With the first two months of the 2011 season in the books, the NL Central has been one of the more interesting divisions in baseball. There is still a long way to go, but things haven’t necessarily gone the way many people predicted. St. Louis has opened up the second largest division lead in MLB (2.5 games), and Cincinnati, the reigning division champ, sits in the middle of the pack with an even .500 record (28-28). Despite being baseball’s only six team division, the NL Central is one of three divisions with two or fewer teams above the .500 mark. Although this division is somewhat top heavy, don’t mistake that for a lack of competitiveness from top to bottom.
So, as we approach summer and things start to take shape across MLB, let’s take a look at what’s happening right now around the NL Central.
The Reds have hit quite a rough patch here in the latter part of May, posting a record of 3-11 in their last 14 games. Cincinnati’s pitching has really gone south of late, and they have been exposed by superior opponents over the last couple of weeks. However, there is some positive news surrounding the Reds recently. Jay Bruce was just named NL player of the week and is likely to win player of the month as well. The 24-year-old is developing into a superstar even in the midst of the team’s slump, and he could be in the running for MVP if he continues on this pace.
The Brewers are headed in the complete opposite direction as the Reds. Milwaukee has come on strong, collecting 16 wins in their last 21 games to move into second place in the division. They have finally gotten some consistent quality pitching to go along with that potent lineup, so the Brew Crew could be a legitimate threat down the stretch. This team has been tearing it up at Miller Park so much so that ticket prices are being decreased for the month of June. Not surprisingly, Ryan Braun, looking for his fourth consecutive all-star appearance, leads all NL outfielders in all-star voting.
All things considered, the Pirates have to be feeling pretty good about their performance thus far. The team is flirting with .500, which is a good sign considering they haven’t had a winning season in the last 18 years. Kevin Correia has been absolutely dominant on the mound for the Bucs, racking up an MLB-leading seven wins. Joel Hanrahan has been equally impressive in the closer’s role, going a perfect 15 for 15 in save opportunities. With some continued road success and improved hitting to go along with this solid pitching, Pittsburgh should be able to avoid the basement of the NL Central.