Mid-June—can you feel it? The solstice is a mere nine days away. Grills have long since been cleaned off, inner tubes fully inflated. Temperatures are rising. Summer is here.
That’s right, ya’ll, the NL Central heat check is back. Let’s get right to it.
1. Milwaukee Brewers (39-27) Heat check: Long nap on the beach beside a neglected bottle of sunscreen. The sting rises out of every pore the minute you open your eyes. Even through those sunglasses, pink is visible on every surface. Time to take stock: Is this going to be a two-day thing or the ruin of your vacation? The Brewers have a five-game gap atop the division and show no signs of slowing down. But is it sustainable through all 162? It’d be one hell of a turnaround, but history suggests a gradual decline—go grab some aloe.
2. St. Louis Cardinals (34-32) Heat check: Full rack of lamb on a charcoal grill. Patience comes naturally to the seasoned BBQ chef. Heat takes a while to build when you’re doing it right. The Cards are 4-6 in their last 10 and an even .500 on the road. But this team has been there. They embrace the slow burn, thrive on it. Challengers will rise and fall until August. The stretch run is where division champs show their true colors.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (31-34) Heat check: Final days of a long-earned vacation. The Buccos have pulled themselves back into contention through a combination of close wins and unexpected Josh Harrison brilliance. But this might just be a brief respite to the grind. The rotation was thin even before Francisco Liriano hit the DL. The lineup likely won’t be quite deep enough, even with the call-up of hot prospect Gregory Polanco. Reality beckons.
4. Cincinnati Reds (30-34) Heat check: Inflatable discount pool on a 95-degree day. All you wanted was a break from the wave, but the water is so warm. So very, unsatisfyingly warm. The Redlegs keep hanging around. Devin Mesoraco has been a nice surprise as the rest of the lineup keeps doing what it’s done. But the slow decline of an unfulfilled playoff dark horse isn’t in keeping with the boundless dreams of early summer.
5. Chicago Cubs (26-37) Heat check: June morning in the Southern Hemisphere. While we’re all basking in the newfound sunshine, those below the equator are digging through the closet for some extra layers. The rest of the Central, even if not in top form, has room for optimism. The Cubs are at least a few years away. The farm system is promising, but patience doesn’t last forever…even for a long-suffering franchise. For now, the Confines are only friendly to the visitors.