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National League Central roundup - 8/6

The division haps!

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

As we begin moving down the stretch of the season, the Brewers tentatively hold first place; Reds slide; Cubs surge; Pirates breakeven; and the Cardinals dawdle in last. Here’s the week that was.

1. Milwaukee Brewers (60-52, - GB)

The Brewers were 3-7 over their last 10 games heading into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh, matching only the Cardinals in the division for such a tough stretch. Despite that, they’ve maintained the division lead into August. At eight games over .500, Milwaukee is outperforming its expected win-loss record by five games (-5 run differential), which isn’t abnormal for this year’s central division. Still, I suppose that doesn’t matter much if you’re in first place at year’s end.

Brewers get the Rockies for three at home, then it’s off to Chicago for three against the White Sox.

What to watch: The Brewers sought a lot of help before the deadline. While Milwaukee’s pitching was about leave average, the offense was consistently below average, carrying around an 80 wRC+ for most of the year. The team is seeking to fill some offensive holes with the addition of Carlos Santana and, most notably, former Met Mark

2. Cincinnati Reds (59-54, 1.5 GB)

The Reds have lost five straight coming into Sunday’s game. That slide resulted in falling to second place in the division. While Cincinnati battles the lowly Nationals, Milwaukee gets the Pirates for the weekend, and only one of those two is making it count thus far. The top two teams in the division will attempt to keep pace with one another by fighting against two of the worst teams in the National League.

Reds get Miami for three, then it’s on to Pittsburgh for three.

What to watch: In an earlier edition of Central Roundup, I wrote that the Reds had been purveyors of success at home, but not so much on the road. Fast forward to today, and the script has somewhat flipped. 28-28 at home versus 31-26 on the road, and all of a sudden, the Reds are a road team. That bodes well for a potential playoff berth, since they’ll face a higher percentage of road games.

3. Chicago Cubs (57-54, 2.5 GB)

The Cubs have ponied up a string of wins, including obliterating the Reds and taking three of four from one of two teams stationed ahead of them. Chicago didn’t sell at the deadline and, in fact, brought some help in, notably in third baseman Jeimer Candelario. That tells us the Cubs think they have a shot at making the playoffs from a mediocre division.

Cubs head to New York for three against the Mets, then to Toronto for three.

What to watch: I’ve mentioned again and again that the Cubs run differential is the only positive differential in the central – and it’s been that way for months. At +73, Chicago is finally above .500 on the year. As I write this, they’re 2.5 games back of the Brewers for the division; winning a division crown is well within striking distance.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates (49-61, 10 GB)

The Pirates were active leading up to the deadline. Many expected that David Bednar and Mitch Keller would stay put, which was true. But Rich Hill, Ji-Man Choi, Austin Hedges, Carlos Santana, and Rodolfo Castro were all moved at various times. That’s the formula. Sign veterans and, if the team isn’t competitive, hopefully move them to a different team. The Pirates are playing .500 over their last 10, including an extra innings loss to Milwaukee last night.

Pirates begin a homestand Monday, with four against Atlanta, then three against Cincinnati.

What to watch: The Pirates are young – very young. And we should be getting some sort of indication of what’s coming down the line for the future in terms of competitiveness. The obvious storylines over the next two months will be what strides the young players will make and how much of an impact we can expect them to have in the years to come. After all, we’d heard for years that the 2024 season is the year we should expect Pittsburgh to finally compete again. We’ll see about that.

5. St. Louis Cardinals (49-63, 11 GB)

The trade deadline came and went, and the Cardinals didn’t do much, despite their anemic state. Moving Jack Flaherty to Baltimore was the headlining to deal, while veterans like Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Willson Contreras stayed put. It’s clear the Cardinals’ front office is banking on the idea that this season is an aberration and not an expectation.

Cardinals travel to Tampa Bay for three, then Kansas City for two.

What to watch: It’s a bit down the road, but the Cardinals expect the arrival of some reinforcements next year. Masyn Winn and Tink Hence are prospects one and two in the organization. Winn, just 21, has an .828 OPS in Triple-A Memphis this season. Hence, 20, has put up a 3.33 ERA at Double-A Springfield and a 2.81 ERA in Single-A+ Peoria.