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NL Central: Neck and Neck
Although the D'backs and Padres are tied in the loss column atop the NL West, and things are tightening up in the eastern divisions in both leagues, the NL Central remains the closest division in baseball.
With less than two weeks remaining in the season, the Cubs and Brewers are tied for first place entering today's action. The remaining schedule strongly favors Chicago. The Cubs will face the Reds, Pirates, and Marlins, while the Brewers have four games in Atlanta starting tomorrow and will conclude the season with four at home against the Padres. What's more, the Cubs have a pair of off-days (tomorrow and Monday), while the Brewers, who have played two fewer games, have none. Among other things, that will allow the Cubs to put off using a fifth starter until the opening game of their final series in Cincinnati. If things are still tight entering that series, Lou Piniella may be tempted to bring Carlos Zambrano back on three days rest against the Reds. Then again, maybe not, as that's exactly what Piniella did in last night's loss, the first game in Zambrano's major league career in which he started on short rest.
Should the Cubs win the division (NLDS tickets go on sale in Chicago on Sunday), it will be well earned. They went 9-6 against the Brewers, 11-5 against the Cardinals, and came back from being 8.5 games behind in late June. There is hope for the Brewers, however, as the Cubs have a losing record against each of the three patsies remaining on their schedule -- the Cubs are 11-17 against the Reds, Bucs, and Fish, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Marlins at the end of May. Then again, the Brewers are 1-5 against the Braves and Padres this year, and have a losing record against their other remaining opponent, those freefalling Cardinals.
The Cardinals' last hope was their four-game series at home against the Cubs last weekend, but, although none of the games was decided by more than two runs, the Cardinals only managed to take one of them, in large part because they were only able to scratch out 10 runs in the series. Thus the Cards finished the weekend seven games out of first place, and eight games below .500. Their one win in that series, a 4-3 victory in the nightcap of Saturday's doubleheader, remains their only win since The Daily News broke the Rick Ankiel HGH allegations on Sept. 7. Ankiel himself has hit .139/.156/.163 with 13 Ks and just one RBI over that stretch. As a result, the minds of Redbird fans have shifted to next year's starting rotation (Mark Mulder is scheduled to meet on Monday with the team doctor, who may recommend another MRI on his sore left shoulder), and the uncertain status of manager Tony La Russa.
The Pirates and Astros, both of whom have been mathematically eliminated, also have their minds on the front office, as both are in the market for new general managers. The Bucs have already interviewed Mets' vice president of development Tony Bernazard and Blue Jays' director of player personnel Tony LaCava, and are expected to seek permission to interview local boy Jack Zduriencik, the Brewers' special assistant to the general manger and director of amateur scouting who oversaw the drafts that brought in Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, and J.J. Hardy. Indians' vice president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and the White Sox's vice president and assistant general manager Rick Hahn have declined to be interviewed.
John Perrotto suggests some other candidates here, while Bones over at Honest Wagner has all the latest on the team's search. The New York Sun's Tim Marchman has a good piece on the man who will be making the decision, new team president Frank Coonelly. Meanwhile, Cory Humes of the Pittsburgh Lumber Co. looks at the sunny side of another loosing season.
The Astros, meanwhile, have completed their initial interviews with 11 candidates and, although they are considering doing some call-backs, could arrive at a decision very soon. The list of eleven can be found toward the bottom of this article by the Houston Chronicle's Jose De Jesus Ortiz.
Finally, the Reds, who staved off elimination last night when Aaron Harang beat Zambrano, have been doing some housecleaning of their own.
Labels: NL Central
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