Grand Central Division
Posted by keithosaunders on July 25, 2011
|St. Louis||53||48||.525||–||25-21||28-27||474||438||+36||Lost 1||5-5|
|Chicago Cubs||42||60||.412||11.5||25-31||17-29||411||507||-96||Won 3||5-5|
Don’t look now but there’s a classic pennant race shaping up and it’s not where you’d expect. Forget your AL East with its twin behemoth Yankees and Redsox — their passion play will not begin until October, since the team that doesn’t win the division figures to take the wild card.
The action this year resides in the NL Central; that erstwhile laughing-stock of a division. There, four teams sit separated by two games in the standings. Given the fact that the NL East-residing Atlanta Braves figure to take the wild card, only one Central club will advance to the playoffs.
My sentiments lie with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are at this writing, leading the division by percentage points over the Cardinals. The Pirates have reached the rarefied air of five games above .500, threatening to break their ignominious streak of consecutive losing seasons, currently at eighteen. It is the longest such streak in professional sports.
The Buccos are winning with a team of gritty, young ball players. (that’s what several consecutive years of high draft picks, and a savvy GM will do for you) It’s rare for me to watch a Pirate game in which I fail to utter the sentence, “Who is that guy?”
Andrew McCutchen is a speedy young center fielder who has 59 RBI. Their second baseman is Neil Walker, a slick fielder, and a good run producer as well. Their only semi-star is Lyle Overbay, who is playing first base. The pitching has been surprisingly solid behind Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, and Paul Maholm, and their closer, Joel Hanrahan, has been superb.
The Cardinals are the favorites, with their murderers row middle of the lineup — Pujols, Holiday, and Berkman — but I’m hoping that their shaky bullpen will see to it that the do not run away and hide.
Milwaukee was a sexy pick at the beginning of the season, and they are proving themselves worthy of the hype. They’re a good team, and as long as K-Rod doesn’t blow too many games, they are going to be fine. They’re another team I would like to see take the next step.
I can’t stand the Reds pitching. Johnny Cueto? Edinson Volquez? Homer Bailey? It speaks volumes that Dontrelle Willis is making a comeback with this staff. Still, they’re another good hitting club that may be able to hang around.
You see, this is why interleague play is a sham. Here you have four teams in a pennant race, and they’re all going to playing each other come August and September. While the Yankees, Phillies, and Redsox, spend September sorting out their post season rotations, there will be daily blood-lettings in the middle of the country. Interleague is a distraction from pennant race baseball. It is a novelty act that has worn thin.
If MLB has its way, however, we will see the expansion of interleague play, as well as the end of pennant races as we have known them since 1969, the year divisional play was introduced. There has been a plan floated around that would do away with divisions, creating two 15 team leagues. The schedule would be balanced, meaning that all teams would play each other the same amount of times, regardless of league. Imagine if the Pirates played the Royals the same amount of times as they did the Cardinals.
Baseball seems high bent on removing any sense of tradition from the game, rendering it corporate and soulless. All the more reason for us to savor what could well be one of the last great divisional races.