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MLB News Update: National League Central Update as of 8/16/13

1. Pittsburgh Pirates (71-49), 2. St. Louis Cardinals (69-51), 3. Cincinnati Reds (69-52), 4. Chicago Cubs (52-68)

As of August 16, 2013

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The St. Louis Cardinals made up some ground by rallying on Thursday afternoon to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It looked like the Pirates were on their way to an easy win on getaway day. A win that would have given them a series win over their closest division competitor. Instead Pirates starter A.J. Burnett couldn’t get through the fifth inning and out of nowhere what was a 4-0 lead had vanished. Pittsburgh would rally in the eighth inning to tie the game at 5-5 on Russell Martin’s 11th home run of the season, but they managed just one hit the rest of the way in the eventual 6-5 loss. Matt Holliday’s RBI single scored Matt Carpenter who reached base five times in the game. That’s now losses in five of their last six games as the Pirates were coming off a sweep at the hands of the Colorado Rockies over the weekend. They’ll try to rebound this weekend at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and they’ll need to with how slim their lead has become. They need Jeff Locke to revert to his form from earlier in the season and quit giving up so many base runners. Gerrit Cole gets the start on Friday night and they could use a strong outing from him as well. The rookie has allowed 10 earned runs over his last three starts.

MLB News Update: National League Central Update as of 8/16/13

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis was able to survive their stretch of playing extremely lackluster baseball, and while they haven’t necessarily gotten out of that yet you have to wonder if their win on Thursday gets them going. Either way this weekend is a win for the Cardinals and Reds, because they’ll either be gaining ground on the Pirates in the division if they win or they’ll be creating more space between themselves and the Diamondbacks. Matt Carpenter continued his excellent season with four more hits on Thursday and he might have some new help in the middle infield. Second basemen Kolten Wong is just 22 years old but was tearing up Triple-A before being brought to the big leagues. Depending on how the kid plays you’d have to expect it means less playing time for David Freese who has lacked consistency and power this year. After hitting 20 home runs a year ago he’s got just six so far this season. St. Louis will look to climb back into the division lead and they’ve got a good chance to do that with six games against the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers coming up.

Don’t look now but here come the Cincinnati Reds. I’ve been saying all year long how they’ve been flying under the radar because of the seasons that Pittsburgh and St. Louis were having. Nobody paid attention to the Reds because they weren’t excelling at any point but they’ve been extremely consistent, and now their recent hot streak has them just 2.5 games back of the Pirates. They’re 8-2 over their last 10 games, have won 5 straight, and they still have 13 games remaining with the two clubs ahead of them. The National League Central is the most compelling division race right now and it should be a lot of fun coming down the stretch here. Tony Cingrani was electric again on Thursday night as the young left hander struck out nine batters in just 6 1/3 innings of work. He’s 6-2 on the year with an ERA of just 2.78. Cincinnati plays three more with the Brewers this weekend before returning home for a seven game home stand.

In Chicago the Cubbies are sinking in the standings and looking at a potential last place finish. Without the Astros around anymore there’s no one to assure them of finishing second to last, like they’ve done for the past three seasons. They’re 3-7 in their last 10 games and have lost four straight games, most recently getting swept by Cincinnati. They were shut out in two of the three games. It will be interesting to see what types of moves are made in the offseason and you wonder what the organization thinks about Starlin Castro at this point. After a very solid season in 2012 the young shortstop has fallen off a cliff in 2013. He’s batting just .246 with an on base percentage of .281 and he’s managed just seven home runs, 32 RBI’s, and even more incredibly, eight steals. Castro was supposed to be one of their building blocks but he looks completely lost at the plate and his lack of discipline might be difficult to overcome. They’ll host St. Louis for three games this weekend.

Milwaukee is playing a little bit better and they’re just a half game away from moving out of the cellar in the Central Division. They put up a bunch of runs in consecutive wins in Seattle last weekend and managed to get a split of a quick two game series in Texas against the Rangers. Now things get tricky as they start a stretch of 13 straight games against the Reds, Cardinals, and Pirates. They’re just 17-28 against teams in their own division so it’s going to be a struggle. Kyle Lohse pitched very well on Thursday night in the opener of their four game set with Cincinnati but lack of run support hurt him again. Lohse has done a really good job for a very bad ball club. Tom Gorzelanny gets the ball on Friday and he’ll look to build off his last start that saw him go seven innings and allow no runs in a win over Seattle. 

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