And what could I not escape? The fact that the Cubs won a game at Yankee Stadium for the first time... ever. It’s true that Chicago has only played 12 games in New York against the Yankees in their greater-than-a-century history as a club, but it seemed noteworthy to the baseball world.

Other than that, the deficit is perhaps getting too great to see the Cubs make a run at the division, but they’re an interesting case. Where the Cubs end up is really still anybody’s guess. Fangraphs puts them in third at 77-85, six games back of the division-winning Brewers, but with — you guessed it — the only positive run differential in the division (+11).

4: Pittsburgh Pirates (41-49, 8.5 GB)

Bummer. After a good previous week, the Pirates went into Los Angeles and lost three out of four. Then they went into Arizona and dropped the first two games, now losers of four straight. This is not an easy way to finish the first half of the season trying to play up to the level of the NL West’s two division leaders on the road, but here we are. They are 18-28 on the road. Where is this organization headed?

What to watch: Injury alert. The Pirates have seemed bombarded with injuries, as though they’d taken the MLB The Show sliders and maximized the injury one. This isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon on Todd Tomczyk’s watch. Though I don’t have any empirical data — and so am thus not trying to libel Tomczyk — to suggest the Pirates are hurt more frequently than the major league average with Tomczyk at the helm, they seem anecdotally hurt an awful lot.

The Pirates injured list currently includes the following: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Hernandez, Ji Hwan Bae, Wil Crowe, Oneil Cruz, Vince Velaquez, and JT Brubaker.

5: St. Louis Cardinals (38-52, 12.5 GB)

The Cardinals are 16 games under .500 and have settled into a spot at the bottom of the division. No, they haven’t secured their first last place finish since 1990, but they’re well on their way to establishing their first dreadful season in over three decades.

What to watch: I don’t usually get too wrapped up in All-Star Game ephemera. I typically don’t even watch the thing, not being interested in meaningless exhibition, but it does often provide decent fodder.

So, I noticed that Nolan Arenado is the elected starting third baseman for the National League. It didn’t sound quite right — not the idea that Arenado is an All-Star because that’s been common over the years — but that he’s an All-Star this year.

My conclusion: maybe he is the best call, maybe not. But what has stood out to me is this: his defense. What happened? Currently, Arenado sports a -2 DRS, which is nearly worst among qualifying third baseman in the National League. Include the whole league and he’s tied for 88th. Essentially, all of his defensive metrics are negative, a far cry from the defender we’d come to know. So, what to watch for? Whether or not Arenado can play an effective third base.