Predicting The NL Central Race


The three-team race for the NL Central is easily the most compelling race in baseball at the moment. The Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds are all within two games of each other. The Pirates are one game behind the Cards and one game ahead of the Reds and will finish the season by facing the Reds six times in their last nine games. This is what players and fans live for, so let’s break down each team’s remaining schedule and make some predictions.

Sep 10, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Shelby Miller (40) pitches in the in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Cardinals

NL Central Position: 1st

Games remaining: 19

Games remaining vs. Pirates: 0

Games remaining vs. Reds: 0

Remaining home games: 12

Remaining away games: 7

Difficulty of remaining schedule: Easy

Predicted Finish: 1st

The Cardinals have the easiest remaining schedule. 12 of their last 19 will take place in Busch. To make matters worse, only one of their last six series is against a winning team, the slightly above average Washington Nationals (in Busch, no less).

Furthermore, no one in the NL Central gets a shot at them. It’s only one game, but we’re talking about the Cardinals. Hate the team all you want, I know I do, but they flat out just get it done in September and October.

They have the pitching, bats, and defense to win a world championship. It may be the unpopular pick, but it’s also the most realistic.

Pittsburgh Pirates

NL Central Position: 2nd

Games remaining: 19

Games remaining vs. Cardinals: 0

Sep 9, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Felix Pie (26) center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) and right fielder Marlon Byrd (2) jump up to celebrate beating the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Pirates beat the Rangers 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Games remaining vs. Reds: 6

Remaining home games: 11

Remaining away games: 9

Difficulty of remaining schedule: Average

Predicted Finish: 2nd (first wildcard winner)

With one big home-stand left this season, the Pirates better make their 11 remaining home games count. Let me reiterate: SIX of the Pirates’ last NINE games are against the Reds. Their last series of the year will take place within the confines of Great American Ballpark. The Pirates play the Padres and Cubs at home before welcoming the Reds. The Padres and Cubs are below averages teams that the Buccos tend to struggle with historically. They are going to need all the distance they can put between themselves and the Reds before they come to town, which means they’re going to need to figure those struggles out.

Pedro is going through one of his little slumps. McCutchen is hitting like an MVP and Byrd and Morneau have proven to be good additions. Marte is still on the DL and when the Pirates get him back he brings so much to the table both offensively and defensively. He’s consistently been taking batting practice and Hurdle says he is very close to having some pinch-hitting opportunities.

The pitching is banged up but still effective. If the Pirates get Wandy Rodriguez back he could be an invaluable addition to the bullpen/another solid starter if he can quickly reacquaint himself. Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett are both legitimate playoff pitchers and are capable of carrying a team through the playoffs if they are given enough run support. That is a big if though. The offense has long been the achilles’ heel of this team. Some nights they come to the ballpark and look scared and reserved at the plate and some nights they mash. The bats need to provide some consistency for any chance of sustained postseason success.

Cincinnati Reds

NL Central Position: 3rd

Games remaining: 17

Sep 10, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Tony Cingrani (52) is looked at by a team trainer during the second inning against the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Games remaining vs. Pirates: 6

Games remaining vs. Cardinals: 0

Remaining home games: 8

Remaining away games: 9

Difficulty of remaining schedule: Easy

Predicted Finish: 3rd (second wildcard winner)

The Reds are an intriguing team. They’re offense, when firing on all cylinders, is something to behold. The pitching is inconsistent but great when it’s on. Choo is a dangerous leadoff man and Votto knows what it takes come September. Their bench isn’t the deepest, but series against the Brewers, Astros, and Mets will make things a lot easier. The Pirates will beat the Reds out for second, but it will be close. Very close. Man, wouldn’t it be something to watch it all come down to the last game of the season in Cincinnati?

Obviously, these are just predictions. Anything can happen, so these predictions are just educated guesses. If you disagree, good. That means I am doing something right. I truly hope the Pirates finish and first and it is a real possibility.

Chances are the fate of the Pirates’ season will be decided in Cincinnati the last series, if not the last game, of the year. Winning will mean at least one playoff game at PNC Park, which would mean more than I care to even try to put into words to this city. No matter what, just enjoy it. As we well know, no one is guaranteed to be here. The Pirates could have all the right pieces every year from now until 2020 and never match the success they have achieved this season. That is the nature of baseball.