NL Central Hot, But Only Cardinals Doing It On The Road

Well, this stinks.

No, I’m not referring to ABC’s announcers on the NBA Finals — but I could be. What a shame that we get smart, incisive commentary from broadcasters like Doug Collins, Kevin Harlan, Marv Albert, and Dick Stockton for TNT’s coverage and then inane, meaningless, humorless piffle from the nightmare team of Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Breen, and Mark Jackson for the NBA Finals. These guys should be demoted to covering mixed martial arts. Better yet, they should have to get in the cage with Kimbo Slice. Makes perfect sense — Kimbo’s not a real fighter and the ABC guys aren’t real analysts.

OK, I got off track there. Sorry. Oh, here’s where I was going: The Brewers, warming up since my last post, are now full on en fuego. 9-1 in their last ten. Six in a row. The pitching is clicking, the offense is clicking, they outscored their opponents 45-18 during the just-completed nine-game homestand. They’re playing like the team I thought would win their division.

Problem is, that division is the NL Central.

Yes, the NL Central. That supposedly weak, ugly cousin to the far superior NL East and West. The Cindy Snow to the rest of the league’s Chrissy Snow. The Kundun to the others’ Mean Streets. The Dirty Work to their Let It Bleed.

Well, the NL Central is surprisingly the best division in the NL and nearly all of baseball, with their teams averaging a winning percentage mere hundredths of a percentage point behind the mighty AL East (.5365 to .5384). Leading the way are those lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs, who as of this writing have the best record in baseball at 39-22, going 10-1 in their last 11 games.  What this means is that while the Brewers started their homestand three games under .500 and in sixth place in the Central and finished their homestand four games over .500 and in third place in the NL Central, they’re actually fallen further out of first place during that time, from six games out to 6.5 games out.

See, I told you it — like Baba Booey’s breath — stinks.

Here’s the good news: The Cubs share more than a geographic region and a division with the Brewers, they share a similar lack of effectiveness on the road. While not as pronounced a problem as it is with Milwaukee, the Cubs are only 13-14 away from Wrigley Field. They’ve been able to amass a stellar record largely from playing a home-heavy schedule: 34 games on West Addison Street and only 27 games away. The Brewers, on the other hand, have played two more games away from Miller Park than they have in front of Chorizo and Bernie Brewer.

Of course, there’s more good news. Pitchers other than Ben Sheets are rolling — six consecutive quality starts since May 30 and a combined 2.00 ERA over the last three series. The offense is no longer offensive: Ryan Braun — who some are crediting with helping to spark the team’s turn-around following remarks he made after Milwaukee was badly swept in Boston — is .462 with nine RBI over the last week. Prince Fielder, whose slow start was the subject of much concern, is .458 with four home runs over the same period. And roster moves are begining to pay off, most notably adding third baseman Russell Branyan (.321 since being called up) to the active roster. Bill Hall’s agent says instead of splitting time with Branyan, his client would like to be traded. I say a player with a .228 average who strikes out every 3.5 times at bat is in no position to be making any demands from anyone except his butcher. Although I don’t know who would want him at his current rate of production, Doug Melvin, if you can get anything for him — even a decent bootleg recording of any of Springsteen’s legendary 1975 Bottom Line performances — do it.

Hopefully as the Brewers hit the road again tonight for six games, they can sustain the good feelings amassed over the last week. But if they and the Cubs can’t figure out how to win more consistently on the road, both teams could be looking up to the St. Louis Cardinals (36-26 overall, 15-13 road), who are one of only two NL teams (Phillies being the other) with a winning record on the road.

The NL Central being this loaded and this competitive? Good for baseball, stinks for Milwaukee.






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