The Chicago Cubs, a team that many pundits had winning the NL Central with ease during the first half of the season, are now looking like a team that will struggle to catch up with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs, who lost a 6-1 decision to Cliff Lee and the Philadelphia Phillies today at Wrigley, fall to a 58-55 record, and are now 4.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals who have an off day today. On paper, the Cubs look like a team that could run away with the NL Central. With a pitching rotation of Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells, the Cubs are a tough team to face. And with proven hitters such as Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot and Giovanny Soto, the team, especially at Wrigley Field can put up some offensive numbers. But neither pitching success nor hitting success has come with any regularity for the Cubs. The Cubs have been hobbled by injuries all throughout the team - Zambrano, Lilly, Aramis Ramirez, and others have hit the DL and others have slumped badly, such as former All-Star Giovanny Soto, whose batting average is a unremarkable .220. When you add in troubles in the bullpen with Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg, the situation looks just plain bad.
What will help the Cubs the rest of the way is an easy schedule. The Cubs play 37 games against teams with a losing record and only 12 games against teams with a winning record. This is compared with 31 and 15 for the Cardinals. So the Cubs have a more favorable schedule than the Cardinals at least by a little bit.
The National League Central Division race may come down to the three game Cubs-Cards series on September 18th, 19th and 20th at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. If the Cubs can keep the race close they will have a chance to make 3 games up in this series. Of course the Cardinals will try to pull away much earlier and make this series meaningless.
If the Cardinals, who currently hold a 64-52 record, can go 26-20 in their last 46 games (very doable given the schedule), they will end the season at a 90-72 mark. The Cubs, currently 58-55, would then have to go 32-17 over their last 49 games to tie the Cardinals, a pace which seems much more unlikely for a team that is having so many injury problems.
With this 4.5 game lead, if the Cardinals play anything close to what they are capable of playing for the rest of the season, the Cardinals should win this division by 5 or 6 games.
Then comes the playoffs.