We're almost halfway into this MLB season and the NL Central is proving to be a very tight race. For the last few years the race between the Cincinnati Reds and the St Louis Cardinals has been a very close one. This year, however, the race for the NL Central includes a surprise team in the Pittsburgh Pirates. As of this article, the Reds have a 2.5 game lead on the Pirates while the Cardinals are only 3.5 games back of the lead. Let's take a look at our 3 teams in the hunt.
The Cincinnati Reds have an offense powerful enough to put up big numbers, however they are very inconsistent. As far as pitching, that is a totally different story on consistency. The Reds rank 7th in the MLB on team pitching, allowing a 3.55 ERA as a group. The pitching staff is led by Johnny Cueto who has racked up 7 wins allowing a 2.46 ERA. Equally impressive is their speedy relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman who, up until June 7 against the Pirates, had not allowed a run this season. The Reds are currently sitting at 35-27 with less than a month to go in the first half of the season. A strong finish would put them in a good spot for the second half of the season, but they need to find consistency in their offense.
Sitting in second is our surprise team of the Central for 2012, the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates got off to a slow start this season and were actually sitting below .500 on May 27. However, they have been doing very well of late and have crept into contention in the Central winning 2 series against the Reds as well as a series against fellow NL Central teams the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates offense isn't stellar, as they currently sit at the very bottom of the standings in team batting; producing only 198 runs as of this article. However their pitching staff is averaging a 3.38 ERA, good for 4th in the league. Can this pitching staff continue to keep the Pirates into contention to win the Central or will their offense bring them down? Only time will tell. A strong finish to the first half of the season and a series win over the division team St Louis will certainly help matters.
Rounding out our 3 contenders are the St Louis Cardinals. Coming off a season in which they won the World Series we expect them to be at the top, so this is no surprise. However, we all remember the big news coming out of St. Louis during the off-season with hard hitting first baseman Albert Pujols leaving the team and going to the LA Angels. Its hard to replace a guy like Albert, but the Cardinals have found a way to do so and once again find themselves in a spot where they could win the Central. Injuries have plagued this team this season and could be blamed for their slump, but as was discussed early on MKY Sports a closer look says injuries may not be totally to blame. Whatever the case for the slump, the Cards need a good finish and continued production out of Lance Lynn, who leads the league with 10 wins, to stay in this race.
We have less than a month left of the first half of the season and the Central race looks like its going to be a wild one. As of right now the Pirates are only 1.5 games back on the wild card race, so its even possible we may see two teams from the Central make it into the postseason. I can't wait to see how it all plays out, and I hope it stays a close 3 team race. Who do you see making it out? The inconsistent Reds, the poor hitting Pirates, or the injury plagued Cards? If one of these teams can get it together we might even see another World Series title in the NL Central.