Roughly two months have passed since Opening Day for MLB teams, and many division races are still within a handful of games as we are quickly approaching the dog days of summer and the All-Star Break.
Very early in the season, we have seen many preseason favorites such as the Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres perform exceptionally well, even while battling through injuries and Covid-19 protocols.
But one division that has always come down to the wire year in and year out for the past 10 seasons or so has been the NL Central. Comprised of the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Pittsburgh Pirates, the NL Central is always chock-full of talent… and our NL Central predictions are here to crack the story wide open!
As of June 8th, 2021, the Brewers currently hold a one-game lead of the division over the Cubs, with the Cardinals 3.5 games back.
- Check out our Blue Jays vs White Sox picks!
There’s still a lot of baseball left to be played, but it’s looking like the Brewers core of sluggers and pitchers like Christian Yelich, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Josh Hader are midseason favorites to lock up first place.
In their last ten games, the Brew Crew have only lost one, and are currently on a five-game winning streak, having swept the Arizona Diamondbacks at home and taking game one on the road in Cincinnati. They have been able to keep key players healthy so far this season, and if they can keep that up, they could be looking at a deep run come October.
The second-place Chicago Cubs are currently half a game behind the Brewers. With perennial all-stars like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and the offseason additions of Joc Pederson and Jake Arrieta, the Cubs have not only great depth in the field, but in the bullpen as well. So far this season, the Cubbies have outscored their opponents 273 runs to 248 for a +25 advantage.
This shows that not only do they get the job done on the mound, but they also get the job done in the batter’s box. Over the past ten games, however, they are 5-5, losing the series opener against a very talented San Diego Padres team in San Diego.
A number of players have spent time on the IL this year, but thanks to a great farm system, they are able to call up skilled minor leaguers to help fill in gaps left by those who have to spend a few days on the IL.
St. Louis Cardinals
The third-place St. Louis Cardinals are sitting one game above .500 through 61 games played. Over their past ten games, they’ve lost 8, including being swept by their division rivals, the Reds.
The Redbirds made a huge move in the offseason by acquiring Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies in a trade. With a young core of players like Tommy Edman, Dylan Carlson, and Tyler O’Neill, and veteran players like Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and Paul Goldschmidt, the Cardinals could have all the tools in place to either win the division or pick up one of the NL Wild Card spots.
However, injuries have been hampering these efforts, with key pitchers like Miles Mikolas, Jordan Hicks, and Jack Flaherty, as well as everyday starters like Yadier Molina, Harrison Bader, and Paul DeJong spending time on the IL recently. If healthy, the Cardinals will be a legitimate contender in late August through September, and if hot, through October as well.
The fourth-place Cincinnati Reds are currently 2 games below .500, but have been playing good baseball recently, winning 6 of their last ten, including sweeping division rivals St. Louis in a four-game series at home. Armed with a number of stars like Nick Castellanos, Joey Votto, Luis Castillo, and Sean Doolittle, the Reds have been performing about as well as they have over the last few seasons in a loaded NL Central.
Injuries to key players Michael Lorenzen and Mike Moustakas have hurt Cincinnati. Cincinnati has a tough schedule ahead, losing game one of three at home against the Brewers. Next week, they will have to travel to Milwaukee for another three-game series there, as well as travel to San Diego for four games against the Padres before ending their road trip in Minnesota with a pair of games against the Twins.
They will face many more challenges as they approach the All-Star Break, but if they can prove themselves, they could head into the break moving up a couple places within the division.
The Pittsburgh Pirates currently have one of the worst records in baseball (23-36, .390) and are currently on a two-game losing streak. Composed of more veteran players, the Pirates have seen several players spend significant time on the IL. Over the past few seasons, the Pirates have been the fifth-place team in the Central, and they will need to work on developing young players in their farm system to help replace their veteran players as they move towards retirement in the coming seasons.
Looking at their schedule heading over the next month and a half, they have a few series against strong teams, such as the Cardinals, Brewers, Mets, and White Sox.
My NL Central Predictions
The Milwaukee Brewers are for sure favorites, but if the Cardinals can get healthy they are my pick to win the division!