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Analysis and Prediction: The NL Central Contenders

Cardinals:

Remaining Schedule: The Cards (71-61) play all but two series against NL Central opponents. They play seven games against a dangerous, nothing-to-lose Cubs team,  seven more games against the Reds, three games versus the Pirates, and here’s the big one: seven games against the Brewers. In between all of those games, the Cards play a series against the cellar-dwelling Rockies and a series against the struggling Diamondbacks. Considering the fact that the Cards are 31-21 against NL Central opponents, this turns out to be a pretty favorable schedule.

Injury Report: At long last, Michael Wacha and Yadier Molina are set to return to the Cards around the middle of September, providing a much-needed boost to this team.

Prediction: With Wacha and Molina coming back, the Cards will finally chase the Brewers for good and take the NL Central crown. The Cards play a much easier schedule than the Brewers or Pirates, plus they have played well in the division this season.

Brewers:

Remaining Schedule: The Brewers (73-60) have a very similar schedule to the Cards, except their out of division games are against two contending Wild Card teams: the Giants and Marlins. A nine-game road trip to St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati from September 16-25 will likely decide their fate, but the Brew Crew can take comfort in the fact that they are better on the road (37-29 record) than at home (36-31). Nonetheless, Milwaukee is just 29-25 against NL Central opponents this season, so this heavy slate of divisional competition might not be a good thing for this team.

Injury Report: Starting pitcher Matt Garza is expected to return to the club very soon after suffering a left rib cage strain that placed him on the 15-day DL.

Prediction: The Brewers will slip out of first place and settle for the top Wild Card spot. They have tougher out of division series than the Cards, and they have not been great against divisional opponents, so I expect the Brewers to win as many games as they lose from here on out.

Pirates:

Remaining Schedule: The Pirates (69-64) have the hardest schedule out of the three NL Central contenders. First and foremost, the Buccos have to play 17 out of the remaining 29 games on the road, and they are significantly worse on the road (27-37 record) than at home (42-27). Pittsburgh also plays three series out of the division against the Phillies, Red Sox, and Braves. Combine all of this with the fact that the Pirates finish the season on a seven-game road trip, and you get the feeling that the odds are not in their favor.

Injury Report: The Pirates are a relatively healthy team, but starting pitcher Charlie Morton is expected to return for the stretch run. Additionally, Andrew McCutchen is back from his injury, but who knows if he can stay healthy for the final month.

Prediction: The Pirates will eventually fall out of contention for one of the Wild-Card spots and miss the playoffs entirely. This will be a disappointing end to the season considering how they made it to the playoffs a year ago, but the Buccos are faced with too many tough road games to overcome these challenges.

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