The NL Central has become easily the best, most competitive division in baseball. You’ve got the Cardinals (89-54) with the best record in baseball, you’ve got the Pirates (86-56) with the second-best record in baseball, and you’ve got the Cubs (82-60) with the fifth-best record in baseball.
“Isn’t it amazing?” MLB Network analyst Sean Casey asked on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “The Pirates are 30 games over .500 – second-best record in the (majors). The Cubs have obviously kept pace. Who would’ve thought they’d be this good right now? Obviously (Jake) Arrieta (has gone) to another level in that rotation. St. Louis, they’re the team you look at and say at some point they’re going to have to scuffle a little bit. I think lately they’ve kind of had that run where they haven’t played their best baseball.”
The Cardinals have lost eight of their last 11 games, including three of four on the road to the lowly Reds this past weekend.
The Pirates, meanwhile, have come on strong in the second half of the season. They’re 32-16 since July 23, went 19-8 in August and have won five of their last six games, the only losing coming to Milwaukee in extra innings. Pittsburgh hosts a pivotal four-game set against the Cubs this week, beginning with a double-header on Tuesday.
Ultimately, how does this race shape out?
“I think it probably shapes out just like it’s shaping out,” Casey said. “I think St. Louis finds a way to win and Pittsburgh and Chicago play the Wild Card in Pittsburgh.”
While the Cardinals are fighting to hang on to the division, the best team in the American League doesn’t exactly have two teams – or even one team – breathing down its neck. Kansas City (84-59) leads the Twins (75-68) by nine games in the AL Central.
Are the Royals a lock to make the World Series, or are the AL playoffs a little more wide open than meets the eye?
“I think Toronto is for real,” Casey said. “I think the Yankees are playing good baseball. I think they’re a team that we thought would fade. No, the Yankees are for real and they got a big win last night (over Tampa Bay) coming back after getting no-hit for seven innings or whatever. Kansas City is, I think, no doubt the front runner, but boy, I’ll tell you what, Toronto, that offense will put six on you real quick – in one inning, if they have to.”
Indeed, Toronto (82-61) leads the majors in runs (790) and run differential (+198) by a mile. In fact, the Blue Jays are the only team in the majors to score at least 700 runs this season – and they’re closing in on 800 – and they’re one of just three teams with a run differential greater than +100. The Cardinals are next in that department with a +112.
Thus, while the Royals have arguably the best arms in baseball, beating Toronto, which leads the Yankees (79-64) by three games in the AL East, would still be a tall task.
“Kansas City is no doubt the frontrunner with that pen and that lineup,” Casey said. “But I think Toronto is right there.”