The Oh-So-Interesting National League Central

The Cardinals won their 50th game of 2014 last night, their third straight victory over the had-been-hot-coming-into-St.-Louis Pirates. Combined with the Brewers losing their 40th game yesterday, St. Louis is now just two games behind Milwaukee in the National League Central division standings — with a three-game trip up north coming up on Friday.

NL CentralYes, the Central standings are looking very interesting these days.

Ah, baseball …

The Cardinals at the moment are the closest to first place they’ve been since May 27, when they were 1 1/2 games back. They’re a season-high eight games over .500 at 50-42.

The Brewers, on the other hand, are struggling right now. Just nine days ago, they began July with a 6 1/2 game lead. They lost that day and have lost six of seven since then, plus are 2-8 in their last 10 games.

Then there are the Reds, who are a half-game behind the Cardinals at the moment and thus 2 1/2 behind the Brewers. They spent the first two months of the season below .500, falling as low as six games under at the end of May. On June 24 they were 38-38 and 7 1/2 games behind the Brewers, but have since gone 11-4 (including winning two of three over Milwaukee last weekend) and currently have their second five-game winning streak of that stretch. This afternoon, they’ll look to sweep the Cubs in a five-game series before the Pirates come to town.

Speaking of the Buccos, they had been hot before arriving in St. Louis — they were even in second place when they started this series with the Cards on Monday and had won eight of their last 10. Like the Reds, they struggled during April and May and were eight games below .500 on May 20. They were six games over after Sunday’s game, but then this series with the Cardinals happened.

All four of these teams still have plenty of games with each other — including this weekend’s series at Miller Park, the Cards and Brewers still play each other 13 more times plus the Cards have 10 games against the Reds and six with the Pirates. The race really is still wide open.

And one thing that could affect it: injuries. All of as Cardinals fans are keeping our fingers crossed that Yadier Molina really did suffer nothing more than a sprained thumb as he slid into third base last night and had to leave the game. Further test results are expected today, but Rob Rains reports Audry Perez is headed to St. Louis today just in case. We of course are well familiar with the Cardinals pitching injuries …

Also spraining a thumb last night was the Reds Brandon Phillips, while Billy Hamilton left the game with a tight hamstring, and Joey Votto went on the DL Tuesday.

Plus there are just the usual ups and downs of a baseball season, which we’ve experienced with the 2014 Cardinals more than in recent seasons. Is the offense finally back on track to stay? Will this be the year Lance Lynn actually pitches well in the second half too? Will Joe Kelly come back tomorrow night and be the spark for the rotation that he’s always been? So many questions … which guarantee interesting times ahead.

Tonight we’ll find out the answer to this question: can the Cardinals take all four from the Pirates? Edinson Volquez and Shelby Miller are the starters, with game time at 6:15 p.m. Central Time.


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