Here’s a quick overview of the National League Central’s postseason race as we’ve reached the final month of the regular season…
The Reds’ Magic Number is (18), the lowest of any division leader in baseball. They lead the Cardinals by 8.5 games and stand to win the division running away.
Cincy’s starting pitching has been incredibly durable this year, but it’s the lights-out bullpen that’s the difference-maker.
Marshall to Broxton to Chapman is as close as it gets to a sure victory with a late-inning lead, and the Cuban Missile has found his groove having converted his last 27 save chances–a franchise record.
There’s also plenty of offensive fire-power to go along with the pitching, as evidence by the club’s (32-16) record during the absence of Joey Votto, who was activated yesterday but did not play.
I’ve been on the record since spring training with Cincinnati as my favorite to win the division. Now I’m on the record as saying they’re my favorite to win it all in the National League this October.
Either way, there’s no ignoring the job Dusty Baker’s done in Cincinnati, which could earn him the NL Manager of the Year Award.
As much as I’d enjoy writing the Cardinals will miss the postseason, I still think they’ll earn a wild card.
While there’s little chance St. Louis catches the Reds, they do lead the NL in runs scored and the starting staff is plenty strong to hold off the wild card competition.
There’s also building speculation the seemingly indestructible Chris Carpenter will return to the rotation before season’s end.
Who knows how effective he’ll be after returning from a procedure to relieve his thoracic outlet syndrome (numbness), but it could be a key ingredient to securing a playoff spot if he’s indeed healthy down the stretch.
Per the usual, however, the Cardinals just win, always finding a way when there’s no clear path.
The Pirates’ listless second half continues. Although the Bucs are a mere 1.0 game out of the wild card, I’ve anticipated for weeks their season was about to get worse before it got better.
Those feeling have proven true with the Buccos relinquishing a 3.5 games lead in the wild card after posting a (7-17) record since August 9th.
The starting rotation is looking more tattered and thinned by the game. James McDonald has struggled with consistency after a brilliant first half. Wandy Rodriguez (3-4), acquired at the trade deadline, has basically been a bust. AJ Burnett (15-5) remains the lone bright spot on a starting staff that has allowed only seven fewer runs than the Cubs.
Only the Reds and Braves, however, have a stronger bullpen than Pittsburgh’s. But a faulty rotation has led to the pen’s overuse since the trade deadline, and it shows with the Pirates having allowed the most runs in August of any contender.
Pitching isn’t the only hole on this sinking ship; Pittsburgh is 11th in runs scored since the All Star break—not nearly good enough to keep up with the big boys in September.
That issue could have been resolved at the trading deadline, but Pittsburgh simply failed to add the offensive boost is so desperately needed to stay in contention.
The organization’s unwillingness to move prospects via trade is likely to pay off as early as next season, but it killed any momentum they had entering August.
With each passing week it becomes more clear how much the Pirates overachieved in the first half of the season when they led the division at the All Star break.
But this early feel-good story has become eerily similar to the club’s second half collapse last season when the Pirates led the division 100-games in only to finish with a 90-loss record.
A demise to such depths won’t happen this year (there’s only 37-games remaining), but I feel confident the Buccos (71-64) will eventually end up below the .500 mark for a saddening 20th consecutive year.