On Monday night, the St. Louis Cardinals came up one game short of their second consecutive World Series berth. But despite their defeat, the recent success of the National League Central remains notable.
The Cardinals have made the playoffs as a wild-card for two consecutive years, meaning that four of the nine playoff berths over the last two years have been filled by NL Central teams. In addition to St. Louis' success, the Reds and Brewers have each made the playoffs as division champions.
The Pirates contended during portions of the past two seasons, and they competed pretty well down the stretch against the Cardinals in particular, but none of these three teams has shown much signs of slowing down in the short-term future.
Each of the Pirates' rivals has a homegrown core that is expected to remain in place. Ryan Braun and Joey Votto are superstars who won't be leaving the division anytime soon, and the Cardinals have a large collection of talent that seems to continuously regenerate.
It's unfortunate for the Pirates that the strength of the division coincides with their expected development over the next several years. The Bucs clearly showed in 2012 that they are still capable of competing for playoff berths, but the days of competing in the NL Central with 85-87 wins seem long gone.
The Pirates' long-term prospects do seem a bit brighter, as both Baseball America and Keith Law view the Pittsburgh and St. Louis farm systems as the class of the division. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon give the Bucs' rotation a higher ceiling than any other in the division.
But the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers have proven that they are well-run, successful organizations that likely have bright futures ahead. It won't be easy for the Pirates to break into this triumvirate.