Although the Pittsburgh Pirates tried at the trade deadline to be involved in the conversation, this has turned into a three horse race. With around one month left, the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Milwaukee Brewers find themselves only 3 games apart. The race is tight, and important as well. Whoever wins the division will likely get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Whoever finishes third might just find themselves out of the playoffs altogether. Let’s dive in and figure out where everyone is going to finish in the NL Central Playoff Race.
NL Central Playoff Race
Games against other division contenders
Chicago Cubs – Six against Milwaukee, three at home, three away. Three against St. Louis at home.
St. Louis Cardinals – Three against Milwaukee at home. Three against Chicago away.
Milwaukee Brewers – Six against Chicago, three at home, three away. Three against St. Louis away.
Chicago Cubs: Current record 71-53
The Cubs are currently leading the division and the Cardinals by 2.5 games. They have more games left than anyone else in baseball with 38. This will likely be the make or break factor for the Cubbies. The path for Chicago isn’t terribly tough, as their opponents only have a .496 win percentage. Luckily the Cubs have good pitching depth, as Yu Darvish and Mike Montgomery are now on the disabled list.
The major piece to watch is going to be the return of Kris Bryant. While he is out, David Bote is going to need to continue to produce. With no timetable for Bryant’s return, the team went out and traded for Daniel Murphy. This will likely be the move that keeps the Cubs at the top of the division and helps them repeat as division champs. The last positive for the Cubs is the number of games they have at home to finish the year. Four of their last six series are going to be at home, which should be enough to ease them into the division title.
Prediction: Chicago Cubs win division, finish at 93-69
St. Louis Cardinals: Current record 70-57, 2.5 games back
If the Cardinals are going to make the playoffs, they cannot afford any more injuries. The pitching staff is young and thin, with Carlos Martinez being injured again after being struck by a Joc Pederson line drive. Although it doesn’t look serious, the team needs him to return strong. Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez have been leading this team on offense and must continue to do so. A new face is back in St. Louis to help those two, as the team claimed Matt Adams off waivers on the 21st.
The major piece to watch for the Cardinals is their schedule. Faced with the seventh hardest remaining schedule in baseball at .514, things won’t be easy. As long as St. Louis is close at the end of the year, they will likely be in charge of their own destiny. The Cards finish with a series against Milwaukee and then in Chicago, the two division teams that are fighting against. It is likely going to be too little too late, and the Cards will find themselves on the outside looking in.
Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals miss playoffs, finish at 86-76
Milwaukee Brewers: Current record 70-58, 3.0 games back
Milwaukee made a lot of big moves heading into 2018, and even more at the trade deadline. Joakim Soria, Jonathan Schoop, Mike Moustakas joined Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich as new additions. For the Brewers, All of these new additions need to perform better to make a run. Schoop is hitting .173, Soria is on the disabled list, although Moustakas has played well with a .256/.330/.397 slash line. With two divisional teams in front of them and countless wildcard teams around, they can’t afford to wait and see.
The Brewers could easily slip in their pitching staff, as four of their starters are outperforming their FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). FIP is usually used as a measuring device to see if someone is doing better or worse than their ERA signifies. In the Brewers case, Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Junior Guerra, and Wade Miley have a combined 3.59 ERA on the year. Their combined FIP is around 4.52. In general terms, those four Milwaukee starters are outperforming by around 1 run per 9 innings than they should be. Teams get lucky every year, and their season is going to depend on those four pitchers continuing to do so.
Prediction: Milwaukee Brewers win a wild-card berth, finish at 89-73
Last Word on NL Central Playoff Race
Currently the closest race in baseball, the NL Central is an extremely intriguing playoff picture. The Cubs won the World Series in 2016 and are the most talented team on paper. The St. Louis Cardinals seem to always be able to win when it matters like they did in 2011. Milwaukee is looking to break back into the playoffs with their influx of new faces on the team. Regardless of who makes it, one thing is for certain. The NL Central Playoff Race is going to be an exciting watch.