It's just about the midway point in baseball's marathon season and it's time to reflect on the first 80 or so games of 2014 and cast some predictions for how the rest will shape up.
I'll publish a series of articles that will round out every division in baseball as well as the MVP and Cy Young races in either league. Today, one of the divisions I'll look at is the National League Central.
Here's how they will finish...
1) St. Louis Cardinals
This is extremely tough for me. I've been on the Brewers' train since last August and I'm sitting on a Milwaukee season win total over ticket that is 30 wins away from cashing. The Brewers hold the best record in baseball and have opened up the largest divisional lead of all six races. But I still have St. Louis eventually pulling in front to win this division, even though my gut is beginning to swing toward Milwaukee holding on.
The next couple weeks before the All-Star break will loom large. Milwaukee has the favorable schedule and St. Louis is dealing with a flurry of injuries all at once. If the Brew Crew can stretch a lead out to seven or eight games, this division could become a lot more decided before the break. But if St. Louis hangs tight it could spell trouble for Milwaukee. Not because the Brewers aren't necessarily for real, but because of the talent in St. Louis. Adam Wainwright will compete for his first Cy Young and the surplus of pitching will win out.
2) Milwaukee Brewers
If the Red Birds do catch Milwaukee, the Brewers should still play in the playoffs via one of the wildcard spots. And it will still be a hugely successful season in Milwaukee. Wishing this team the best. Jonathan Lucroy is an MVP candidate at this point in the season. Maybe more important than anything else, Aramis Ramirez must stay healthy.
3) Cincinnati Reds
The Reds lurk in third place right now. And while I don't think they'll make a run at the division lead, their pitching is significantly better than Pittsburgh's. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are healthy again. And the Reds can certainly compete for a second wildcard spot. It will be tough in the National League, though.
4) Pittsburgh Pirates
I love the outfield (like everyone else), but the pitching is pretty scary right now. Hopefully Gerrit Cole comes back strong, making his return off the DL tonight. But right now Charlie Morton tops the depth chart of starting pitchers. And that's not a good thing. Pittsburgh fizzles out.
5) Chicago Cubs
The Cubs were never expected to contend this year. The young core is there, though.