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Will the Cardinals keep the division lead in what could be Albert's last year in St. Louis?
The St. Louis Cardinals are quitely having one of the best seasons in baseball right now. The Cardinals currently own the third-best record in the majors, and Albert Pujols has yet to play like Albert Pujols.
The Cards currently rank first in the majors in batting average and on-base percentage and are second in runs. Lance Berkman has been a great surprise, and Matt Holliday has a NL-leading .342 batting average.
However, the Cards were given some bad news today as it looks as if Holliday will have to spend some time on the DL with a quad injury. Kyle Lohse is doing his best to fill in for the injured Adam Wainwright, and Jaime Garcia is having a great sophomore season.
All of this has been accomplished without the great Albert Pujols or Chris Carpenter performing near their normal levels; it's only a matter of when—not if—these guys return to normal form and that could spell trouble for the rest of the National League.
The Milwaukee Brewers are currently in second, 2.5 games back of St. Louis. The Brew Crew have been hot of late, and after a slow start have really regained form quickly.
Zack Grienke spent the first month or so on the DL, but has been well worth the wait since being activated. Sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are again the driving forces behind this offense, and Shawn Marcum and Yovani Gallardo are proving themselves to be great No. 2 and 3 options. As long as things keep rolling along like so in Milwaukee, it could be a great race to the finish in the central.
Last year's NL Central champs currently find themselves in third. The Cincinnati Reds are four games back of the division lead. Joey Votto has had a strong follow-up to his MVP season in 2010 so far, and Jay Bruce has broken out the big bat this year knocking in 17 homers so far in 2011.
Hitting hasn't neccesarily been the problem in Cinci; instead, it's been pitching. The top qualifying ERA for the Reds is a scary 5.05 belonging to Travis Wood. If the Reds want to make another run at an NL Central crown, they're going to have to figure out the pitching issues.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are not in fourth place—this is a typo: The Pittsburgh Pirates are actually in fourth place. Although fourth is obviously not the ideal place, it's a start for the Pirates who are used to being cellar-dwellers in the central. The Andrew McCutchen-led Pirates are only three games back of .500 and continue to show signs of improvement.
It looks like this again will not be the year for the Chicago Cubs. Another year, and more misery for the Cubs and their faithful fans. There hasn't been too much to cheer about at Wrigley so far this year outside of Alfonso Soriano, who at the time of this article, finds himself on the disabled list.
In sixth place in the only six-team division in the majors are the Houston Astros. Although only 10.5 games out, it's not all terrible for the Astros. However, Hunter Pence has been their best player so far and many believe him to be on the move come July. Michael Bourn has been dangerous once on the basepaths, but getting him home has seemed to be troublesome.
Look for the Astros to be sellers once again at the deadline, and their depth in the division to continue to fall.
Final NL Central Standings
1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Houston Astros
Surprise, surprise: Look for the Brewers to keep the Cardinals from the division crown for a second year in a row. This division will be one to watch down the stretch, with the Cardinals and Brewers trading blows and look for the Reds and the Pirates to keep it interesting.
In the end, the Cardinals just have too many key injuries to get the crown, and the Reds just don't have the pitching to repeat in the NL Central.