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National League Central roundup - 7/26

Here’s your division update.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers hold to first place for another week; the Reds have been playing well; the Cubs improve their run differential — but not standing — in the division; the Cardinals are out of the basement; if it wasn’t already, the year of the Pirates is officially over.

1: Milwaukee Brewers (56-46, - GB)

I was in Philadelphia to watch the Brewers play the Phillies last Tuesday night. It was a lackluster performance from Milwaukee, and they ended up losing 4-3. But they took the next two games before losing a series-deciding game three at home against the Braves.

Brewers have one more this week vs. Cincinnati before departing for three at Atlanta.

What to watch: Abner Uribe has thrown 5.2 innings for the Brewers, but his stuff looks strong. A 14.54 K/9 in that very short span, to go along with his 100+ mph fastball, and Uribe could be a dominating backend presence for Milwaukee. Just 23 years old, look for Uribe to go many miles in a Brewers uniform.

2: Cincinnati Reds (56-47, 0.5 GB)

The Reds dropped five out of six to the Brewers between both ends of the All-Star break, making the optics of a division-run bleak. Splitting two against a formidable Giants team and then getting a series sweep against a struggling Diamondbacks team, Cincinnati is still in a position to compete with the Brewers, particularly with another series against those central frontrunners wrapping up today.

The Reds travel to Los Angeles to play three against the Dodgers.

What to watch: People like to point out of flaws in otherwise interesting and astonishing players. Making the rounds on social media are the possible drawbacks in Elly De La Cruz’s game, including his groundball rate. At 57 percent, De La Cruz ranks among the highest groundball hitters in the game. With a below average 96 wRC+, he’s cooled off precipitously from his initial entrance to the game. He’s young, so these things may become a blip on the radar. But the Twittersphere had anointed him King of the Game early on.

3: Chicago Cubs (49-51, 6.0 GB)

These Cubbies have a +45 run differential, still the only team in the division with a positive accrual of runs. It appears not to matter, as the team is still floating in a non-competitive ether known as third place in the NL Central. Perhaps they could make a run, but with just over two months left on the calendar, a six-game deficit is beginning to loom large. I figure the Cubs will probably stand pat at this point. Though they have won four in a row.

What to watch: Apparently Cody Bellinger is MVP Bellinger again. His 2.7 fWAR is the highest output since his stellar 2019 season, and you should expect it to ultimately rival his 2017 and 2018 output (3.9, 3.5). His 143 wRC+ falls short of only his MVP season. A change of scenery was apparently needed for the tall lefty, and this shade of blue seems to suit him well.

4: St. Louis Cardinals (45-57, 11.0 GB)

The Cardinals have gone 6-4 over their last 10 and their home record continues to creep up near .500. Clawing themselves outside of the cellar didn’t take as much work as perhaps it should’ve, since the Pirates have been all too willing to lose games in order to help the St. Louis cause.

Cardinals are in the middle of three versus Arizona, then it’s home for four against Chicago.

What to watch: The Cardinals are in a different position than they’ve been in years. For the first time, they’re playing as an ostensible rebuilder — at least in part. Over the next week, what to watch for will include who the team is willing to part ways with.

5: Pittsburgh Pirates (44-57, 11.5 GB)

Oh, boy. Well, the Pirates have reclaimed the spot they’ve become so intimately familiar with. Losing has become the expectation once again (except, apparently, in games where I bet against them...). Many are beginning to hope the hourglass of time is slipping its final grains of sand for those in managing positions. While there are glimmers of hope, one is left to wonder just how much like Baltimore, a team whose tanking is beginning to reap rewards, this team can be. Early indicators aren’t too promising.

Pirates has a rubber match with San Diego, then home for the Keystone Series against Philadelphia.

What to watch: After watching Henry Davis’s laser throw from right field to nearly throw out Hunter Renfroe in last night’s game against the Angels, there are definitely benefits to watching Davis patrol the grass. But I am still more focused on the bat, especially with the arrival of Endy Rodriguez.

Davis has been a fun presence to have around since his call up a month ago: energetic, happy, sometimes intense — the future makings of a leader. Of course, the development of players like Davis is really the only storyline we have these days, so keep an eye on him — as if you needed to be told that.