NL Central Dog Fight: David V. Goliath
In the famous biblical legend, David came out as the underdog and he stood no chance against the hefty beast in Goliath. In an attempt to prove his critics wrong, David fought and fought against the heavy favorite Goliath until finally, he came out to the top. The same goes for the toughest division in baseball, the NL Central, where its heavyweight team, the Cubs have taken 8 of 11 games this season from the current NL Central leader Milwaukee Brewers. In the case of Milwaukee, they are Goliath as they have not been to the Postseason since their historic 96-66 season back in 2011. The Brewers could have gone into an NL Tiebreaker for the final Wild Card spot last season had they won their final game against the Cardinals.
This season however, the Brewers have taken themselves to new heights as they were as many as 5 games ahead in the division as well as claiming the National League's best record of 42-29 along with Atlanta. As of late though, they have been on a slump with their first series loss since the Indians on June 6 with a nail-biting 10-9 defeat against the Phillies. As a result, Chicago (Cubs) is now on Milwaukee's tail as they are only a half a game behind for first place in the Central.
And despite Milwaukee going 3-8 against the Cubs so far this season, there is reason for hope as the Brewers won their latest series against the Cubbies 2-1. Also, 6 of their next 8 series before the All-Star Break are against teams with a record below .500 including divisional battles between the Cardinals and Pirates, plus a possible Postseason preview at Miller Park against the NL East leading Braves. As for the Cubs, they have one of the easiest schedules before the break as their only tough will come in two series in the form of defending NL Champion LA Dodgers. Besides that, Chicago will have a pretty comfortable ride to Washington when they face bottom tier teams like the Reds, Giants, Padres, and Twins.
But after the break, it won't get any easier for both squads as they will face each other in three more series this season which will ultimately determine who gets the NL Central and who plays in the NL Wild Card which if the season ended today, would be against the Washington Nationals either at Miller Park or The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. Whatever the case may be come October, until then, expect this rivalry to heat up in mid-July, August, and September. Did I mention if the Cubs win the Wild Card, as of today they would face the Brewers in Miller Park? Cain, Braun, and Shaw versus Bryant, Rizzo, and Schwarber in October? Yes, please!
But the Brewers did not reach this unprecedented success alone. Part of the Brewers success has come from the acquisitions of pitcher Jhoulys Chacin and former Kansas City Royal and World Series Champion Lorenzo Cain. Both players have been valuable in making Milwaukee a dynamic force in the NL, thanks to a 6-1 record in Chacin's first 7 starts and Cain's .291 batting average along with 8 home runs and 25 RBI's to go with it. Add power hitters in Brewers veteran and All-Star Ryan Braun and Travis Shaw and you get the most complete Brewers squad since Prince Fielder and Braun won the Brewers their first NL Central title in 2011. The Brewers are destined for redemption from last year in the form of a possible division title and with the way they are playing right now, I don't expect them to slow down any time soon.
By the time of last year's All-Star Break on July 9, the Brewers had a 50-41 record and were 5.5 games ahead of the Cubs with a .549 win percentage but lost it once August came around as the Cubs took sole possession of the NL Central. This year has been a redemption story for The Crew as they have a 42-29 record with a .592 win percentage at the June 18 mark and they are hoping to surpass 50 wins and lead the division once the All-Star Break starts on July 13. Despite Milwaukee being only a half game ahead of the Cubs for first place, this may serve as an omen as the Brewers might turn the tables post-All Star Break unlike last season when they were 5.5 games ahead in first place.
For 20 years, the Cubs and Brewers rivalry has been one sided in terms of divisional titles 5-1 in favor Chicago, but the all time record of 173-162 belonging to the Cubs shows that this rivalry continues to be one of the fiercest in baseball, and this season is no different with aces in Jhoulys Chacin and Jon Lester and Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain with the Cubbies' Big 3 in Rizzo, Bryant, and Schwarber battling for the NL Central crown once again.
As of right now, October in the National League would be much different with a trio of brand new division leaders in the Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Braves as well as some top tier teams in the Cubs and Nationals going into both Wild Card spots for a rematch of last year's NLDS. If the Brewers end up winning the division, they will be a force to be reckoned with this Postseason. But in order to get there, they must beat their archrival in the Cubs and until October, it is going to be one hell of a dog fight for these two teams.
Goliath seemed to be the favorite among everyone, but David found a way to win and so will the Brewers once the NL Central is won.