Cards Take 1-Game Lead Into Break

Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals head into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball.

Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals head into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball.

A win on Sunday saw the St. Louis Cardinals enter the All-Star break one-game up on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central standings.

The two sides have been embroiled in a battle at the top of the National League standings for much of the season, swapping places on a number of occasions. As time was called on the first half of the year, the two teams also proudly boasted the two best records in the majors.

BettingSports.com brings you a recap of action in the ultra-competitive NL Central from this past weekend.

St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs

After an eventful weekend on the North Side saw the Chicago Cubs take two of the opening three games from the division-leading Cardinals, Mike Matheny’s club left it late on Sunday but managed to pick up a win to tie the series.

20130715_NLCentralTied 6-6 going into the ninth inning at Wrigley Field, the Cardinals put four runs on the board in the final frame, including three off the bat of Yadier Molina, who finished the day 4 for 6 at the plate with four RBIs and three runs scored. The catcher now heads to New York where he will start behind the plate for the National League All-Stars. Molina’s fellow All-Stars had a pretty decent evening also, with Carlos Beltran going 2 for 6 with two runs scored and pitcher Edward Mujica (2-1, 2.20 ERA, 26 SV) picking up the win.

The 10-6 final score prevented a series upset by the Cubs, a team that has been playing much better baseball of late. Since June 13 the club is 17-13, and looking much improved on the cellar dwelling side we’ve become used to in recent years.

The win also sees the Cardinals (57-36) enter the second half of the season with the best record in the majors, narrowly beating out the Pirates (56-37) and Boston Red Sox (58-39).

The season will resume for St. Louis on Friday with the opening game of a three-game home stand against the San Diego Padres (42-54).

The Cubs (42-51) begin the second half with a 10-game road trip, beginning with three games against the Colorado Rockies (46-50).

New York Mets at Pittsburgh Pirates

Any chance the Pittsburgh Pirates had of taking a lead into the All-Star break had been extinguished before the Cardinals took to the field for Sunday night’s game.

Grilli and the Bucs remain hot on the Cards' heels.

Grilli and the Bucs remain hot on the Cards’ heels.

The Pirates played the New York Mets earlier in the day looking to sweep this year’s All-Star hosts after two narrow victories on Friday and Saturday. That wasn’t to be the case though.

The Mets jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, taking advantage of Marlon Byrd’s RBI ground rule double and a two-RBI single from John Buck. From there, New York starter Dillon Gee (7-7, 4.32 ERA) took over, limiting the Pirates’ offense to one run on five hits through 6 2/3 innings. Gee is now 3-0 in five starts against the Buccos. His effort on Sunday – which came in spite of his feet blistering in the heat – was enough to record the ‘W’ on the day. The Pirates scored a late consolation run on Jose Tabata’s groundball in the eighth, finishing on the wrong end of a 4-2 scoreline.

The Pirates are just 5-7 since recording a season-high nine-game winning streak at the end of June. The downturn in fortunes will be somewhat concerning for Pittsburgh fans, after the team has followed up an excellent start to the season with a disappointing second half in each of the last two seasons.

Pittsburgh (56-37) will start the second half with a bang, traveling to the Cincinnati Reds (53-42) for a triumvirate of games. With four games currently separating the two in the NL Central standings, this series could have huge implications.

Cincinnati Reds at Atlanta Braves

At five games back of the division-leading Cardinals, the Cincinnati Reds are still very much in the hunt for a NL Central crown.

The Reds are still very much in the hunt.

The Reds are still very much in the hunt.

Dusty Baker’s club closed the first half of the season with an 8-4 victory over NL East leaders, the Atlanta Braves, splitting a four-game series two-apiece. The Reds got a strong third inning with Joey Votto hitting an RBI double, Brandon Phillips recording an RBI on a groundout, and Jay Bruce hitting a two-run homer to right field.

The Braves closed the gap to 5-3 on Dan Uggla’s homer in the eighth but Phillips answered with a two-RBI double in the bottom half of the frame before crossing home plate himself on Todd Frazier’s single to center.

Going 4-6 heading into the break and sitting third in the NL Central is most likely not what the Reds had planned for this season, but the club does go into the break with a positive attitude. If the postseason opened today, the side would meet the Pirates in the Wild Card play-in game. As chance would have it, the two clubs will meet in the opening series of the second half.

Milwaukee Brewers at Arizona Diamondbacks

Having won the NL Central as recently as 2011, the decline of the Milwaukee Brewers continued this weekend as the club dropped three of four against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Wily Peralta was impressive for a second straight outing Sunday.

Wily Peralta impressed in a second straight outing Sunday.

Ron Roenicke’s side failed to build on a 2-1 series win over Cincinnati at the beginning of the week, losing three straight to the Diamondbacks. The only redeemed moment came in Sunday’s 5-1 victory, which prevented the club being swept in a four-game set.

Wily Peralta (7-9, 4.61 ERA) picked up his second consecutive win as he held the NL West-leading D’backs to one earned run on seven hits in seven complete innings, this coming after throwing a three-hit complete game shutout against the Reds last Tuesday.

Well and truly out of contention, Milwaukee (38-56) hosts the Miami Marlins (35-58) in a battle of last-place teams next weekend. The Brewers will be looking to stay ahead of the South Florida side and hoping to gain ground on the Cubs.

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