National League Playoff Race Update

The biggest series in major league baseball this coming weekend is going to be the NL Central showdown between the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cardinals are playing some good baseball right now, coming off series wins over Atlanta and Cincinnati. The Pirates are sluggish, having lost series to San Francisco and Milwaukee.

These recent developments have given fuel to those who believe St. Louis’ experience is going to prevail in this division, and that Pittsburgh’s own negative experience is still going to bite them.

TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage agrees with this proposition regarding the Cardinals—I’ve had them as my NL representative in the World Series without wavering all year. But it’s not an anti-Pirate statement—I became a believer in Pittsburgh in July because of their pitching and still believe that’s going to see them through to hosting the wild-card game.

Cincinnati remains the third wheel in this NL Central race and the toughest to predict. One week we’re thinking they just need to focus on the wild-card, a race they still have a six-game cushion on. Another week they’re back in the NL Central race. After their losses in St. Louis this week, the Reds are now somewhat in between. They aren’t home free over Washington and Arizona to make the playoffs, but at 3 ½ out in the division, first place is still viable.

The big concern for the Reds is injuries. Jonathan Broxton hit the disabled list last week, and now word has come that the setup reliever will need season-ending surgery. Cincy’s bullpen depth is their Achilles heel and that wound is now exacerbated. Tony Cingrani was red-hot in the rotation before making his own trip to the DL, although the hope is for him to be back in the next week.

And while staff ace Johnny Cueto has begun a throwing program, he’s not actually working off a mound. I’m no medical expert, but I’ll take a wild guess that working off a mound is kind of prerequisite to becoming a healthy starting pitcher again.

Elsewhere on the injury front, Atlanta and Los Angeles are hoping for good news on their star outfielders, Jason Heyward and Matt Kemp for the playoffs. The Braves and Dodgers have each blown open their division races and can just think about health for the postseason. Heyward is hoping to come back in late September from jaw surgery, while Kemp starts a minor league rehab tour this weekend to strengthen his ankle.