As the MLB season approaches the All-Star Break, most of the division races in the league are controlled by a team. 5 of the 6 division leaders have at least a five-game edge on their closest competitor for the race.
However, things aren’t so clear in the NL Central. In fact, the last-place team in the division, the Cincinnati Reds, only trail the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers by 4.5 games!
Here’s how the NL Central standings look at this point in time:
All five teams in the division are within striking distance of first place with nearly half of the season left to be played. Last year’s division champs, the Milwaukee Brewers, have a slight edge over the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Cincinnati Reds.
In this five-way race, however, the favorite to take home the division crown is clear. The Chicago Cubs are the front-runners to win the division, and here’s why.
The Cubs, despite holding a 45-42 record and trailing the Brewers by a game at this point, have been the strongest team in the division so far this season. They hold a +46 run differential, which is the best in the division and substantially better than Milwaukee’s -6 mark. This is a key indicator for determining a team’s performance.
Chicago’s lackluster win-loss record can partially be attributed by late-inning struggles by its bullpen, which has caused the team to lose several close games. They seem to have found a solution for their hole at closer, however, with the mid-season signing of All-Star closer of Craig Kimbrel, who made his team debut last week.
Outside of that hiccup, the Cubs appear to be the strongest team in the division on paper. They have a deep lineup led by Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, and Kris Bryant. wRC+, a measure that rates team offenses, says that the Cubs’ offense is by far the best in the division. The Cubs lead the division in batting average and on-base percentage. The Brewers hit for a little more power, led by NL MVP candidate Christian Yelich, but the Cubs have a stronger and deeper lineup.
The Cubs’ starting pitching has been solid with a 4.05 ERA, good for 2nd best in the division. Only the last place Reds’ starters have been better. If Yu Darvish, the talented flame-thrower who has struggled in the first half of this season, can lower his abysmal 5.01 ERA, the Cubs could end up with the division’s best rotation, too.
All in all, the Cubs have a stronger overall roster than their division rivals and should be considered the favorites to win the NL Central for the 3rd time in the past 4 seasons.