Considering we are finally into August, I feel like it’s as good as time as any to start talking playoff baseball. I realize we are still over a month away, but some races will already be over come September. The race I really want to highlight, and mind you there are other good story lines, is the NL central. Call me a “homer” but, the NL central hasn’t got much love the last few years, earning the oh so kind title as the worst division in baseball. The dubious title has been given to the division that provided both the NLCS teams and the World Series champion last year, but I digress. This is a new year, and shockingly enough, the NL central has some strength again. The NL Central very easily could put 3 teams in the playoffs this year, thanks to the new wild card system.
The Reds - As much as it pains me to say it, and trust me it does, the Reds for the last 2 weeks have been arguably, almost unarguably, the best team in baseball. They have been finding ways to win games, and that’s really what matters in the end (see the Cardinals dramatic comeback last year). Some of those wins weren’t pretty, or were thanks to Houston’s bullpen, but they found ways to win nonetheless. The Reds have a shut down bullpen, and Chapmen has been near unhittable for long stretches this season. Will they keep winning at the current rate… probably not, are the a good enough team to make the playoffs… absolutely. They have enough pop in the lineup to do real damage, and as long as their pitching staff can keep the ball in Great American Ballpark, they have a good chance at winning most nights
The Pirates – Someone forgot to tell the Pirates that last year’s stronger season was a fluke. The Pirates made a real push for the playoffs last year, but hit a wall in July and ended up with their record setting 19th consecutive losing season. Andrew McCutchen has been an MVP caliber player for the pirates, and AJ Burnett is channeling his Marlins days in leading the Pirates charge towards the playoffs. The Pirates offense isn’t as potent as the Reds or Cardinals, but their pitching is keeping them in games. Like the Reds, the Pirates are doing the things they need to do to keep games close, and finding ways to win. The pitching staff has been solid all year, and with just a little under 2 months to play… the Pirates are a playoff team. They were in this spot last year and didn’t finish the job… we’ll see what happens this year, but if the last 4 months are any indication… the pirates are going nowhere.
The Cardinals – The Cardinals are coming off of one of the most dramatic, fairy tale ending seasons in recent memory. And unlike some World Series champion teams of the past, the talent is still there. The Cardinals have spent a majority of the season playing mediocre baseball despite their strong roster. Despite all the talent, the sense of urgency didn’t always appear to be present. The Cardinals were struggling in close games, and the 7th inning seemed like a broken record. The Cardinals for all their talk, were not all that active at the trade deadline, but as said before… the talent was there. The Cards have won 12 of their last 16 though, and teams may be getting a little concerned. This is a team with a World Series MVP hitting 6th or 7th in the order most nights (no surprise the Cards have been at the top of the league in runs scored all year). The bullpen has pulled it together the last 2 weeks, and the Cardinals starters are Quality Start machines of late. If this Cardinals team has finally found that urgency Cardinals Nation has been dying to see… Well the rest of the National League needs to watch out, because this team is filled with players who have “been there before”. They don’t shy away from big games, and don’t blink when they are down to their last strike. The cardinals have dug themselves a bit of a hole, but let’s be honest… that didn’t stop them last year either.