Any division in which the 2007 St. Louis Cardinals still have a chance to win is a disgrace...and right now, the National League Central is a disgrace. Here's what the division looks like as of Thursday night:
Milwaukee, 62-59 --
Chicago, 61-59 0.5
St. Louis, 58-60 2.5
In 2005, it was the National League West, where the Padres won a subpar division by 5 games with an 82-80 record (winning 5 of their last 6 games to make that even more presentable than it was). Last year, in the same NL Central, the Cardinals were awful all season (83-78, winning the division by a game and a half), did just enough to make the playoffs, and then got hot. Now it's this year's version of the NL Central making the National League look bad.
The Brewers have had a hold on first for much of the season, but they always seemed like too young a team to run away with it. They seemed like last year's Tigers - there was always the possibility of a fade towards the end of the season - but I didn't think it would happen this soon, or this fast.
The Cubs, for a while, looked like they were going to take advantage of the Brewers' slipups and run away with the division - they have a good mix of veterans on their team and it seemed like they were getting hot at the right time. Then they started to tank - I'm thinking the weekend the Mets were in Chicago was one of the turning points for them, especially when Alfonso Soriano got hurt on Sunday night - and the Cubs, after taking over first place for a week or so, are still in second place.
And now the Cardinals have come out of nowhere to get back into the race. They just swept the Brewers, and have a weekend series coming up against the Cubs in Chicago, where they can move into second place. It's August - a team with a record that close to .500 should not be in a division race this late in the season.
But that's what's going to happen in the NL Central for the rest of the year. The teams in competition are going to be playing each other the rest of the way, and this race will remain tight. The records will remain subpar. I will say this - I don't think the team that wins the Central will go on the kind of hot streak the Cardinals went on last year - I foresee a first-round exit in the playoffs. And I hope the Mets draw whoever comes out of the division in the first round. And that part of me hopes it's a below-.500 Cardinals team.
Who knows who it will be, though. At this rate, the 10-games-back, 52-68 Cincinnati Reds aren't even out of it. And who on earth would have picked them to win the division this year!?