MLB Power Rankings: Cardinals and Cubs could make the final weeks of the NL Central race interesting

Three weeks remain on the schedule for the 2019 Major League Baseball season and we've crept into the territory in the regular season where we're completely overshadowed by football. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that the division races are going to be compelling enough to stave off much of that concern, either. 

Heading into Sunday, SportsLine handicapped the following division champions by percentage in its simulations: 

That is very unexciting, isn't it? It's actually a bit depressing, really, with three weeks still to play. 

We do have the wild cards and both are definitely going to be hotly contested. On the NL side, the Cubs have a 1 1/2-game lead over the Diamondbacks with the Phillies and Brewers being two out. In the AL, the Rays have a one-game lead for the top spot over the Athletics, with the Indians 1 1/2 games on the outside looking in. 

If we want to reach a little, the home-field advantage race is neck and neck in the AL with the Yankees and Astros, and if we go all MLB, the Dodgers are with them, too. We can't count out the Twins or Braves, either. 

If we really wanted to reach, there's a race for the No. 1 overall draft pick going with the Orioles in striking range of the Tigers

But in terms of winning the division, the NL Central might be the one saving grace. While the Cardinals are the overwhelming favorite, let's keep in mind the head-to-head situation. 

The Cardinals have a 4 1/2-game lead and that's a tough hill to climb in just three weeks ... BUT. Seven of the last 10 games of the season happen to be Cardinals vs. Cubs. Let's say the lead is three games heading into those last 10. The Cubs going 5-2 all of a sudden means we get a one-game playoff (assuming the in-between three games are even). That isn't out of the question. The Cubs have gone 7-5 against the Cardinals so far. 

Plus, there's also the Brewers. At 6 1/2 back, they are a total long shot, but they do have three in St. Louis this coming weekend. If they can somehow manage a sweep and get it to 3 1/2, those Cubs/Cardinals head-to-head games really benefit them, especially since the rest of their schedule includes zero teams with a .500 or better record. Other than those games against the Cardinals, the Brewers play the Marlins, Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies the rest of the way. Beat up on those teams while winning the Cardinals series and hoping for the Cubs and Cardinals to do something like the Cubs winning four of seven and it's possible the Brewers come through with the late shock for the second straight year. 

The reverse is also possible. The Cardinals could sweep the Brewers and bury the Cubs before the final week. If that's the case, there will be zero fun division races this season. Last year we got two one-game playoffs to decide division winners. This year we might have every division sewn up with at least one week left. 

Thankfully we have the wild card, I guess? 

Come on, NL Central. Please be our saving grace. 

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Biggest Movers
3 Rays
4 Nationals
Rk
Teams
 
Chg
Rcrd
1 Astros There's something to be said for taking care of business. The Astros are 16-1 against the Mariners. 1101-54
2 Yankees Remember last week's comment about the number of players with 10 homers? Edwin Encarnacion now has 11 with the Yankees, so they have set an MLB record with a ridiculous 13 players in double digits. Cameron Maybin needs two more to make it 14. The most outrageous thing here? They did this without Giancarlo Stanton. What were the odds they'd set this record without him? 1101-55
3 Dodgers The reality of the situation is their season is a failure if they don't win the World Series, but take a step back and look at what has been going on with this organization. Before this current streak, the Dodgers -- with all the franchise's historic success -- had never made the postseason more than twice in a row. This season will make seven times. --99-56
4 Braves Prior to their loss Sunday, the Braves had won 17 of 19 and they're actually within striking distance of the best record in the NL. 196-60
5 Twins The Twins have put themselves in position that even getting swept by the Indians next weekend is likely meaningless. After that series, they only play the Royals, White Sox and Tigers the rest of the way. 195-60
6 Rays It was nice to see Tyler Glasnow back on the hill and he had good stuff, in general. He could make for a nice weapon as a piggyback to Charlie Morton in the wild card game, assuming they get there. 392-63
7 Cardinals Jack Flaherty is pitching himself into Cy Young contention. He wouldn't win it right now, but there's time. --88-67
8 Athletics Fun fact: The A's have the longest winning streak in baseball this season at 11. It happened back in May, but it was only 10 until Friday, when they resumed a game in the seventh inning against the Tigers won it, making the streak retroactive. --94-61
9 Indians The Indians have 61 wins against sub-.500 teams and just 22 against teams over. Do with that what you wish. 191-64
10 Nationals The Nationals had a chance to win the NL East, trailing the Braves by 6 1/2 games with seven of 10 coming head-to-head against the Braves. The Braves just showed them who was boss by taking three of four and essentially putting the title away. 485-68
11 Red Sox If they do miss the playoffs, they have a big, huge, gigantic decision to make in the offseason now that Dave Dombrowski is gone: Do they trade Mookie Betts? He's only under control for one more season. The farm system is emptied out. 180-74
12 Brewers Huge series win over the Cubs over the weekend. Now they need to sweep the Cardinals next weekend or it's likely over. 385-70
13 Cubs It was already gonna be an uphill battle, but Javier Baez might be done for the year and Kris Bryant is dealing with a knee injury. I've thought through most of the season the Cubs were going to win the Central. I no longer believe that. 282-73
14 Diamondbacks They were trying to contend last year and finished with 82 wins. At this rate, they're gonna win more games this year while going through a rebuild. Baseball can be funny. 280-75
15 Phillies Losing that series to the Reds was a death blow. The Phillies schedule the rest of the way is brutal, lined with the Braves, Red Sox, Nationals and Indians. 179-74
16 Mets It's hard to imagine a worse loss than what happened to the Mets on Tuesday. While we're here, it was ridiculous to watch Mets fans blaming Micky Callaway. At some point, the players have to do their job, too. 380-74
17 Rangers JOEY GALLO MIGHT BE COMING BACK SOON! 174-81
18 Giants Johnny Cueto is back Tuesday! I'm excited. I've missed seeing his shimmy and swagger. 174-81
19 Angels Instead of tinkering with Matt Harvey types, the Angels should back up the truck for free agent Gerrit Cole this coming offseason. --70-85
20 Reds Eugenio Suarez has now homered 10 times in his last 14 games. He's at 44 on the season and two things are now within reach: The MLB home run title and the Reds franchise record. The latter is held by George Foster, who hit 52 in 1977. 173-82
21 Padres The four-game Cubs-Padres series starting Monday features baseball's two most fun to watch players (yes, that's a fact) in Javier Baez and Fernando Tatis Jr. Wait. Both are hurt. Baseball can be bad and dumb sometimes. 169-86
22 White Sox The latest word on Michael Kopech is he plans to be ready to compete for a rotation spot in the spring. That's great. Get excited, South Siders. 168-86
23 Pirates Starling Marte has two cheap club options after this season. I think the time is right for the Pirates to pick up 2020 and then trade him. 165-90
24 Mariners It's hard to think of playing a game worse than the Mariners did on Sunday. They allowed 21 runs and got just one hit. --66-89
25 Blue Jays Ken Giles is only under control for one more season before free agency. Coming off this excellent season, it seems like they have to trade him this coming offseason. --63-92
26 Rockies Only in their inaugural season did the Rockies finish further back than 30 games of first place. They are more than 30 out right now. Disaster. --67-88
27 Royals The Royals have won six of their last eight. Kind of bad timing, really, when draft positioning is at play, but no team should be shamed for trying to win. 157-99
28 Marlins On occasion, such as with his shutout on Sunday, Sandy Alcantara has shown flashes of looking like a future frontline starter. That's a good takeaway from another lost season. 153-101
29 Orioles Their next win will tie last season's 47. It's not really a feat to win 47 games, but at least they didn't get worse? I guess? --50-105
30 Tigers For just the seventh time in franchise history, the Tigers have lost 100 games. At least they (probably!) can't get to the franchise record of 119 (2003). --45-109
CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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