After completing a three-game sweep St. Louis with a 4-3 win on Sunday, the Milwaukee Brewers leapfrogged the Cardinals to take sole possession of first place by half a game in the National League Central division.
After the interdivisional showdown between Cardinals and Brewers, two teams who many picked to claim the division crown come October, one question comes to mind: Do the Cincinnati Reds have enough artillery to hang with the Cardinals and Brewers?
Here’s my take:
1) After sweeping the Cardinals in mid-May, the Reds have stumbled, going 13-16 in their past 29 games. The skid includes dropping five straight, including being swept by both Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Despite the tough stretch, the Reds are just 3 1/2 games behind the Cardinals and Brewers.
2) The Reds still maintain an explosive offense thanks to reigning MVP Joey Votto, who despite hitting just eight home runs thus far, has accumulated a .331 batting average while driving in 43 runs. You can’t forget about the starting pitching either. Edinson Volquez has looked much better since returning to the big leagues after being demoted for a short minor league assignment. In the past week, Volquez is 1-1, tossing 13 innings, allowing just three earned runs off 12 hits and recording 10 strikeouts to five walks. The run support isn’t where it needs to be when Volquez is on the bump for Cincy, but when it arrives, the 27-year old righty will be a force in the NL.
3) Despite the offensive numbers from Votto and Jay Bruce, who has smacked 17 long balls so far this season, the Reds will need to add another explosive bat to their already dangerous lineup. The services of a veteran hitter such as Padres’ left fielder Ryan Ludwick would have the potential to morph the Reds into the same category as the Cardinals and Brewers.
Having answered the previous question, another one lingers in my mind. Will the NL Central remain a three-horse race until October?
1) To dismiss any one of these three teams would completely foolish and downright bogus. They feed off each other. Each team has its own strengths and weaknesses.
2) The Brewers, who struggled mightily in April, have suddenly found their groove, especially their starting pitching. Former Royal Zack Greinke is 6-1 in his last eight starts, and the right-hander has begun to mold the Brewers rotation just the way GM Doug Melvin envisioned when he traded for the former All-Star and talented youngster…Another centerpiece of the Brewers rotation came via a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, which sent Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee in exchange for Brett Lawrie, a 2008 first-round selection. The addition of Marcum has done wonders for the Brew Crew so far in 2011. The 6-foot right-hander has recorded a 7-2 mark through 14 starts. In no time, this veteran hurler has gelled and has been a great fit in Milwaukee. His 2.68 ERA ranks seventh best in the NL and .208 opponents batting average against is fourth best. On the contrary, the Brewers, as of today, have one of the most explosive offenses in the game, with soon-to-be free agent Prince Fielder at center stage. Fielder has launched 19 homers, second best in the NL. As a whole, the Brewers own a .255 batting average, which is seventh best in the NL, and they have scored a 300 total runs, fourth best in the NL. If a few more of their bats get going, the Brewers will emerge as a good candidate to win the division.
3) The Reds, as I previously mentioned, have an explosive offense that when hot, every opposing pitcher fears. Through the season’s first 70 games, the Reds have tallied an NL leading 345 runs, 15 more than the second place Cardinals have produced. The offense has gone limp of late, but expect the reigning division champs to warm up in the near future, further tightening the race for the division title.
4) The Cardinals, after having suffered a three-game sweep at the expense of the Brewers at Miller Park last weekend, have dropped two of three games to Washington, who is in the cellar in the NL East. The Cardinals rank in the top six in every major offensive category, including first overall in batting average (.272) and on-base percentage (.345). After a rough first month of the season, the Cardinals sit just a game out of first place in the Central, with a 38-31 record.
*In my mind, there’s no question that this season will remain a three-team race until the final out is recorded. As Hall-of-Fame sportswriter Rick Hummel said;
“The victory totals of the Central contenders may be higher than in some years because of how woeful the Chicago and Houston are at the bottom of the division. There should be many series victories by the contenders over those latter two clubs and, if Pittsburgh’s pitching falters, there could be a good portion of wins to be had at the Pirates’ expense, too.”
-For now, baseball fans, including myself, can just sit back and watch these three clubs battle it out for the rest of the summer with the hope of claiming it all come October.