Sunday MLB Insider: Central emerges as NL's best division

  • Updated: June 29, 2013 - 7:41 PM
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Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is among the reasons Pittsburgh, which has not had a winning season since 1992, is among the surprise teams in baseball.

Photo: Ted S. Warren •Associated Press,

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The Dodgers’ buildup. The Braves’ wheeling and dealing. The Nationals’ improvement. The most interesting story lines were expected to play out in one of the National League’s coastal divisions this season.

But the National League Central is the must-watch division right now.

When the week began, the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds had the three best records in baseball. Three teams in one division finishing that way would be historic. In fact, the Wall Street Journal pointed out last week that, since 1969, the same division has had the TWO best records only seven times.

Since Monday, the Reds have lost a couple of games and no longer have the third-best record. But the powerful NL Central needs to be respected.

The Cardinals were expected to be a factor all season long. First baseman Allen Craig has a higher OPS than the man he replaced at first base, Albert Pujols. Righthander Adam Wainwright is at the peak of his career. Yadier Molina might be the best catcher in baseball this season. Righthander Shelby Miller is a candidate for rookie of the year.

The Reds also were expected to be a factor all season long. Joey Votto is one of the best, and most cerebral, hitters in the game. Shin-Soo Choo was an excellent addition at the leadoff spot. Cincinnati has battled injuries to key relievers and some blowups by closer Aroldis Chapman but should contend to the end.

Then there’s the surprising Pirates, who won’t talk about how well they are playing because they have collapsed the second half of the past two seasons. Pedro Alvarez is hitting home runs. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen is a fine player — and really hasn’t turned it on yet. Jeff Locke is pitching out of his mind. And former Twin Francisco Liriano is pitching like his former team wanted him to. Pittsburgh also entered the weekend with the third-best home record in baseball.

“They are really a different team here,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said when the Cardinals visited Pittsburgh in April. “They’re a good team away, but they are particularly tough to play in this ballpark.’’

Pittsburgh entered the weekend 48-30. They haven’t been that far over .500 since they ended 1992 with a 96-66 record — which is also their last winning season.

What looms in the distance is the possibility that two of these three teams will have to face each other in a one-game playoff to move on in the postseason, putting even more emphasis on winning the division. Prospects could make a difference; the Pirates have called up righthander Gerrit Cole.

As baseball heads toward the All-Star break, and more attention is placed on pennant races, the NL Central race should be the center of attention.

Central Intelligence

The Twins were interested in righthander Brett Myers during the offseason but decided to take another route in rebuilding their rotation. Myers signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Indians.
Myers’ stay in the Cleveland rotation has been short.

He made three starts, four appearances in all, going 0-3 with an 8.02 ERA before being shut down with elbow soreness. He’s made minor league rehabilitation appearances and will return to the Indians as a reliever. That’s a lot of cash for a bullpen guy, and a setback for a team with playoff dreams.

•••

What a difference a year makes. The White Sox led the majors in fewest unearned runs last season with 30. This year, they already have allowed 34. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez’s mistakes have been glaring. He has 13 errors, including six in a 13-game stretch earlier this month. Those errors are one of the reasons the White Sox are in last place in the AL Central.

•••

The Tigersrotation has struggled recently, but no one expects that to last long. Still, they could use the return of righthander Anibal Sanchez, who nearly no-hit the Twins last month.

Sanchez has missed his past four starts because of shoulder soreness and will miss a fifth next week against Toronto. The Tigers hope he can return to the mound July 6 against Cleveland.
Jose Alvarez has replaced Sanchez in the rotation lately, going 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three starts.

Here are three observations ...

• Fans who wanted the Twins to go after Edwin Jackson during the offseason take note: The Cubs are paying Jackson $52 million over four years, and he’s 3-10 with a 5.84 ERA.

• Everyone is gushing about outfielder Yasiel Puig — and his talent is immense — but a big reason the Dodgers are playing better ball is because Hanley Ramirez has gotten on a roll.

• A-Rod should take A-Walk. He’s concerned the Yankees are trying to avoid paying the rest of his enormous salary. He should worry more about reviving and repairing his career — with another team.

... and two predictions

• Both Matt Garza and Ricky Nolasco will be traded to NL West teams before the July 31 deadline

• July is going to be a rough 11-15 month for the Twins.

 

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Tampa Bay - WP: J. McGee 6 FINAL
Toronto - LP: B. Morrow 5
Cleveland - LP: B. Shaw 4 FINAL
Detroit - WP: P. Coke 6
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 3 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: E. Volquez 7
Miami - WP: A. DeSclafani 5 FINAL
Philadelphia - LP: J. Papelbon 4
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 2 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: M. Garza 9
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 8 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Vargas 4
Minnesota - WP: T. May 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 4
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 1 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 4
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 3 FINAL
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 10
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 6 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Santiago 1
Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw 4 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: Y. Petit 2
San Diego - LP: O. Despaigne 6 FINAL
Arizona - WP: Z. Spruill 8
Oakland - WP: J. Lester 4 FINAL
Seattle - LP: C. Young 0
NY Yankees - LP: D. Robertson 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: D. O`Day 3
Miami 10 FINAL
Buffalo 29
Jacksonville 10 FINAL
Washington 41
Dallas 26 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Arizona 25 FINAL
NY Giants 14
New England 30 FINAL
Minnesota 7
New Orleans 24 FINAL
Cleveland 26
Atlanta 10 FINAL
Cincinnati 24
Detroit 7 FINAL
Carolina 24
St. Louis 19 FINAL
Tampa Bay 17
Seattle 21 FINAL
San Diego 30
NY Jets 24 FINAL
Green Bay 31
Kansas City 17 FINAL
Denver 24
Houston 30 FINAL
Oakland 14
Chicago 28 FINAL
San Francisco 20
Philadelphia 9/15/14 7:30 PM
Indianapolis
Tampa Bay 9/18/14 7:25 PM
Atlanta
Boise State 38 FINAL
Connecticut 21
Indiana 42 FINAL
Bowling Green 45
Ga Southern 38 FINAL
Georgia Tech 42
Syracuse 40 FINAL
Central Mich 3
UCF 10 FINAL
(18) Missouri 38
Massachusetts 31 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
Ohio U 14 FINAL
Marshall 44
West Virginia 40 FINAL
Maryland 37
Kent State 0 FINAL
(23) Ohio State 66
Pittsburgh 42 FINAL
FIU 25
East Carolina 28 FINAL
Virginia Tech 21
Louisville 21 FINAL
Virginia 23
Wyoming 14 FINAL
(2) Oregon 48
Air Force 48 FINAL
Georgia State 38
(13) Georgia 35 FINAL
(14) So Carolina 38
Arkansas 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 28
Iowa State 20 FINAL
Iowa 17
Miami-Ohio 10 FINAL
Michigan 34
Kansas 3 FINAL
Duke 41
NC State 49 FINAL
So Florida 17
Arkansas State 20 FINAL
Miami-Florida 41
Miss State 35 FINAL
South Alabama 3
Louisiana 15 FINAL
(10) Ole Miss 56
Minnesota 7 FINAL
TCU 30
Illinois 19 FINAL
Washington 44
Army 0 FINAL
(16) Stanford 35
Western Mich 45 FINAL
Idaho 33
Eastern Mich 3 FINAL
Old Dominion 17
Southern Miss 12 FINAL
(3) Alabama 52
Northern Ill 48 FINAL
UNLV 34
Tulsa 21 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 50
ULM 0 FINAL
(8) LSU 31
Wake Forest 24 FINAL
Utah State 36
Western Ky 47 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 50
TX-San Antonio 13 FINAL
(25) Oklahoma State 43
Purdue 14 FINAL
(9) Notre Dame 30
Kentucky 30 FINAL
Florida 36
New Mexico St 24 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 42
Tennessee 10 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 34
(17) USC 31 FINAL
Boston College 37
Navy 35 FINAL
Texas State 21
(12) UCLA 20 FINAL
Texas 17
Penn State 13 FINAL
Rutgers 10
Rice 10 FINAL
(6) Texas A&M 38
(15) Arizona State 38 FINAL
Colorado 24
(24) Nebraska 55 FINAL
Fresno State 19
Nevada 28 FINAL
Arizona 35
(5) Auburn 9/18/14 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Los Angeles 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Montreal 16 FINAL
Edmonton 33
Toronto 33 FINAL
Calgary 40
Winnipeg 9 FINAL
Brt Columbia 26
Saskatchewan 3 FINAL
Hamilton 28
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