Arguably the toughest division in all of baseball, the NL Central is once again seeing the playoff race coming down to the wire – something that is perfect for television ratings, but horrible for the hearts of each team’s faithful fans. Just as it was in 2013, the division race is coming down to three teams in 2014 – the Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals.
After defeating the Pirates 5-4 on Labor Day, the Cardinals took advantage of a six game losing streak by the Brewers for sole possession of first place in the division. In doing so, the Brewers have taken their largest step back in the 2014 season, one in which that has been a overwhelming surprise. However, as of September 2, the Brewers find themselves a game out of first place:
STL 74-63 0 GB
MIL 73-64 1 GB
PIT 71-66 3 GB
With an offense that has been quite the opposite of its 2013 counterpart, the Cardinals have struggled mightily to score runs on a consistent basis – being forced to rely on their reinvented pitching staff and bullpen. It’s an area featuring struggles that should have derailed the team months ago – while the Cardinals rank 27th in the majors in runs scored, the Pirates rank 12th and the Brewers rank 9th. In terms of pitching, the three teams are quite literally identical – the Cardinals rank 15th (3.66 ERA), Pirates 16th (3.67) and Brewers 17th (3.76).
Perhaps the most astounding statistic about the NL Central lies within run differential. So often we are told that run differential can go a long way into determining who ends the season on top, yet look at the run differential in the division:
For the Cardinals, the reason for their ascension to the top of the division can largely be attributed to their ability to tread water on the road (32-35 record) while taking care of business at Busch Stadium (42-28). Their ability to win at home is the sole reason the Cardinals have been able to creep into first place in the tenuous NL Central.
Baseball is also a game of streaks. The Cardinals have combined a three game winning streak with a two game losing streak of the Pirates and a six game losing streak of the Brewers. Who knows what we will be saying at this time next week. However, history is on the side of the Cardinals. They are an organization accustomed to winning, and winning often. Despite his short time as manager, Mike Matheny has done a good job of leading his team towards the postseason at the end of the year. And as the Cardinals have shown in the last decade, it isn’t where you start the season that matters, it is where you end up.
The final month of the season will be entertaining in the NL Central, to say the least. But if Matt Holliday can continue the hot hitting as he has showcased lately, then perhaps the race is over before it even begins.
Cover Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
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