NL Central: Chicago Cubs Beat Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates Beat St. Louis Cardinals [MLB News]

Kris Bryant hit his NL-leading 24th home run of the season as the Chicago Cubs blew away the Cincinnati Reds 10-4 on the 4th of July. 300 miles away, the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the St. Louis Cardinals a 4-2 defeat with the moral support of Eric Fryer, who the Pirates claimed off of waivers from the Cardinals on Sunday. But, at the end of the day, the Chicago Cubs still have the best record in baseball and the 9-game difference they have over the St. Louis Cardinals is bigger than any divisional lead in the MLB.

With the 2016 MLB All-Star Game just around the corner, the Pirates and Cardinals continue to fight for Wild Card eligibility while the Chicago Cubs do their best to live up to the hype they’ve received all season. With two more home games against the NL Central’s worst Reds and a one-shot game hosting the NL’s worst Atlanta Braves, staying on top in the near future seems to be well within the Cubs’ means.

Once again, the Central Division in the National League is arguably the most competitive in all of Major League Baseball with more than enough time left in the season for the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates to qualify for at least one game in the 2016 MLB Playoffs.

Chicago Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds

The Cubs returned to Wrigley Field on Monday after a disappointing series at Citi Field where they were swept by the New York Mets. It seemed like an opportune time for the Reds to pounce on the wounded Cubs, but instead, Chicago turned things around and never even gave Cincinnati a chance. Chicago had 3 HRs against Cincinnati: Kris Bryant in the 2nd (2-run HR), Wilson Contreras later in the 2nd (1-run HR) and Addison Russell in the 6th (2-run HR). Kyle Hendricks (7-6, 2.61 ERA) was awarded the win for Chicago while Cody Reed (0-3, 9.00 ERA) was given the loss for Cincinnati.

This Reds vs. Cubs series will last two more games. On Tuesday, July 5, John Lackey (74-, 3.27 ERA) is scheduled to start for Chicago while Brandon Finnegan (3-7, 4.48 ERA) is scheduled for Cincinnati. The starting pitchers scheduled for Wednesday’s game include the Cubs’ Adam Warren (3-1, 4.56 ERA) and the Reds’ Anthony DeSclafani (2-0, 1.78 ERA). Kris Bryant bruised his knee in a collision with Albert Almora Jr. in the outfield, but isn’t expected to miss Tuesday or Wednesday’s games.

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

As much as the Cubs’ huge win over the Reds echoes how far Chicago is ahead of Cincinnati, the rather close game between St. Louis and Pittsburgh echoed the fight the Cards and Pirates have been waging for second place in the NL Central all season long. Matt Carpenter had an RBI in the Bottom of the 5th to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. He would add a second RBI in the Bottom of the 9th, but it was too little, too late. Gregory Polanco hit a 2-run homer in the Top of the 6th, and the Pirates never gave the lead back. After John Jaso had his RBI single in the 7th, Polanco hit a 1-run homer in the Top of the 8th to give Pittsburgh their 4th and final run of the game. Carlos Martinez (7-6, 2.90 ERA) took the loss for St. Louis while Jonathan Niese (7-6, 4.87 ERA) was given the win. Neftali Feliz (2-0, 2.84 ERA) earned his first save of the season.

The series featuring the Pirates vs. Cardinals lasts three more days. The scheduled St. Louis vs. Pittsburgh pitching match-ups include: Mike Leake (5-6, 4.13 ERA) vs. Steven Brault (first start of the season) on Tuesday, Jaime Garcia (6-6, 3.84 ERA) vs. Jeff Locke (8-5, 5.13 ERA) on Wednesday and Adam Wainwright (7-5, 4.70 ERA) vs. Chad Kuhl (1-0, 4.09 ERA) on Thursday, July 7. As reported by the Pirates Prospects, Eric Fryer was added to the roster but didn’t see any playing time on Monday.

NL Central Standings

The Milwaukee Brewers (36-46) were also in action on the 4th of July, having defeated the Washington Nationals 1-0 in our country’s capital city. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, they are still in 4th place in the NL Central, 16 games behind the Chicago Cubs (52-30). Chicago, with their win over the Cincinnati Reds (30-54), has increased their lead to 9 games over St. Louis. After losing to the Cubs, the Reds are officially 23 games behind the division leader.

Meanwhile, the race for second place in the NL Central has the St. Louis Cardinals (43-39) just a 1.5 games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates (42-41). If Pittsburgh manages to sweep this series, they will officially take over second place, bumping the Cardinals down to third place, just a half-game behind.


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Where To Watch

Tuesday night’s game featuring the Cincinnati Reds vs. Chicago Cubs will be at Wrigley Field and is scheduled to begin at 1:20 p.m. CT. Tickets to see the Cubs vs. Reds live can still be purchased through the Chicago Cubs’ official website. The game will air on the Chicago Sports Network, as well as the MLB Network (out-of-market only).

The Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night will take place at Busch Stadium starting at 7 p.m. CT. Tickets to see the Cardinals vs. Pirates live are available for purchase through the St. Louis Cardinals’ official website. The game will be televised on FOX Sports Midwest and ESPN.

[Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images]