A Look at the Contenders for the NL Central Crown
Taking control of the NL Central this year hasn’t been easy. Four teams out of the six are still in contention for a division title, and things could just be heating up.
1. St. Louis Cardinals—The division leader for most of the season has just recently been tested by the Chicago Cubs. The acquisition of Matt Holliday has paid off. With Ankiel and Ludwick not performing like last year, Holliday was a must pick-up to add offense to the outfield.
The return of Carpenter has also helped the Cardinals stay atop of the the division. Pitching hasn’t been the problem for the Cards since their ERA is 3.71, 3rd in the whole league.
With players like Holliday, Pujols, and Carpenter why didn’t the Cards take more firm control of the division?
The problem is their inconsistent hitting. The Cards are ranked 23rd in hitting, batting a team average of .256. The Card’s hitters are not doing as well as last year, and it is hurting them.
Ankiel and Ludwick are having a tough time following up on their breakout season that they both had last year, although Ludwick has been hittin much better since the break.
Overall it has been the consistent pitching that has kept St. Louis afloat and in the race for the division title.
2. Chicago Cubs—The team picked to win the division has been the most up and down this season. There have been points in the season were the Cubs looked totally out of it, and now suddenly they are tied for first along with the Cards. The Cubs are behind the Cards in hitting and pitching, but their offense has started to pick up as of late and that is why you see them on top of their division.
The Cubs season hasn’t been without a lot of criticism of the team and the signings of certain players. Randy Wells, however, has been a revelation as the only consistent pitcher for the Cubs.
Wells, a really nice catch, has produced many great starts, and has been a huge part in the Cubs staying in the race. The Cubs just might make the playoffs this year, but they need to watch out for Holliday and Pujols. If those guys start hitting on all cylinders, then the Cubs could be in trouble.
3. Milwaukee Brewers—The Brew Crew are playing at the level most people thought they would play. They have begun to dip a little in the recent weeks, but are still only four games out of first, which is still a very reasonable distance considering that they are one game below .500.
Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are having great seasons again but it’s not the offense that is lacking. It’s the pitching. After losing CC to the Yankees, the Brewers are having trouble finding a go-to pitcher. Every one of their pitchers are having decent but not great years.
Before the season started people knew the pitching was the weak point so it doesn’t come as a surprise. Look for this team to contend in a few years if they get the pitching help they need.
4. Houston Astros—A huge shocker that this team is were they are at. They have sipped the past 10 games going 3-7, but they are still hanging in there after a terrible Spring Training and start to the year.
Having only three big names on the team—Oswalt, Lee, and Berkman—the Astros are really holding their own. Almost a sleeper this year, the Astros have flown under the radar.
Now I am not saying they will win the World Series or even make the playoffs, but they are doing a good job of at least keeping a possible playoff appearance within the realm of possibility.
With a few more months left in the regular season, the Central Division race should be an exciting and close race all the way to the finish. We will have to see which teams are still contending after August, and which have fallen off the playoff wagon.
Get ready to watch some great American baseball!
* – Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday photo credit: SkyNews
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