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The Stagnant NL Central

Are you an NL Central fan? Did you just happen to go into a coma on May 21st? Don’t worry. You didn’t miss much.

Here are the NL Central standings on that date.

STL 25-18 —
CIN 24-18 0.5
CHN 19-24 6.0
PIT 18-24 6.5
MIL 16-26 8.5
HOU 15-27 9.5

Since then, each team has played no worse than 4-7 and no better than 7-5. Now, it’s June 4th, and the standings have hardly shifted.

STL 31-23 —
CIN 31-23 —
CHC 24-29 6.5
PIT 22-30 8.5
MIL 22-31 9.0
HOU 20-34 11.0

The Reds picked up a half game on the Cardinals to tie the division race, and the Pirates and Astros have fallen even farther back. Other than that, the situation is effectively identical to what it was two weeks ago.

This news is best for the Cardinals. They are the most talented team in the division, although there are some questions about their rotation now that Kyle Lohse is out for a while after having surgery on his right forearm. Still, the presence of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, Yadier Molina, and the rest of the Cardinals lineup has to give them the upper hand for the rest of the season, and any rotation with a healthy Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter can only have so many questions.

The Reds certainly benefit from the stagnation of the rest of these teams, although it would’ve been the perfect time for them to put some distance between them and the Cardinals. The Reds pitching staff hasn’t been great, and they’re not a great defensive team, but they can hit. Joey Votto leads the NL with a .427 wOBA and Scott Rolen is having a remarkable late-career season with a .394 wOBA. As long as the bats stay as hot as they have been, the Reds will be contenders for the division, and even if the Cardinals start to pull away, they have put themselves in a fantastic position for the wild card.

This two week stretch may not look like it’s killed the rest of the division, but it has. When not one but two division foes build up a big lead, time is of the essence, and now instead of having 120 games to make up an early deficit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Houston now only have 108 games. Given the talent present on these rosters, particularly those in Houston and Pittsburgh, this stretch may even have been the nail in the coffin, as expecting poor teams to make up 6+ game gaps in only four months is unrealistic at best. Nothing is definitively over, at least, but the playoff odds for these teams are sitting in the low single digits at this point, and potentially reaching into the decimals.

Even if the “GB” column doesn’t show it, the last two weeks have done nothing but help the Cardinals and Reds. The NL Central is set up as a two team race now, with the loser having a great shot at the wild card. It should create some exciting games this September while the other four teams are forced to plan for the future.