NL Central: Weekend Recap

Despite reported dissension in the clubhouse, the Cincinnati Reds got the better of the Pittsburgh Pirates this past weekend.

Despite reported dissension in the clubhouse, the Cincinnati Reds got the better of the Pittsburgh Pirates this past weekend.

With All-Star festivities wrapped-up for another year, the NL Central went to work this weekend with two of the division’s contenders meeting at Great American Ballpark. brings you a quick recap of all the action, beginning with that divisional showdown.

Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds

The second half of the season started with a very familiar feel for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The last two seasons have seen the Bucs play well during the first half, only to slump when it came to crunch time. Twice the team has fell out of the picture late in the season, something no team 21 years removed from postseason play wants to think about.

20130721_NL_CentralHaving entered the All-Star Break just one game back of the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the NL Central, Clint Hurdle’s side dropped its first two of the second half to the Cincinnati Reds, sparking (even more) fears that we could be about to see another collapse. The Pirates managed to curb some of those fears by holding on for a 3-2 win in Sunday’s series closer, staving off a sweep in the process.

While the focus may be on the Pirates’ previous woes, it was the Reds that deserved the headlines after this series. Despite reported fractures in the clubhouse, Dusty Baker’s side jumped out to a 5-0 lead on Friday night, before fending off the Pirates’ sixth inning charge to take the series opener 5-3. The club followed up with a four-run first inning on Saturday, and again withstood a comeback from the Pirates to take the game 5-4. Trailing 3-1 heading into the eighth on Sunday, the Reds nearly turned things around.

It’s this sort of resolve that suggests Cincinnati – currently three games back of Pittsburgh and five back of St. Louis – is still very much in the race for not only a postseason berth but also the division title.

After narrowly missing out on a sweep this weekend, Cincinnati (55-43, 23-26 road) now heads out for an extended 11-game road trip. The Reds’ first challenge will be the defending champion San Francisco Giants (45-52, 27-21 home). Odds for Monday’s series opener can be found here.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh (57-39, 25-21 road) continues its current road trip with a four-game set in D.C. this week. Odds for the Pirates’ opener against the Washington Nationals (48-50, 27-21 home) are available here.

San Diego Padres at St. Louis Cardinals

With Pittsburgh stumbling in Cincinnati, the division-leading Cardinals had an opportunity to pad their lead.

Lance Lynn's struggles continue.

Lance Lynn’s struggles continue.

Things started well on Friday as the Red Birds took a 6-0 lead in the sixth before eventually downing the San Diego Padres 9-6. That’s another nine runs for a St. Louis side – currently ranked third in the majors in runs scored (477) – that continues to be an offensive juggernaut.

Things didn’t go according to plan on Saturday though as the Padres – bottom of the NL West – managed to hold on for a 5-3 victory. St. Louis starter Lance Lynn (11-5, 4.13 ERA) lost for a second straight game and for the fourth time in his last five decisions, prompting a meeting with manager Mike Matheny on Sunday.

Sunday’s rubber match went in favor of the Cardinals, just. Behind a solid performance from the National League’s first 13-game winner Adam Wainwright (13-5, 2.44 ERA), the birds scored a 3-2 victory, one that was secured by Allen Craig’s catch at the left field wall for the last out in the ninth with two men on.

Two wins from three against the lowly Padres may have been less than the Cardinals wanted, but it was certainly more than adequate. With road trips to both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati as the calendar flips over to August, the side will be happy with wins wherever it can get them.

St. Louis (59-37, 29-17 home) will look to maintain its lead at the top of the NL Central this week with a three-game home series against the Philadelphia Phillies (49-50, 23-29 road), who leapfrogged Washington into second place in the NL East this weekend. The series opens on Tuesday.

Chicago Cubs at Colorado Rockies

With 11 wins from 18 heading into the All-Star break, the Chicago Cubs proved there was life in the old bear yet. Whilst the club isn’t going to threaten the postseason brackets anytime, it was somewhat refreshing to see the club having at least a small portion of success.

Still a Cub ... for now.

Still a Cub … for now.

The Cubs’ good fortune continued on Friday as the side grinded out a 3-1 victory in the series opener in Denver. That fortune ended Saturday as the Colorado Rockies romped home to a 9-3 victory before edging the Cubs out 4-3 on Sunday afternoon.

The biggest news of the weekend for the North Siders though was the non-departure of starting pitcher Matt Garza. With no extension available next year, Garza is one of those Cubbies on the trading block. The 29-year-old right-hander was reportedly set to be dealt to the Texas Rangers only for medical issues to put the deal on hold. Only time will tell if Garza will be with the Cubs for the rest of the year.

Chicago (43-53, 21-27 road) continues its 10-game road swing through the NL West with a four-game set against the Arizona Diamondbacks (51-47, 27-20 home). Monday’s odds can be found here.

Miami Marlins at Milwaukee Brewers

With suggestions emerging that the Milwaukee Brewers may actually be worse than the NL-worst Miami Marlins, the Brew Crew set about proving something as the two clubs met in Wisconsin this past weekend.

Carlos Gomez supplies a rare Miller Park highlight.

Carlos Gomez supplies a rare Miller Park highlight.

The Brewers got a pair of solo home runs from Juan Francisco and Carlos Gomez in Friday’s opener to take the 2-0 win from a game that had little to get excited about. Saturday’s efforts were a little better (for the Brewers at least) as the club dialed up six runs in a 6-0 victory, before the scoring dried up again in Sunday’s series finale. It took 13 innings but the Brewers escaped with a 1-0 win, sweeping the series and shutting the Marlins out in the series. It’s now been 37 innings since the South Florida side scored.

Brewer fans may want to hold-off celebrating too much, although there is some merit in at least being better than Miami.

Milwaukee (41-56, 25-26 home) will look to bring its home record to .500 or above this week with a four-game series against the San Diego Padres (43-56, 16-33 home) at Miller Park. Odds for Monday’s opening clash can be found here.

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