Pirates in middle of tightly bunched NL Central race | TribLIVE.com
Pirates/MLB

Pirates in middle of tightly bunched NL Central race

Chris Adamski
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Elias Diaz tags out the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber at home plate Thursday, July 4, 2019, at PNC Park.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Elias Diaz forces out the Cubs’ Willson Contreras at home plate next to pitcher Clay Holmes Thursday, July 4, 2019, at PNC Park.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier rounds the bases past the Cubs’ Kris Bryant after hitting a three-run home run during the fourth inning against the Cubs Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at PNC Park.

As play began on the Fourth of July, the last-place team in the National League Central is closer to the division lead than the second-place team in any other MLB division.

It’s shaping up to be that kind of season and that kind of stretch drive for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their NL Central brethren.

“It’s very competitive and very intense,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

With more than half the season complete, the five NL Central teams are all within three losses of each other in the standings. The fifth-place Cincinnati Reds were 4½ games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers heading into Thursday’s meeting between the two.

The average games behind among the other five last-place teams in the majors? Try 22½.

With the All-Star break days away, if you toss out the NL Central, the next-closest second-place team heading into Thursday was the Philadelphia Phillies’ 5½-game deficit to the Atlanta Braves.

The packed-up NL Central can be attributed to two things: no great teams and no awful teams. The Brewers have five fewer wins than any other division leader. The Reds, on average, have more than seven additional victories compared to the other five last-place clubs.

“I think everybody is still working hard to find their rhythm,” Hurdle said. “We have all seemed to put together some stretches, and then we have all had some stretches where it hasn’t been well.”

The Pirates perhaps as much as anybody. They had seven- and eight-game losing streaks before the their 70th game of the season. But they also have had a stretch of seven wins in eight games, a five-game winning streak and a 17-game run in which they went 12-5.

The Chicago Cubs have a similar resume: an early six-game losing streak, followed not long after by a 20-wins-in-25-games stretch. They entered Thursday in a 2-7 slump.

From the 20-game pole of the season through now, the Cubs, Pirates, Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals all have each spent at least a day in first, second, third and fourth place. The Pirates have been in all five standings spots in that time.

Only the Reds have been relatively stagnant. A 1-8 start to the season was too big a hole to overcome. Still, their 39-36 record since April 9 translates into a winning percentage that would have them in second place in the NL Central for the season.

The balance has all the makings of a compelling pennant race over the season’s final 2 ½ months, particularly with the familiarity of the teams playing each other so often.

“All the teams truly like playing against each other from a competitive standpoint,” Hurdle said, “so I think that adds value to it.”

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Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Pirates
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