NL Central Roundup: Cubs Eye Division Title While Bryant and Rizzo Eye MVP

The Chicago Cubs have positioned themselves squarely atop of the NL Central, and with an MLB-best 78-45 record and a double-digit game lead over the second place Cardinals, it’s now when and not if the Cubbies will wrap up the Central crown. But Central may be home to two more playoff teams when October rolls around. Let’s see how the division looks with less than 40 games remaining in the regular season.

Cubs (79-45)

On pace to win a remarkable 103 games, the Cubs have the luxury of resting players and not rushing anyone back too soon from any nagging injuries. And this is good because starter John Lackey and set-up man Hector Rondon are now on the disabled list with, reportedly, minor ailments. It appears rest is what both pitchers require most right now.

Two players who do not appear to be resting or slowing down are the Cubs MVP candidates — Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. According to many baseball experts and those who just happen to watch Cubs games regularly, Bryant and Rizzo have separated themselves from the crowd and sit 1-2, if the voting was held today.

It’s hard to argue against either one of the young sluggers. Do you like your MVP to have power? Ok, Bryant has 32 homers, Rizzo 25. Do you like your MVP to bat for average? Alright, Bryant is hitting .299 and Rizzo .301. Do you prefer your MVP to score and drive in runs? Great, Bryant has scored an NL-best 100 runs and 84 RBI while Rizzo has scored 76 times with 87 RBI. We can keep going, but I think you get the point. I like sweet, you like sour. I want medium, you want rare. It’s all good — just different tastes. Manager Joe Maddon said it best when asked about the 2-man MVP race that involves two of his guys: “Maybe ‘Bryzzo’ can be the MVP”.

Cardinals (66-57)

The Cardinals have the worst home record of the 5 teams in the NL Central. And on Monday morning, they were the only team below .500 at home — not good when the woeful Reds and Brewers are in your division. If the Cardinals are to make a serious run at the postseason — and they have as good a shot as any team still in legitimate contention — they will need to play better at Busch. Twenty of the team’s final 39 games are in front of the home fans.

Throughout the season, St. Louis has fought through injuries to their starting rotation, their bullpen, and their starting lineup. But somehow, some way they have managed to stay in the playoff race. There’s no reason to think they’re going to bail now. If the Redbirds can find a way to string together some home wins, they should be sitting in one of the two Wildcard spots at season’s end.

Pirates (62-60)

Pittsburgh’s ability to stay in the postseason conversation is nothing short of remarkable. Three and a half games behind the Cardinals for the second Wildcard spot and the Pirates aren’t fading like many predicted a few weeks ago. And what’s more incredible is that the Pirates are doing this without the very best from their All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen. After an MVP season three years ago, McCutchen is performing well below expectations — his batting average is 50 points lower than his career average and he’s on pace for fewer home runs and RBI than he’s posted since before he won that MVP award in 2013.

If the Pirates are going to stay afloat and erase this 4-game losing streak, they will need their MVP to get back to playing to his potential.

Brewers (54-70)

The Brewers are going in the wrong direction — not that it really matters at this point. The Brew Crew were major sellers at the trade deadline so it’s no surprise that things haven’t gotten better in Milwaukee. The future is not right now. But one bright spot over the last few weeks has been Ryan Braun‘s resurgence. In August, Braun has led the team with power numbers reminiscent of his younger days — 8 home runs, 24 RBI, .302 batting average. His RBI total ranks second in MLB for the month.

Reds (53-71)

Eighteen games below.500 rarely brings with it any positives. But the Reds have gone 21-14 since the All-Star break — the second best record over that period, only to the Cubs. That’s a piece of trivia you’re sure to wow friends or co-workers with. It’s also a great tidbit of information to hang your hat on if you’re a Reds fan. We’ve learned about guys like Adam Duvall and Billy Hamilton this season, but Cincinnati has a stockpile of players coming off the bench  — Tyler Holt, Ramon Cabrera, Iván De Jesus, and Tony Renda — that should give hope to the future. So what if 2016 wasn’t their year? The Reds’ youth and depth should make them a team on the rise in 2017.


Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

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