It’s Memorial Day weekend, and the MLB divisional races are just beginning to take shape. Perhaps surprisingly, the most competitive race to this point has been in the National League Central Division.
The NL Central is home to the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. The North Siders were expected by many to run away with the division, much as they did a year ago. The Cubs finished 17.5 games ahead of their nearest divisional rival last year.
But thus far, Chicago appears to be suffering from a Fall Classic hangover. The Cubs are just 25-23 after being shutout by the Los Angeles Dodgers last night. This drops them into the middle of the divisional pack, albeit only a half-game off the lead.
That surprising new NL Central leader this morning would be the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew has not finished on top of the division since the 2011 season.
Last night, the Brewers blasted the Arizona Diamondbacks by a 6-1 score. The victory raised their record to the 26-23 mark.
Tied with the Cubs just a half-game behind Milwaukee are the Saint Louis Cardinals. The Cards began the year by losing nine of their first 12 games. Saint Louis then won 12 of 18 to take over the division lead. However, the Cards had dropped seven of nine before winning last night.
The Cincinnati Reds led the division as recently as three weeks ago. Cincy was a season-best four games over the .500 mark less than a week later. But the Reds have won just four of their last 14, and may be starting to fade.
In Pittsburgh, the Pirates are holding up the bottom of the division with a 23-27 record. But the Bucs are going in the opposite direction from the Reds. The Pirates have won nine of their last 14, moving within 3.5 games of the divisional lead.
That 3.5 game margin from top to bottom in the NL Central Division is by far the tightest in all of Major League Baseball.
In the NL West, the Colorado Rockies, the Dbacks, and the Dodgers are within 1.5 games of one another. However, the bottom two clubs appear already out of the race. The disappointing San Francisco Giants are already 11.5 games out. The San Diego Padres are a distant 14 games back in last place.
In the NL East, the Washington Nationals are running away with things. The Nats at 30-18 hold an 8.5 game lead. None of their divisional rivals have looked capable of making a legitimate run.
Over in the American League, the Houston Astros have similarly built up a huge lead in the AL West Division. The Astros are the owners of baseball’s best record at 34-16, which puts them nine games up.
Perhaps the biggest single surprise on this Memorial Day weekend are the AL Central Division leaders. The Minnesota Twins, with just one winning season in this decade, are on top with a 26-19 mark. A year ago, the Twins lost 103 games and finished 35.5 games back in last place.
This season, Minnesota leads the defending AL Central and American League champion Cleveland Indians by three games. The other three divisional rivals are each at least five games out.
Finally, in the AL East the New York Yankees have surprised some by seizing the division lead. At 28-18, the latest version of the Bronx Bombers have a two-game edge on the arch-rival Boston Red Sox.
Memorial Day weekend has frequently been used as a demarcation line for contenders in Major League Baseball. This year, more than half of the teams in MLB still appear to have a legitimate shot at a playoff berth.
No place is that more true than in the NL Central Division. The five teams there could place anywhere from one to three teams into the postseason. Two months down, four months to go. The “dog days of summer” are about to begin, and those races are about to really heat up.