The NL Central has become the laughing stock of baseball during the regular season, but it's also the division that has put out the past three NL Pennent winners (St. Louis in '04 and '05 and Houston in '06). This division is known for losing records and bad teams, but also good postseasons. However, this year's NL Central is currently a two-horse race. I'm going to break it down team by team and tell you who comes out of the NL Central.
- Chicago Cubs- I'm picking the Cubs to finish first. Yes, I know, they are my team. Believe me, this has nothing to do with that. Do I pick Kentucky to win the SEC? No. But I am picking the Cubs to win their division. So how will the Cubs overcome the Brewers to become the leaders in this division? Simple. The Cubs are on a very hot streak and have won 10 of their last 11, with two series left before the all-star break. Those two teams are Washington and Pittsburgh, both winnable series. The Cubs have one of the best hitting lineups in baseball! The Brewers just lost one to Pitt, moving the Cubs within 5.5 games of the leaders. Also, the Cubs this season are an astounding 7-5 against the Brewers. They have one series left with them. Just a few short weeks ago, the Cubs were 10 games back!
- Milwaukee Brewers- As I've said before, I think that the Brewers will give up their first place spot to the Cubs. While they are a great team, they are also young and can't quite handle playing badly so well. (see Prince Fielder in the dugout yesterday) I don't think that they will completely collapse, but I do think that they will allow the Cubs to win enough games and they will lose enough games to put Chicago out in front. The Brewers are definately the team to beat right now, but they don't have the kind of streak going on that the Cubs do, and have lost 7 of 12 games to the Cubs already.
- Houston Astros- Houston is a World Series squad waiting to happen! They have so much talent, and yet right now sit fourth in the NL Central. I think that the Astros will be able to gain some games, but will finish a close third to the Brewers. They are currently on a three game win streak, but also have to travel to Wrigley Field, and must face the Brewers again before the end of the season. Houston is just now finding themselves and have everything clicking, but I don't think that the top two will allow them to get any closer.
- St. Louis Cardinals- The Cardinals currently sit 9.5 games back in their division, and are considered an outside shot and the NL Central title. I disagree. I have to put them at fourth because I don't think that they will be able to put up a bunch of wins in their current position. While a down season for Albert Pujols is a great season for any other player, that's not enough for the Cardinals right now. They have problems with pitching, and problems with batting. I don't see them making any huge waves in this division this season, but all due respect for the defending World Champs.
- Pittsburgh Pirates- I really like this Pittsburgh team. They don't win too many games, or hardly any series, but they do put up some solid single wins here and there against great teams. They are a team that aren't playoff contenders, but can be dangerous for league leaders or teams trying to get back in the race. They have defeated the division leaders a couple of times this season. They currently sit 12 games back in the division, at fifth, and I think that they'll stay right there.
- Cincinnati Reds- The Reds are a very talented team, just like the Astros, but cannot pull it together. The difference between the Reds and the Astros is that the Reds are down 16 games in the division, and are pretty much completely out of any kind of contention. Ken Griffey, Jr. couldn't get it done, although he is having a stellar season individually. He will likely be on the next bus out of Cincinnati soon, leaving the team with nothing to rely on.
These are my picks for the NL Central this season. I know that a lot of people don't want to see the Cubs at the top, but they are inarguably one of the best teams in baseball right now, and are clicking on all cylinders. The truth is, the Cubs probably have the best team in the NL Central, with everything from great young players to veterans. Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Mike Fontenot, and Derrek Lee are all ready to take the NL Central Pennet, and try their luck in the playoffs again.