Today is the first day of September, and with that the final month of the NL Central pennant race is coming down to the wire in a three-team race between the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds.
Headed into Sunday, the Pirates hold a one-game lead over the Cardinals and a 3.5 game lead over the Reds. That lead isn’t a whole lot on one hand … but having a 3.5 game lead is a lot better than trailing by that many games, right?
The question that remains is this: Who will come out of the Central with the championship, and with that avoiding the dreaded one-game Wild Card playoff?
In division play this season, the Pirates have a 34-22 mark, while the Cardinals are 34-25 and the Reds are 33-27.
Now let’s look at each team and the schedule that awaits this in September.
First off, we have the Pirates with an overall record of 79-56 and leaders of the division.
I love what the Pirates have done this season as they are just a few wins away from breaking a 20-year streak of finishing with a losing record.
Plus, what they’ve done in recent days by acquiring John Buck as a backup catcher and Marlon Byrd in the outfield from the New York Mets, and Saturday trading for Justin Morneau from the Minnesota Twins, it proves this year the Pirates are serious about winning.
How can’t a baseball fan enjoy watching a team like the Pirates this season? They are finally giving their fans something to cheer about for the first time since Barry Bonds played for them in ’92.
Pittsburgh has four games left with the Cardinals in the regular season, including Sunday and games this coming Friday-Sunday in St. Louis. They also have six games left against the Reds on Sept. 20-22 in Pittsburgh, and they end the regular season in Cincinnati on Sept. 27-29.
That final series in the Queen City could be, no it will be huge for many reasons. What if they are tied headed into that series? My guess is that final series will basically be treated (and have the feel) of a playoff series.
In-between those games with the Reds and Cardinals, the Pirates have games against the Milwaukee Brewers (3), the Texas Rangers (3), the Chicago Cubs (6) and the San Diego Padres (4).
The Cardinals enter Sunday with a 78-57 mark, and I believe they are the best ran franchise overall in this three-team race. They are the most consistent team of the three, but the question remains can they be the team that will be in first once the regular season ends? Will their pitching hold up for the final month of the regular season?
St. Louis has games four game left with the Pirates, which they will be done facing each other by the end of next weekend. They have a four-game set with the Reds on Monday-Thursday this week in Cincinnati, followed with the aforementioned three games vs. the Pirates.
Those games are followed by series’ against the Brewers and Seattle Mariners at home, and the Colorado Rockies and Brewers on the road. They return home on Sept. 23-25 to host the Washington Nationals, and they end the regular season at Busch Stadium against the Cubs.
Then there are the Reds, who were my preseason pick to win the NL Central.
They have been quiet when it has come to trades lately, but are still in the pennant race with a 76-60 mark before their game Sunday against the Rockies.
I like to describe the Reds as a winning, but inconsistent team. Being from Ohio, I have the chance to watch or listen to many Cincinnati games and I just feel they should have a better overall record that what they do. I know they are one of the better teams in the NL with their overall record, but I just think they are better than what they’ve played this season.
Am I wrong?
I also believe this team still has untapped potential this season, but whether or not it is in the books for them to meet that potential and win the division it left to be seen.
Besides the game with the Rockies today, the Reds host the Cards Sept. 2-5, followed with a three-game home series’ with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cubs.
On Sept. 13-15 they are in Milwaukee and they follow that with three games against the Houston Astros (in Houston), then three more in Pittsburgh.
They’ll wrap up the regular season with six straight home games against the New York Mets on Sept. 23-25 and the Pirates Sept. 27-29.
The three teams have faced each other numerous times as well in ’13. The Reds hold a losing mark against both teams as the are 6-7 vs. Pittsburgh and 5-10 against the Cardinals.
The Pirates hold a winning record against St. Louis at 9-5 this season.
This final month in the NL Central will be the most exciting of any of the pennant races in my opinion, and if I had to pick a team that will finish the regular season as division champions my pick would be the … St. Louis Cardinals.
Like I said, I believe the Cardinals are the most consistent team and organization of the three, and I just think this is their turn to win the division from what I’ve seen from them this season.
I also believe the one-game Wild Card will be the Pirates and the Reds. This pennant race will be enjoyable to watch as we’ve waited all season for this final month, but eventually somebody has to come out on top.
Now we just wait and watch.