Sports Column

Summer baseball heating up


It’s the middle of June, and baseball season is approaching the halfway point. So it’s a good time to check in on some of the standings and storylines around Major League Baseball. The NL Central has been putting the “mid” in Midwest so far this season. Milwaukee has exceeded expectations as they often do, while the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds and Pirates are all playing musical chairs between 2nd and 5th place.

My beloved Cubbies got off to a strong start in April, but it’s been an incredibly frustrating six weeks since. Their starting rotation has been great. And the good news is- they were in a similar spot last year before getting hot for two months. They are fully capable of turning things around. One hot stretch of winning 10 of 12 games would change things in a hurry. Right now the bullpen is a mess, and they desperately need guys like Merryweather and Almonte to get healthy. As bad as things have been this year, where would they be if they simply had a good closer? They’d probably be at the top of the division with Milwaukee. The offense also needs to pick it up, and again, they are fully capable. This is a team that scored the sixth most runs in all of baseball last year. This season, they rank 22-29 in baseball in most offensive categories, despite bringing back the same team and adding Michael Busch. It’s another reason why baseball is the hardest sport to predict. This team has a lot of good players, but they still lack a star. Their ceiling will remain limited until a star is developed or brought in. At the same time, I fully expect this group to turn things around and at least give themselves a chance at the playoffs. The turnaround needs to happen sooner than later.

The Cincinnati Reds also had high expectations coming into this year. They’ve dealt with a lot of injuries, and a key suspension. They’ve played a lot better lately, and are getting close to the .500 mark. It’s a streaky team that has a streaky star. Elly De La Cruz is one of the most exciting players in the game. One week he looks like the best player in the world, and one week he may hit .100 with 20 strikeouts. If they can hang around long enough in the division or wildcard race, it can be a dangerous team late into the summer. The good news for Reds fans- there’s lots of young talent here, and the pitching has been better than expected. If nothing else, it should be a fun team to follow for the next several years.

The Pirates have Paul Skenes, and that’s must-see TV every time he takes the bump. Hopefully the young phenom will stay healthy throughout his career. It’s too bad he wasn’t in AAA a little longer so more Indy Indians fans could have seen him up close. The Cardinals got off to a slow start and have played a lot better over the last month. It’s another team that could really go either way before it’s all said and done. (And that’s all the time I’d like to spend on that team.)

Can Milwaukee keep this up and run away with the division? Or will they come back to earth and allow some of these teams to get back in the race?  Either way, you can expect the NL Wildcard to be absolutely … wild ... this season. At the time of writing this, there are NINE teams in the NL separated by two games for the final two wildcard playoff spots. The Cubs have the third worst record in the NL, and are a game and a half behind the final playoff spot.

Baseball, baby.

Tyler Smith covers the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Hoosiers for IndySportsLegends and is a frequent contributor to the Journal Review. He is also the youth and sports pastor at New Hope Christian Church.