It’s been a roller coaster of a season for the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, but it could soon all be worth it with the team’s magic number to clinch its second straight NL Central at just two.
And the crazy part is that the race for the division isn’t even over. By nothing short of baseball magic, the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers are still technically in the hunt for the NL Central. The Brewers trail Chicago by 5.5 games, whereas the Cardinals only trail by six.
Either way, with the NL Central action this week, the Cubs are in a prime position to get back to the playoffs and prove that this year’s divisional win is not just a fluke.
Where Chicago stands today
The good news for the Cubs is that with a win over the Cardinals today, they can knock St. Louis out of the divisional race for good. The bad news is that clinching the Central cannot officially happen until after Tuesday’s game (results depending) because Milwaukee is off today.
But knocking St. Louis out tonight will be tough for the Cubs. They send veteran Jon Lester (11-8, 4.56 ERA) to the mound and though he has gone 1-1 with a 3.28 ERA in four starts against the Cardinals this year, St. Louis is countering with the sensational Luke Weaver (7-1, 2.05). Weaver has won his last six starts while posting a 1.49 ERA, so there’s no guarantee that the Cubs will strike the crushing blow to the Cardinals tonight.
In spite of that, however, the Cubs are looking like the all-out favorite to win the NL Central, barring a collapse reminiscent of the 2007 New York Mets.
The road ahead
The Cubs’ final week of the season is a perfect example of having to walk through Hell to ultimately get someplace better. Today marks the start of a four-game set against the Cardinals and though the team has the upper hand, the series is at Busch Stadium. A rowdy St. Louis crowd could provide just enough for Chicago to stumble at the worst possible time, regardless of the fact that the Cubs are actually 11-4 against the Cardinals this year.
The good news for the Cubs is that after what should be an intense series in St. Louis, they return home for a three-game set against the last-place Cincinnati Reds. That should provide a nice reward after the grueling series. More importantly, with the division hopefully already clinched by that point, manager Joe Maddon can rest his starters and give the reserves some innings so that everyone is as fresh as possible for the postseason.
Either way, one thing is certain. Between the NL Central race and both the Brewers and Cardinals still being alive and well in the battle for the second NL Wild Card spot, this week’s action within the division is not to be missed under any circumstances.
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