Fight for the Central

The race in the NL Central is heating up. Three of the four teams in the division race are separated by one game, and the fourth team, the Cincinatti Reds, falls five games from the lead. The Brewers head into Saturday’s games with a 1 game lead over both Pittsburgh and St. Louis, who are playing against each other this weekend. The two surprising teams in this race, though, are obviously Pittsburgh and Milwaukee.

Heading into the season, the Brewers were a pick by many to win the division. That was still a bit of stretch given the early injury to Zach Greinke, and the fact that they were still competing against St. Louis and Cincinnati. The Brewers have battled all season and now find themselves at the top of the division heading into Saturday’s games. Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Rickie Weeks have led the offense for Milwaukee, combining for 316 hits/59 home runs/182 RBIs. This is a very talented trio of hitters, giving Milwaukee a lot of fire power in their lineup.

Milwaukee has not been one-sided, as their pitching has performed exceptionally well this season. The rotation has an excellent “big three” in Yovani Gallardo, Zach Greinke, and Shaun Marcum. Greinke has been a bit shaky this year, posting a 4.84 ERA, but is still a quality starter (11.75 K/9 IP). Gallardo and Marcum have combined for 20 wins and 222 strikeouts. The bullpen has also been very effective, and will continue to be with the recent addition of Francisco Rodriguez. Add him to a bullpen already containing John Axford (27 SV/2.72 ERA) and LaTroy Hawkins (2.22 ERA/1.31 WHIP), and the Brewers should not have any worries when its time to close the door.

The Pirates fight in the division has come as a shock, but it’s becoming more of a reality the longer they hang around. Andrew McCutchen has been the obvious offensive star for Pittsburgh, hitting .289 to go along with 14 HR, 59 RBI, and 15 SB. Neil Walker has hit well for the Pirates as well, posting a .272 average with 9 home runs, 17 doubles, and 50 runs. Jose Tabata has been on the 15-day DL since June 27, and the Pirates will be happy when his bat returns to their lineup.

The Pirates pitching staff is not well-known, but they have been pitched very well in 2011. The rotation features Charlie Morton, Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens, and Jeff McDonald. The rotation for Pittsburgh has combined for an impressive 3.48 ERA and a 5.45 K/9 IP. Jeff Karstens leads the rotation with a 2.27 ERA, and Kevin Correia leads the team in wins with 11. The bullpen has been anchored down by closer Joel Hanrahan, who has a 1.24 ERA and 28 SV for the Pirates. He has been very effective for this team, only blowing one save.

Both these teams will be fighting to the end for a shot at a playoff berth. They still have the Cardinals and Reds to worry about as well. The Pirates and Brewers have 10 games left against each other, so those could very pivotal in the divisional race. How each team fares as the rest of the season goes will be determinant on what moves they make at the deadline. Replacing an injured Carlos Gomez will be vital for Milwaukee, while Pittsburgh is need of adding another impact bat to their lineup. This division race is going to get hot, and these two teams will be right in the middle of it all.

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