Discussion

NL Central is Cards' to lose

St. Louis is poised run away from the Pirates and Reds down the stretch

Updated: September 9, 2013, 12:15 PM ET
By Paul Swydan | ESPN Insider

The National League Central has provided the most drama throughout this 2013 baseball season, and the last three weeks of the season should be no different. Things crystallized a little this weekend however, as the Pittsburgh Pirates -- who rank seventh this week in the ESPN Power Rankings -- were unable to take advantage of their last chance to directly gain ground on the St. Louis Cardinals (fifth).

The eighth-ranked Cincinnati Reds have been, well, red-hot, but even with a 6-2 record in September have been able to make up only two games on St. Louis. Following a sweep of the Pirates, St. Louis now definitively looks like the favorite to win the division.

The Cardinals' model for winning games hasn't changed much over the past couple of seasons: Build a great offense and starting rotation and hope the defense, baserunning and bullpen fill in well enough to not be a problem. That approach has served them well.

The Pirates and Reds have come at things from a more holistic approach, which is something that is necessitated by their inability to lure big-time free agents such as Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran. Both Cincy and Pittsburgh are in the top half of the league in just about every category, but they don't sneak into the top five in any of the advanced metrics like wRC+, FIP- or UZR. That's on a seasonal basis, of course. Recently, things have been much different.

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