NL Central Standings Update: Must-win games ahead for Cubs
Charles LeClaire - USA Today Sports

NL Central Standings Update: Must-win games ahead for Cubs

by - Staff Writer -

We have less than a month left in the MLB season, and the NL Central is getting very interesting.

In just the last two weeks, the Brewers have put major separation between them and the rest of the teams on their heels, and we at CUBS HQ are here to break down the action of the NL Central periodically as the season progresses.

Here is our 13th NL Central update of the year:

Milwaukee Brewers 84-66

Like last season, the Brewers were constructed to prevent runs, not score them. The Brewers are boosted by an excellent pitching staff of Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff, and Corbin Burnes — a three-headed monster that stacks up against anybody in the National League — and they’re finally getting healthy. Despite not having a potent offensive attack, the Brewers have stayed atop this division. Offensively, Milwaukee has been led by Rowdy Tellez and Willy Adames, similar to last season. Brian Anderson and former Brave catcher William Contreras have been welcome additions thus far. But the most significant boost to the Brewers has been Christian Yelich’s resurgence, as he is slashing similar numbers to his peak. The Brewers also sent Devin Williams and Corbin Burnes to the All-Star game a few weeks ago, and they’ve kept it up. They have put some distance between themselves and their competition and are closing in on another NL Central victory.

Since we last updated, the Brewers dropped two of three against the Cubs, took two-three from the Phillies, dropped two of three against the Pirates, took two of three from the Nationals and Yankees, and took three of four from Miami.

UP NEXT: This week, the Brewers travel to St. Louis and Miami over the weekend. The Crew took game one over St. Louis 1-0.

Chicago Cubs 78-72 (6.0 games back)

The Cubs finished in third place in the NL Central last year and made it a point of focus over the offseason to make drastic improvements to the team — which also fit baseball’s new rules. The Cubs may have let Willson Contreras go, but they committed to long-term contract extensions with Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ, who enjoyed breakout campaigns in 2022. Plus, the Cubs acquired Cody Bellinger for one year and Dansby Swanson to be the team’s starting shortstop for the next seven years. The Cubs had a near month-long rough patch but have since been playing great ball; thanks to a torrid hot streak from Cody Bellinger and excellent pitching performances, everything appeared to click. The Cubs avoided selling at the trade deadline, and a strong August pushed them firmly into the playoff discussion. The Cubs sent three players to the All-Star game: Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, and Dansby Swanson. Since we last updated, the Cubs have stumbled into some struggles.

The Cubs took two of three from the Brewers and then split four with the Reds. The Cubs then swept the Giants. Since then, they have gone 2-8 combined against the Diamondbacks and Rockies.

UP NEXT: This week, the Cubs host the Pirates and Rockies to solidify their playoff chances.

Cincinnati Reds 79-73 (6.0 games back)

The Reds were once again expected to be one of the worst teams in the MLB and were, early on, entirely in another rebuild. Joey Votto is the only recognizable name on a team with players like Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Nicholas Castellanos, Jesse Winker, and Eugenio Suarez. The Reds' claim to fame has been flame-thrower Hunter Greene, who was developing into a young ace in baseball before his injury. However, the last few months have been a different story for Cincy. Elly De La Cruz has burst onto the scene and turned heads, and players like rookie Matt McLain, Spencer Steer, and Jake Fraley have really stepped up offensively. The Reds rattled off 12 consecutive victories to soar into first place but stumbled after that. The Reds also sent closer Alexis Diaz to the All-Star game.

However, since we last updated, the Reds have kept pace in the wildcard race. The Reds dropped two of three against the Giants, split four games with the Cubs, took two of three from the Mariners, Tigers, and Mets, and dropped two of three against the Cardinals.

UP NEXT: This week, the Reds are facing the Twins and the Pirates at home. The Reds took game one against Minnesota 7-3.

Pittsburgh Pirates 70–80 (14 games back)

The Pirates were widely expected to finish last in this division throughout the last few years, but their progress over the years does not pencil them in as a bottom feeder in this division. Their strong start to the 2023 season had them in first place through almost a month of baseball. Bryan Reynolds is once again leading things for the Pirates, and Jack Suwinski’s 19 home runs led all rookies last year, and he has over 20 dingers on the season thus far. Andrew McCutchen has also seen some success in his return to Pittsburgh and has been a strong producer in the lineup. O’Neil Cruz was expected by many to take a giant leap this season, but he is on the injured list. Mitch Keller has been the Bucs' best starter, and David Bednar is still closing things down in All-Star fashion. The Pirates were slight sellers at this year’s deadline. The Pirates sent Mitch Keller and David Bednar to the All-Star game.

Since we last updated, the Bucs swept the Royals, took two of three from the Cardinals and Brewers, dropped two of three against Atlanta, took three of four from the Nationals, and dropped two of three against the Yankees.

UP NEXT: This week, the Pirates travel to Wrigley to take on the Cubs and then to Cincinnati for three with the Reds.

St. Louis Cardinals 67-83 (17 games back)

The St. Louis Cardinals are the reigning NL Central Division Champions, but for the first time since I was born, this will be the first season that the Cardinals do not have Albert Pujols or Yadier Molina on the roster. The St. Louis Cardinals did not make a ton of noise in the offseason but did acquire former Cub Willson Contreras to be their new catcher — however, less than a month into the season, he had been relieved of his catching duties. Jordan Walker was their top prospect and was called up to start the season, and he has been a great boost to the struggling birds.

The Cardinals struggled severely out of the gates despite the offense led by NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt’s 18 homers and near .300 average. The return of Adam Wainwright to the rotation and perennial All-Star Nolan Arenado looking like himself again certainly helps. Still, even as Arenado approaches 80 RBI and 25 HR, the Cardinals have not been able to go on a run. Nolan Gorman has also been solid, but not enough for St. Louis. Nolan Arenado was named to the All-Star game once again. The Cardinals traded away Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks, Jordan Montgomery, and Paul Dejong at the trade deadline as they try to reload.

Since we last updated, the Cardinals dropped two of three against the Pirates and won two of three against the Padres, Braves, Reds, and Orioles. They also dropped two of three against the Phillies.

UP NEXT: This week, the Redbirds host the Brewers and head to San Diego over the weekend. They beat Milwaukee 1-0 Monday.

This looks to be a big week for the division’s discourse. Stay tuned all year for updates on the NL Central.

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