The NL Central have undergone a shit ton of maintenance in the last few years. The Astros left for the AL, the Cardinals - once the crown jewel of the division - have fallen off and now need a new manager, and the Cubs - yes, those Cubs - have ascended as the kings of the Central and are looking to go back-to-back-to-back for the first time in team history. But now, those pesky Milwaukee Brewers are hungrier and want to avenge last season's collapse, and even the Pittsburgh Pirates are in range of a wild card spot.
The Cubs usually heat up in August and pull away from the competition in September, and I expect much of the same this season. The Brewers won't go away lightly though - they were loud in their pursuit of Manny Machado, and have the prospects to fill holes at the deadline, likely with Twins infielder Brian Dozier. They lost their last six games before the break, and 8 of their last 10, so if they want to play October baseball, they'll need to move on those trade pieces before they go elsewhere in the NL.
What's next for the Cardinals is interesting to watch as the season closes; they only sit 4 games behind the Braves for the second wild card. The expectation is for them to go after Joe Girardi, who grew up in East Peoria - the dividing line between Cubs and Cards fans in Illinois. Do they mail it in and start moving towards the offseason, or do they make one last push with the guys they have now?
Several teams push for two wild card spots in NL
The introduction of the Wild Card playoff in 2012 opened the door for all those teams on the fringe to make a move at the deadline and push for that final playoff seed. We've seen some crazy races in the last few years, and this year will be no different. The Brewers, despite their recent slide, are in control of the 1st WC slot, while the Braves.- losers of 7 of their last 10 - hold the second by a half-game on the D-Backs. The Braves are mired in a battle with the NL East-leading Phillies and the .500 Washington Nationals, while the D-Backs are fighting with the Rockies - winners of five straight - and Giants for the Dodgers' top spot in the NL West. All while the Cardinals linger, and the Pirates hold out hope.
There'll be lots of movement in the NL before the trade deadline, so expect the NL Wild Card race to come down to the wire once more.
Bryce Harper watch begins... now